Best Defense

‘Proceedings’ spanks the Navy’s ship drivers for a culture that hides mistakes

In the January issue of the resurgent "Proceedings," a retired Navy captain calls out the service’s “surface warfare community” (that is, those who drive ships), alleging that it has a culture that downplays mistakes.

160310-N-MD297-161 
PACIFIC OCEAN (March 10, 2016) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen (DDG 82) patrols the eastern Pacific Ocean. Lassen is currently underway in support of Operation Martillo, a joint operation with the U.S. Coast Guard and partner nations within the 4th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Huey D. Younger Jr./Not Released)
160310-N-MD297-161 PACIFIC OCEAN (March 10, 2016) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen (DDG 82) patrols the eastern Pacific Ocean. Lassen is currently underway in support of Operation Martillo, a joint operation with the U.S. Coast Guard and partner nations within the 4th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Huey D. Younger Jr./Not Released)

In the January issue of the resurgent Proceedings, a retired Navy captain calls out the service’s “surface warfare community” (that is, those who drive ships), alleging that it has a culture that downplays mistakes. “95 percent of lower level mishaps go unreported,” he writes. “Why is that? I submit that the surface warfare community — unlike the aviation and submarine communities — has a culture where lessons are kept within the lifelines whenever possible. Surface warriors do not like to admit mistakes or shortcomings, much less make formal reports of mishaps or damage that fall below the reportable threshold.”

In a sidebar, the author recommends that surface leaders imitate the aviation community and put out a magazine like Approach, published by and for Navy and Marine aviators. I’d never read it, so I went to the site, only to read that, “Approach Magazine’s final issue will be published in February 2017.” I asked the editor about that, and she replied, “As with many publications we are taking the magazine digital. It’s part budget, but mostly a sign of the times and we feel we can reach a larger audience by combining all four magazines and creating a new digital version. The new version will be available for download at the end of March. I agree with what Proceedings says and follow the example. Our magazines will still cover many of the same topics and will contain features all related to safety.”

By the way, there is a theme running through January’s Proceedings: the idea that micromanagement is killing the Navy, especially in surface warfare. The next article in the issue is a cri de coeur from a lieutenant (j.g.) who concludes that, “Micromanaging in combat leads to lost battles and wars.” Later there is a group interview with former SWIFT boat commanders who observe that, “when command-and-control becomes top-heavy, it can lead to disaster.”

Photo credit: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Huey D. Younger Jr./U.S. Navy

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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