A response: SWOs are doing OK, mate
Thorough post-event debriefs are paramount to developing excellence within our organizations. To put it mildly, it's required to save lives.
By “Batten D. Hatches”
Best Defense guest respondent
In regards to the captain’s Proceedings article’s premise that surface warfare officers hide issues, the short answer is “yes.” And “no.”
I think you can plausibly argue that every community within the U.S. Navy has hidden, obfuscated, or cherry-picked what is said both publicly and privately in regards to incidents at sea, professional conduct, or readiness. To put it simply, it’s what happens when senior civilian leaders demand too much without making concessions in a resource constrained environment, whether that resource consists of people, time, or money (or a combination thereof). It’s compounded when senior military leaders believe that saying “no” is a mark of institutional failure tinged with personal repercussions.
But, “yes,” in that the SWO community has traditionally lagged other communities with regards to transparency and tactical training/standardization. By comparison, naval aviation, submarine, and SEAL communities hold accountability as sacrosanct. Thorough post-event debriefs are paramount to developing excellence within our organizations. To put it mildly, it’s required to save lives.
I don’t think the SWO community has deliberately hidden anything over the past decade with regards to poor professional conduct by an individual or a unit. I do think, like all other communities, they focus on good news while whitewashing the bad. Naval aviation does this too — the FORD-class carrier is a great example, as a ship that costs three times as much as the Nimitz-class but won’t provide three times the capacity or capability.
The captain’s info might be a little dated since his retirement in 2013. In particular, the SWO community has started the Naval Surface and Mine Warfare Development Center, an effort to create an institution analogous to TOPGUN. (In fact, in some circles its referred to as “TOP SWO”). Vice Admiral Thomas S. Rowden (the “Surface Boss”) and officers like Captain Fred Kacher and Commander Dan Cobian are thought leaders who are working tirelessly to raise the bar of the SWO community, further evidenced by remarks made during this week’s Surface Navy Association event in Washington, D.C.
To be fair, issues abound — poor junior officer retention, a lack of coherent strategy, and the absence of a standardized tactical training track. But the aforementioned officers — and their staffs — are making inroads to quickly turn this around. I forecast a positive resurgence in the SWO community in the next one to three years.
“Batten D. Hatches” is the pseudonym of the writer. This essay reflects his personal views, which are not necessarily those of the Defense Department.
Photo credit: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Huey D. Younger Jr./U.S. Navy
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