Monday, October 25, 2010

Random Thoughts After a Week Away

While out of town last week I was able to get my hands on an advanced copy of Project Azorian: The CIA and the Raising of K-129 by Norman Polmar, and quite frankly - I can't put it down. As the book isn't set to release until November 15, 2010, the conditions of my obtaining the book restrict me from discussing the book except to say...

This book is fantastic. If you have not ordered the book, or presume to be arrogant enough to know all the information surrounding K-129 - you have no idea what you are missing. This book is incredibly well researched with lots of newly uncovered materials and offers new revelations that will no doubt make mainstream headlines. Norman Polmar has written many books, and I own/have at least 14 of them - but Project Azorian is by far his best in my opinion. This being the opinion of a book nerd who goes to DC for the sole purpose of spending hours reading and researching in the Army/Navy Club library - trust me - you want to read this book.

Honoring Big Ideas

I landed on Tuesday to discover the blog had its best day in 2010 thanks to Bryan McGrath's Seapower Manifesto. Yes, I have lots to say about that topic. It made my morning on Wednesday when I found myself sitting next to Laurence Smallman of RAND and he kept saying "and if you read Raymond's blog" when discussing various topics at my table ranging from China to piracy, and I found it noteworthy he had read Bryan's manifesto written just the day before (indeed almost everyone I ran into had already read it). I really need to take Mr. Smallman with me everywhere I go when I travel for blog purposes.

On Wednesday night I attended honors night at the United States Naval Institute. As you have probably figured out, the US Naval Institute is an organization I am very proud to be associated with as both a member and a writer for their blog, and I have to say Wednesday was a really special day with a very compelling History conference followed by what turned out to be a special evening at the awards banquet. This years first prize winner writer for Proceedings was Captain Victor George Addison, U.S. Navy, whose four articles carried the day:

I'm also very proud that Captain Addison chose to contribute two articles to Information Dissemination over the last year, CS-21's Core Themes and Vision Are Enduring and CCJO and Joint Maritime Operations.

On the subject of the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, it has been suggested that Bryan McGrath's position as outlined in his manifesto would represent one extreme view, while Captain Addison's perspectives on Goldwater-Nichols is more representative of the mainstream middle in regards to evolution - and it is for that reason his articles deserve both praise and the serious attention of decision makers. I'm not sure I would have agreed with that point of view last week, but a pretty compelling argument was made that I have been unable to counter this weekend while thinking about it.

In time I hope to take that discussion on for some more analysis, because I believe more discussion is necessary on the topic.

Destination Annapolis

I never went to college so I do not typically pay attention to the affairs of academia except for cheering for college sports teams (Go Hogs!), and given how hard I found myself cheering for Navy to kick Notre Dame up and down the football field on Saturday - I thought I'd offer some thoughts and observations from my week observing activity at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

I am certainly not into the affairs of Annapolis to the extent of CDR Salamander, indeed I have generally stayed mute even when I should not on events that have happened there. But something impressed me this week and I feel I need to say it.

You can't lie to the midshipmen. They are not stupid and smell bullshit a mile away - particularly on their own campus. When someone asks me regarding my thoughts of the Naval Academy, I will generally state that I believe that there is a serious leadership problem there. I personally believe that leadership problem was Vice Adm. Jeffrey L. Fowler and this is the example I used.

You may recall that Annapolis, just like Washington DC, had a great deal of snow earlier this year. Well, unlike DC, Annapolis doesn't have the same resources to dig out and was under a snow emergency for 2 full weeks - essentially buried in snow. What you may not know is that during this period, the Midshipmen were basically locked in their dorms for the vast majority of the snow emergency - even classes were canceled.

Now what do we say about the leadership at the US Naval Academy that locks up thousands of young, able young people being trained to lead the US Navy and US Marine Corps in the future, and they are prevented from responding to a natural disaster emergency in their own hometown? The current maritime strategy declares these young people will lead our nation in responding to natural disasters across the globe - and naval academy leadership at the time couldn't even lead them out of the gates of their own campus? Am I supposed to believe the greatest Navy on earth couldn't deliver 4000 shovels to the midshipmen and get them out of their dorm rooms to help their local community during a natural disaster?

That is an example of the leadership problems I had with Vice Adm. Fowler.

So when I walked into the USNI History Conference 2010 on Wednesday at the Marriott in Annapolis and observed numerous midshipmen attending, and then observed Vice Adm. Michael H. Miller also in attendance - I admit that I was sometimes only half listening to Mr.Smallman talk to the table as I was sometimes distracted studying the new USNA Superintendent. There have been other encouraging signs that change has come to Annapolis, but there was something I witnessed that really caught my attention.

Vice Adm. Miller was in attendance at the honors banquet for the US Naval Institute on Wednesday night. He was sitting next to Midshipmen Jack James, the new midshipmen USNI Blogger (the best gig in town I think, considering he seemed to get extra attention by a certain 4 star who likes writers), and right there at the table was none other than CDR Salamander.

Appearances are part of perception and both are part of communication, so I have to say after all the trouble CDR Salamander has given USNA for simply reporting the truth (as seen by folks on campus) regarding events at Annapolis, when you see the new USNA superintendent and a midshipmen enjoying dinner with CDR Salamander - I have to admit that appearance gave me a whole new perception regarding the kind of leadership that has taken control of the US Naval Academy.

While that scene represents symbolism that only observers like myself might appreciate, I walked away from Wednesday thinking to myself that Vice Adm. Miller is the kind of leader who will find the 4000 shovels next time the Arctic decides to descend on Annapolis, and Vice Adm. Miller leads from the front. Whether true or not is yet to be seen, but without question there was a solid, positive impression conveyed by the new superintendent and I did think it was worth noting.

Thank You

I take these trips to various places to put faces with the names I read in my little digital world. I wanted to say thank you to Dr. Martin Murphy, CDR John Patch, Laurence Smallman, Claude Berube, LCDR BJ Armstrong, Bill Miller, Mary Ripley, CDR Michael Junge, CDR Salamander, Eric Wertheim, Captain Mark Tempest (ret), Boston Maggie, the great folks at CNA, Rear Admiral Dennis Moynihan and his remarkable cadre of DC 'social' PAOs, all the folks who turned out for the "ID Happy Hour Meet and Greet" at Sines, and several dozen other folks who go unmentioned.

Most of all I want to thank Tom Wilkerson. Everyone claims to know Tom, but I think very few know or appreciate how Tom Wilkerson is a tremendous mentor to so many young writers like myself. On Wednesday night I found myself sitting next to LCDR BJ Armstrong (an accomplished writer btw (PDF)) in the very center of a small room with over 200 people listening to a short speech by ADM Stavridis talking about the power of writing in a room filled with some of the greatest writing contributors to the Navy discussion of this generation. LCDR Armstrong and I are about the same age and among the dozen or so youngest folks in the room. It was almost certainly a coincidence that LCDR Armstrong and I seemed to have the best seats in the room, but I seem to find myself having numerous positive coincidences when I find myself in the vicinity of Tom Wilkerson.

For example, while it was almost certainly a coincidence, the first time I met Captain Vic Addison just happened to be after the only meeting I have ever had with Tom Wilkerson in his office. With incredible fortune or fate like that - all I can say is that i hope to run into an abundance of Tom Wilkerson coincidences in the future. Thank you sir.

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