16 February 2012

Seek the Truth and Act on It

Getting the gouge from the Main 2 Crew
I’ve spent a lot time visiting our Fleet units and talking with our Sailors over the last 2 ½ years. I’ve visited ships, squadrons and submarines in just about every location in my AOR, as well as two trips to CENTCOM and NAVEUR-NAVAF to spend Thanksgiving with our Sailors serving on Individual Augmentee assignments. I greatly value these visits and consider them to be among my most important duties as Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces. In addition to seeing up close all the great work being done in the Fleet, I’ve had many candid conversations with our Sailors about some of the challenges they face every day that impact their ability to do their jobs.

Now, as I reflect on my visits to the Fleet and think about all the issues brought to my attention, I can’t help but wonder who would have told me about these challenges if I had never bothered to ask the right questions and our Sailors didn’t care enough or have the courage to answer honestly? If the FC2 on JAMES E. WILLIAMS did not care enough during my visit in February 2010 to tell me about how the broader challenges with our Aegis system were impacting her ability to effectively execute her job, who would have told me? If BMC Pici of WINSTON S. CHURCHILL did not have the courage to tell me he needed more paint floats because there weren’t any available, who would have told me? If the crew of OAK HILL did not give me the straight-forward gouge on the challenges they were experiencing with their shipboard administrative tools, who would have told me?

Team, there is nothing complicated about this. If you are in a position of authority or oversee Fleet resources, you need to be out there talking with our Sailors, face-to-face, and asking the right questions. If they give me the straight gouge, I assure you they’ll be frank with you. But if something does not appear right, you need to trust your instinct and dig deeper.

The more I looked into the Aegis issue (from my visit to JAMES E. WILLIAMS), the less I liked what I found. The program had become largely decentralized with no single person accountable for the performance and continuing development. The FC2 was right; the issue was indeed very real but it now has the necessary level of focus and energy from the right communities in our Navy.

The Fleet FAM effort is an example of how well-intended help can (and often does) do more harm than good in the Fleet. Similar to Aegis, the deeper I looked into the issue, the less I liked what I found. It is alarming to me that we have 7 Resource Sponsors, 6 SYSCOMs, 6 PEOs, plus a host of other organizations (CNIC, BUMED, ONR, ONI, etc) all influencing the applications we put on our ships, yet there is no single individual responsible for the performance and configuration management of those applications. Who is protecting the ship from this chaos? Who is protecting our Sailors? The Fleet FAM effort is in response to a bureaucracy run amok and it has taken nearly two years to get our arms around the problem and on the right path to success. But if I never had that conversation with our Sailors on OAK HILL two years ago, where would we be today?

It is our job as leaders, managers, and commanders to set the conditions for success. When we lose touch with the realities in the Fleet, we make poor decisions based on faulty assumptions. Asking the right people the right questions is “Leadership 101” and applies to everyone from LCPOs to Flag Officers to Senior Civilians and Program Managers – leaders cannot lead exclusively from their desks.

As I write this blog I just returned from a visit to a great ship in Mayport – USS FARRAGUT (DDG 99) – with a great crew. I got direct feedback from the wardroom, the CPO mess, the GSs in the main spaces, the Tomahawk Strike Team, the Aegis FCs, and the flight deck crew. All these Sailors gave it to me straight and their ideas, suggestions, and reports are of great value to me.

At the end of the day, we must keep our ships, squadrons and submarines at the center of every decision we make, and we must never lose sight of the fact that it is our Sailors who carry the burdens of our bad decisions.
All the best, JCHjr

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