December 1, 2020

Proceedings Magazine Article: Cause For Alarm

“A young submariner once wrote, ‘It is integrity that bonds the crew of a submarine so tightly together that when faced with any circumstance, each individual can trust his shipmate to meet the needs of the moment.’ This anonymous sailor went on to make the comparison between integrity in professional conduct and the physical integrity of a ship.  It seems that officers in today’s Navy need to extend this analogy to address integrity in personal conduct.”

Read the article by Lieutenant James Drennan


  1. A few thoughts on this interesting article: I do believe that in its struggle with the character issue in its leaders, the Navy is learning lessons that are relevant outside the military, to include in the corporate sector. Many have concerns about ‘character’ as an issue within corporate culture, as well as with corporate leaders. So what to do? As this article points out, that is what the Navy is struggling with, along with almost everybody else.
    When I ran the Character Development program at the Naval Academy we struggled with this as well in our mission to develop midshipmen, morally, mentally, and physically, and I recall the wise words of my friend, senior philosophy professor George Lucas. He told us that there are three fundamental questions about character: What is it? Can it be developed? And if so, how? These questions have occupied philosophers for millenia, and more recently psychologists and sociologists have contributed significantly to the discussion.
    “Character Development” is a complicated process and ‘training’ hasn’t been as effective as the Navy had hoped (Can character be developed, and if so, how?). I think character ‘training’ can have an impact, but not as much as many would hope. Character training is often treated as compliance training: Know the rules and follow them. If not you’ll be punished. And while habituation of good behavior with carrots and sticks has often been effective, to many, such an approach simply teaches the rules, and the implicit warning, that if you’re going to break them, you better be smart enough non to get caught. If you do, shame on you. (Many Naval Academy graduates say that is one of the main lessons they learn at the Naval Academy.)
    Also, the the Navy is struggling with why its command and leader selection process hasn’t been as effective as expected. It seems that character issues often remain hidden until, well, people get caught. The reality is that people often behave differently when in positions of power. The Bathsheeba syndrome, described in an interesting article by Ludwig and Longenecker (available for review at,%20The%20Bathsheba%20Syndrome.pdf) describes how history and experience show that even people of seemingly good character struggle and often fail to resist immorally satisfying selfish desires when in positions of positions. Yes, power does seem to corrupt – many, if not all of us. So far, it seems that the command and leader selection process is selecting many officers who were either clever enough not to get caught, or never faced the temptations for moral transgression that come with command, and are unable to resist when opportunities do finally come their way.
    So, back to the article: This is obviously more than a Navy issue; it is a society, and human issue. The Navy is taking a bold ‘damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead’ approach by continuing to raise the bar and actively going after offenders. This article claims that Commanding Officer accountability is the fundamental issue – as CEO accountability is an important issue in the private sector. The Navy is still looking for effective ways to develop and screen for good character, in order to stem the bleeding and stop the deleterious effects that moral transgressions by CO’s have on unit morale, readiness, and the Navy’s reputation. It remains to be seen whether doubling down on sanctions will have the effect that the Navy intends. A reliable and effective process for Character Development is indeed a holly grail, will always be contentious (whose conception of good character?), and I venture to say, that no process will work equally well for all.
    One thing the article doesn’t seem to address: Is it fair to hold junior officers accountable to the same standards as commanding officers? Junior officers haven’t had as much time to acculturate to and embrace the higher standards of the Navy. We DO have some hope for moral development and growth between being a junior and a commanding officer. I would think there would be room for at least some tolerance of (less eggregious) moral trip-ups in junior officers, that we wouldn’t tolerate in those more senior. If not, then the answer to the question, can character be developed, especialy in adults, must necessarily be, ‘no.’

  2. LT Drennan notes, “the rate of personal misconduct, specifically among commanding officers (COs), has only increased. In the Summer 2012 Naval War College Review, Navy Captain Mark Light sought to bring attention to integrity problems at the command level through an analysis of COs who were “detached for cause (DFC)” from 1999 to 2010. He pointed out that in 2010, 13 DFCs were due to personal misconduct, compared with a total of 29 in the preceding decade. Since that analysis concluded in 2010, 25 COs (not counting the most recent incident involving the command of the USS Vandegrift [FFG-48]) have been fired for integrity related incidents. 3 Whether or not these numbers represent a real deterioration of integrity among COs—or just heavier focus on personal conduct from senior leadership—a seemingly never-ending stream of embarrassing headlines (“Submarine commander sunk after allegedly faking death to end affair”) and a desensitized tone from the public (“Navy Skippers: The Gift that Keeps on Giving”) are unquestionably cause for alarm.”

    In Cause for Alarm the young Navy LT notes “The Navy’s future leaders should go to General Quarters with so many commanding officers being in the headlines ….”

    The Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert spelled out his plan in a June 4 instruction that overhauls the command screening process. By June 2013, every new CO will have to go through the rigors of this new process,

    Officers seeking command must
    – pass a written test,
    – receive an informal evaluation from peers and subordinates, and
    – sit through an oral board.

    Before this new instruction, command qualification programs were left to individual officer communities, according to Navy officials.

    I hope these boards contain different representatives from across the Navy – medical, mental health, chaplains, line officers, civilian and enlisted representatives. Having participated in Special Forces evaluations for a number of years, an interesting observation is that special forces operators can spot “alpha dogs” or individuals that are going to succeed in the special forces community. I would be interested in examining “who looks good on paper” versus whom senior leaders are able to identify as best suited for command. Our Special Forces communities in the Navy and Marines have been going through this process for years. This process allows the best, brightest and fit to join the elite ranks. This selection process will aid in the selection of the finest officers for CO & XO positions.

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