U.S. Navy leadership needs to challenge the status quo

Photo: AP

Good order and discipline are integral elements of business as usual within commands that succeed. But why do so many Navy and Marine Corps commands (even units that have a veneer of excellence) fail to maintain a healthy climate within? It may be because they do not practice Command Managed Equal Opportunity (CMEO).

Despite having been issued by Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), and incorporated in a comprehensive policy statement (i.e., OPNAVINST 5354.1), this mandate has not been effectively implemented Navy-wide. All persons detest, to varying degrees, actions characterized as crisis management. In every disaster (e.g., Hurricane Katrina, USS Thresher, Hindenburg, Challenger, etc.) there is a time for applying hindsight, and determining what step(s) can be taken to alleviate mistakes, lack of planning and poor judgment (that occurred during the crisis) in the future.  However, when foresight has been applied to a potential adverse situation, but the recipients of the written guidance ignore (or fail to implement) the “remedy,” their action (rather, INaction) is inexcusable.

If we can say yea to the aforementioned, we must also be honest enough to apply a self-assessment:  Have I (who may wear khaki, gold or silver collar devices, etc.) been diligent in living up to the mandate for CMEO?  Have I made it a priority to receive the mandatory (new PCS tour) refresher in Navy Rights and Responsibilities (NR&R)?  “Now wait a minute” (you say).  ‘I don’t have to go to that dry, BORING presentation that talks about communication, pregnant servicewomen, Navy Regulations, etc. (ad infinitum)!  It’s an INSULT to my rank, position (and, quite frankly, my prestige).  If I don’t KNOW the information that is given in NR&R by now, I should resign my commission.’  And so it goes.  The Wardroom and CPO mess establish a new unwritten Status Quo, and (maybe) the white hats are the only ones that get the training.

Over two decades ago, Navy Lieutenant Paula Coughlin claimed that the system (and the Navy) failed her at the Las Vegas Hilton hotel during Tailhook ’91.  The investigation that ensued left in its wake a tarnished image of the Navy (in general) and on the Naval Aviation community (in particular).  A subsequent (alleged mismanaged) Inspector General (IG) investigation had a devastating effect on the U.S. Navy’s hierarchy.   (Need we recapitulate the frustration expressed by Admiral Frank Kelso and Rear Admiral Riley Mixon?)  During the unprecedented Sexual Harassment Standdown ’92, Under Secretary of the Navy Howard stated (paraphrase):  “Sexual Harassment prevention training has been little to none…”.  Is that really true, or, was the training (in fact) available, but not given?  In actuality, Sexual Harassment prevention training (as well as a myriad of other useful training segments) were already an integral part of NR&R years prior to Tailhook ’91).

Type Commanders and Immediate Superiors in Charge (ISICs) have all the authority necessary to “make any wrong situation – right.”  Inspections are prescribed as a key element of CMEO.  Unfortunately, subordinate commands have been allowed to administratively “pencil whip” the NR&R requirement (especially for the CPO Mess and Wardroom).  The Navy system didn’t solely fail LT Paula Coughlin.  Rather, she should bear at least some of the responsibility for the failed I.G. investigation.  In NR&R, “Grievance Procedures” are adequately addressed.  In fact, the CNO mandate (i.e.: OPNAVINST 5354.1C) states:

                                “Servicemembers have the responsibility to advise

                                the command of the …complaints.”

                                                                                (Section V, para. 2d)

 

                                “If the resolution of the informal complaint is

                                 considered unjust, use the formal procedures

                                 for redress.”                 (Section V, para 3a(3))

 

                                “Commanders are to …assign a personal advocate

                                for the complainant to ensure reprisal does not

                                occur.”                          (Section V, para 7b(3))

 

How many of the officers who were present at (and participated in) Tailhook ‘91 werecurrent on their requirement to receive NR&R training?  LT Paula Coughlin resigned from the Navy in February 1994, citing “pressure” resulting from the Tailhook ’91 ordeal as the impetus behind her career-ending decision.  Did this have to be?  Can we honestly assert that an aggressively implemented NR&R (Navy-wide) program wouldn’t have made a difference? 

Today, in 2013, we see similar manifestations of irresponsible behavior of servicemen and servicewomen from time to time.  In most of these instances, their actions can be traced back to a lax or non existent CMEO program.  If servicepersons of ALL ranks (from the deckplates, to the CPO Mess and Wardroom, including Flag Officers) are reacquainted with the nuances and requirements of good order and discipline, wayward behavior would all be brought to a minimum.  But too often, leadership takes the position of “been there, done that, got the t-shirt” and relegate refresher training to junior members of the command.  What are such actions saying to the chain of command?

We have an obligation to do more than just that which is expedient.  We must implement all mandates.  If these mandates are impractical, we must petition the system to get it changed.  Our actions must be consistent with the Navy’s philosophy.  Why let personal pride and ego dictate our behavior?  If the “Status Quo” attaches a stigma to doing it by the book (i.e.: receiving refresher training with each change of duty station/command), we must be courageous enough to challenge such a notion, and forge ahead by doing the RIGHT thing.


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Bill Randall

Bill was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in the neighborhood known as the Lower Ninth Ward.  His U.S. Navy career spanned from August 1974 through December 2001, during which he had a decorated and distinguished span of honorable service.  His profession and specialty was Earth Science (Meteorology, Oceanography and Geodesy).  After retiring from active duty on January 1, 2002, he entered the private sector as an Independent Insurance Agent (AFLAC) and garnered recognition as a top performer as a new member. Shortly thereafter he earned his B.S. degree in Business Management, and later earned his MBA degree.  He has also earned Information Technology (IT) Certification from Wake Technical Community College (May 2013).  Bill worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs at the Milwaukee VA Pension Center (2002 –2005), processing hundreds of benefits claims for veterans and their family members.  Bill subsequently relocated and served on the staff of a local church in Pensacola, FL (May – Dec 2005), and then accepted a business opportunity as a Generalist with a major Management Consulting Firm (2006 – 2008).  Bill now owns a private Management Consulting company based in Wake Forest, NC.  He and his family relocated to North Carolina after his wife, Wendy, accepted a job offer in there.  He once ran for Chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party (June 2009).  He has also twice run for U.S Congress (NC-13th Congressional district), winning the GOP nomination in the 2010 Primary, and losing in the GOP Primary in 2012.  He is an author and a Community Chaplain.  Bill and his wife have resided in Wake Forest, NC since October 2008.  Bill has a son and four daughters.

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