Call The Shots

My day job involves hunting submarines. It’s a highly scientific process that, like most Naval Warfare requires a healthy amount of wild ass guesses and improvisation because the real world rarely conforms to the neat formulas of the classroom and laboratory. The actual tracking and prosecution of a submarine by surface and air assets requires an entire team of watchstanders to operate the SONARs and interpret the data that they provide. My job is to form all of that information into single picture of the battlespace and then determine how to maneuver the ship in order to sink the submarine or at least defend other ships in the area.

As in most leadership positions, mine is largely an exercise in communication and decision-making.  The decision-making portion can be the most aggravating at times. Communication usually takes care of itself, but the processing of the vast amounts of data coming from all of the different pieces of the puzzle can be aggravating. Often times the data is contradictory or doesn’t fit the projected models neatly. And sometimes, my adversary does something completely unpredictable that doesn’t jive tactically. This causes frustration, just as all decision-making can.

But sometimes you have to stand back, look at everything in front of you, and then trust your gut because it’s your job to make decisions. In the Anti-Submarine Warfare world that requires focusing on the information you know, trying to make logical inferences based upon your understanding of your enemy’s tactics, and then doign something; anything. Theodore Roosevelt was famous for saying: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

This holds true in all avenues of leadership. Your people look up to you for a decision. That’s the reason you were put on this earth, to provide them direction in moments of crisis, when their ability to chart a course of action fails them. It can maddeningly difficult at times, but you have to do it, and no amount of hand-wringing or garment-wrenching will save you from it. So simply put, make the decision, break that institutional inertia, and then make course corrections as necessary afterwards in order to achieve your end goals.

What You Think You Will Become

I’m a fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger. I always have been, and as I’ve grown older and more involved in politics and fitness, I’ve only come tor respect him and his ideas more and more. Yes, I know that recent extra-marital scandal was a large disappointment, but great men have their failings just like ordinary men.

An old adage from the Gautama Buddha is that everything that we are stems from our thoughts, and thus our success, our evil, our goodness, and our love all rests in our minds and the thoughts that guide our actions. But what does this have to do with Arnold Schwarzenegger, you ask? You see, Ahnuld has long held and expounded upon the belief that the difference between the truly successful and the average person is how they approach the world and their thoughts towards the future. In a rather famous speech of his, Schwarzenegger made the argument that in order to be truly successful, you must create in your mind a palpable vision of who and what you want to be in the future. Only then can you create a course of action to achieve that vision.

He couldn’t be any more correct. Vision is one of the things that separates the greatest amongst us from the rest of the crowd. The many men and women who are remembered in the annuls of history all cultivated a vision for the future and then executed a plan in order to attain that vision. Theodore Roosevelt had a vision of building a canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans so that the US Navy could more easily and safely navigate ships between either ocean, thereby increasing combat effectiveness. Napoleon Bonaparte had a vision of conquering Europe and sitting upon the throne as emperor as the many Caesars before him had. Both men had visions that they tirelessly strove towards, each step generating momentum that would carry them to their end goal.

And that is the lesson herewith: That in order to lead successfully or to reach the heights of achievement you must know where you want to go (your vision) and then draw a map of how to get their (your plan), and then work tirelessly in order to reach that goal. But none of this is a secret, anyone who has ever achieved success in their life could tell you the same thing; the real secret is that anybody is capable of this. It’s what has made America the greatest country in the world, and continues to do so.

Of Tecumseh and Navy SEALs

A couple of months ago, I went to see Act of Valor with a few friends of mine in Newport, RI. In the film, the platoon leader, a Lieutenant and damn fine Naval Officer, is said to be a good study of history and a lover of poetry. These are not traits that usually first come to mind when you begin talking about hardened warriors like the SEALs, but below the surface of that thousand-yard stare lie the minds of thinkers. If you look hard enough, you’ll find that this trends across the entirety of the military. Sun Tzu’s admonishment to understand your enemy is a lesson well-taught within the ranks of the United States armed forces, and those who fail to heed it are usually instructed through fire and blood on the battlefield. As such, many members of the officer corps, and even the NCO corps, are well-learned, well-read, and very intelligent folks that are constantly bettering themselves mentally, physically, and spiritually. Which is why I present to you the following from the Shawnee Chieftain Tecumseh:

Live your life that the fear of death
can never enter your heart.
Trouble no one about his religion.
Respect others in their views
and demand that they respect yours.
Love your life, perfect your life,
beautify all things in your life.
Seek to make your life long
and of service to your people.
Prepare a noble death song for the day
when you go over the great divide.
Always give a word or sign of salute when meeting
or passing a friend, or even a stranger, if in a lonely place.
Show respect to all people, but grovel to none.
When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light,
for your life, for your strength.
Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living.
If you see no reason to give thanks,
the fault lies in yourself.
Abuse no one and nothing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.
When your time comes to die, be not like those
whose hearts are filled with fear of death,
so that when their time comes they weep and pray
for a little more time to live their lives over again
in a different way.
Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.

~ Tecumseh

The above passage also illustrates another common trait amongst members of the military: The knowledge that tomorrow is never a given. Being a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, or Guardian is an inherently dangerous profession and death waits just over the horizon, as many in the blogosphere recently found out. Because of this, many military men and women live everyday as if it could be their last, taking nothing for granted.

It is all part of the same warrior ethos; living life to its fullest, constantly improving oneself, and striving for the betterment of those around you, loving tenderly those whom you care about, and then sallying forth to answer the call of duty in order to keep the gnashing teeth of the wolf at bay.

The Navy and Bio-Fuel

For the last few years, the Navy has been pouring a lot of valuable money into bio-fuel research. The way that the project has been sold has been as a way to make the fleet more environmentally friendly, reducing emissions and the like. Now anyone who knows much about the engineering of ships knows that for the majority of our fleet, we use gas turbines in our main propulsion plants, and gas turbines burn through an exorbitant amount of gas in under the most “economical” of conditions. Because of this, the bio-fuel campaign has come under great scrutiny as a waste of money, including just recently from the Honorable Randy Forbes (R-VA).

The Navy used 20,000 gallons of algae-derived fuel for a November test in San Diego. Here, Lt. Cmdr. Frank Kim compares sample bottles of traditional diesel fuel and the alternative blend. Photo Courtesy of Dept of the Navy.

But the idea of “greening” the fleet isn’t all bad, it’s just being sold the wrong way. Having the ability to power our ships using bio-fuel as well as regular marine diesel provides us flexibility in the event that standard oil supplies are cut-off. Flexibility is crucial in warfare, as our adeptness at being able to roll with the punches can mean the difference between being victorious or having our rear-ends handed to us. And that being the case, we need to sell to Congress that we need to pursue bio-fuel alternatives in order to maintain superiority on the sea.

The only caveat is that bio-fuel isn’t the most economical way of providing independence from the vagaries of the oil market. The best way to do this is to convert as much of the fleet as possible to nuclear power. The joy about nuclear plants is that they don’t produce carbon emissions, they don’t need to be fueled up for decades, and they can run nearly indefinitely, meaning that a ship’s range is only limited by the amount of food and fresh water it can carry.

The only downside to a nuclear fleet is the amount of money required on the front end to install the reactor and propulsion plant. In the end, both initiatives are necessary, as well as increasing our domestic oil production as much as possible.