04 August 2011

Some Things Never Change

I recently came across a discussion from an 1895 Naval Institute Proceedings article in which a young officer, Lieutenant A.P. Niblack, commented on a prize essay by Lieutenant-Commander Richard Wainwright. LT Niblack lamented the peacetime Fleet's problem of maintaining combat readiness and proposed a dedicated squadron (“squadron of evolution”) to give crews the time and freedom from outside interference (read: staffs) they need to train.

I found his comments to be particularly interesting…too much demand, too much admin, not enough realistic training and weapons firing in 1895…sound familiar?
All the best, JCHjr


Anonymous said...

Try also reading the 1911 article in McClure's Magazine entitled, "Will Congress Put our Navy on the Sea?: The Story of Secretary Meyer's Fight Against Waste and Bureaucracy" -- the same issues are on the agenda of the Navy of 2011.

Why, after 100 years, have we not solved these problems? Because governments, including militaries, rarely solve problems - they just rearrange them. Governments take on problems that simply cannot be fixed no matter how hard we try. The navy and the nation would be better off if we treated them as constraints to work around instead of wasting resources trying to remove them.

It does an aeronautical engineer no good to spend billions trying to remove gravity...you simply have to overcome it.

Anonymous said...

It's worse than that...read Ian Toll's "Six Frigates", the story of the birth of the Navy. It seems that there was so much dissension about who would build the six frigates ( a project similar to the size of the DDG program) that Congress had to use six different shipyards in different cities. George Washington got the last word on ships officers, though, since he insisted that he be the one to pick the officers. By the way, one of those great ships is still serving today: USS Constitution!


ADM J. C. Harvey, JR USN said...

Byron, I agree - I was stunned when I read Six Frigates and saw the extraordinary similarities with the shipbuilding issues we have today.
Ian Toll really opened my eyes to what followed George Washington's signing of the Naval Act of 1794 that authorized the construction of the original six frigates.
Many, many problems in the financing, building and manning of those ships, but they established one hell of a combat record! All the best, JCHjr

AJ said...


You've heard me say it before... everything old is new again! This little treasure is not unlike finding that 1948 board study on officer development!

There's much wisdom to be gained simply by reading these old essays and wheel re-inventions. Maybe not everything can be "solved," only accepted and endured day-by-day.


MaryR said...


I'd like to point out that the 1895 and all other Proceedings archive articles will be going online this year. If any of the readers of this blog are interested in articles to read in the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact me directly. This also includes our oral history collection, one of which we shared and is linked in the previous post (Brashear - a fascinating read) Mripley @ usni dot org.



ADM J. C. Harvey, Jr USN said...

Mary R, thanks for that info - you and the USNI team will have created an on-line treasure trove! All the best, JCHjr

Barrett Tillman said...

Heartily concur about the USNI treasure trove. Most of my history colleagues have the same problem: far too little shelf space for all that we'd like to retain, and even well stocked libraries often do not have what we need. It's encouraging not only to see history material stored electronically, but to note the increasing appreciation for the study of naval history generally. One of my most valued resources was the late VADM Bill Martin who said, c. 1980, that the Air Force seemed to grasp the promotional use of history from the start, and he hoped that the navy would take heed. That's one reason that it was so encouraging to see "Naval History" magazine debut in 1987.

Anonymous said...

How about real quality of life--At work!
T A Cropper. United States Naval Institute. Proceedings. Annapolis: Jul 1997. Vol. 123, Iss. 7; pg. 80, 1 pgs
Abstract (Summary)
In order for the Navy to retain its sailors, it needs to make "quality of work," not quality of life, its top priority.

Full Text (466 words)
Copyright United States Naval Institute Jul 1997

If I hear any more pontificating about "quality of life" from our political leadership I will undergo meltdown. For almost 20 years, I have watched my Navy pursue enhancements and incentives designed to keep quality sailors-improved tuition assistance, refrigerators in newly renovated barracks rooms, liberalized liberty attire, and selective reenlistment bonuses, to name a few. In virtually every case, new or regurgitated "quality of life" programs invariably target off-duty time. We seem to be trying to make the professional side of our life more attractive by making improvements to our liberty side of life.

Let me get this straight: It's more important to have a microwave in every room at the barracks than it is to provide high quality tools to work with, temporary duty funding, airlifts that depart on time, and enough people in command to carry out every one of our Navy directives, right?

If we want sailors to stay Navy, we need to make "quality of work" our top priority. Most of our sailors identify themselves with the Navy through their work, not through their liberty. If we want them to continue to identify with us, we must change our focus. Last time I checked, most of my sailors were working 12-hour days at sea and about 9-10 hour days ashore. With 6-8 hours of sleep, our sailors get to spend 4-6 hours each day "off-duty." So quality of life programs aimed at off-duty time are targeting only a fraction of the time our sailors spend getting their hands dirty.

When our petty officers are making the decision to stay in or leave the Navy, are they really concerned about whether the barracks has new wallpaper? Unlikely. Here is what they are more likely to be wondering:

Why does it take so long to get new workboots, coveralls, batteries, cleaning supplies (fill in the blank)?

Do I really want to continue busting my butt cannibalizing parts (and making even more work for myself)?

Why can't I ever count on a firm airlift arrival time?

Why am I out here using a manual "speed" handle, while civilian depot workers are using power tools?

How come there's only one copier that works in the whole building?

What does that civilian company repay its workers for their travel expenses?

When people in the Navy are deciding whether or not to remain in their present jobs, I seriously doubt that they focus exclusively on the off-hours aspects. What most likely will come to the fore is whether they are satisfied on the job. Let's focus on our core competencywarfighting-and realign and target our Quality of Life programs where our sailors devote more of their time and effort. At work.

[Author Affiliation]
Commander Cropper is the executive officer of Strike Fighter Squadron 83 at Naval Air Station Cecil Field, Florida.