Here We Go Again

By lex, on September 24th, 2010

I was at a breakfast last week where CNO was the guest speaker. He spoke well and movingly about the need to lead our sailors well, the nation’s need for deployable, combat ready naval forces and the various centers of instability that will keep Navy as a crucial buttress to our national security for the foreseeable future.

Towards the end of the speech, he took a question I didn’t quite hear, but I assume from his answer that it had to do with Navy’s quest for diversity, and potential impacts on quality.

He told an interesting anecdote: He had been in New York City for Fleet Week, I believe, and visited the USS Intrepid museum. Met a young man there that just enjoyed working weekends on the ship, a kid that had earned top academic honors and been awarded a city-wide science award. Impressive in every respect. But what really got CNO’s attention was that the young man was going off to college in his following year, and had never even heard of the Naval Academy. Navy never even got a shot at him.

I have to admit, it was a great point. Leadership potential and raw talent is not the exclusive domain of any group or ethnicity, it is to be found everywhere. As the baby boom generation goes into its twilight years, as the country’s demographics continue to shift and in the ongoing fight for intellectual heft, Navy would be foolish not to go after the most qualified candidates regardless of their background and offer them the incalculably challenging and rewarding experience of serving their country at sea.

But how do we penetrate that wall of nescience to show people who have never been informed of the opportunity that awaits them? How do we avoid the stultifying risk of inbred praetorianism?

We set priorities, we build role models, and we get the message out.

Naval officers, especially senior ones, are unparalleled at taking direction and executing mission tasking. And especially when it comes to CNO tasking, we’re the “get ‘er done” force.

But there’s many a slip between the cup and the lip:

The latest national security leak is a shocking e-mail from a Navy admiral on “Diversity Accountability.” The message, sent to a list of other flag officers, notes that “a change in focus of this year’s diversity brief is the desire to identify our key performers (by name) and provide insight on each of them.” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead, who apparently originated this order, “is interested in who are the diverse officers with high potential and what is the plan for their career progression. He may ask what is being done within to ensure they are considered for key follow on billets within the Navy.”

The message specifies, “This list must be held very closely but will provide ready reference to ensure we are carefully monitoring and supporting the careers of the best and the brightest the Navy has to offer.” That is, the best and the brightest provided a sailor is one of the euphemistically “diverse.” If you are a white male, it might be time to set sail and seek opportunities elsewhere.

I am utterly satisfied that this is not the message that the CNO intends to send. I am, frankly, a little curious whether that is the message that is being received.

Update: A private response, printed with permission, from a dear shipmate and superb professional who is in a position to know – better than most – what CNO is thinking here.

Lex, Regarding your post on the editorial from July, I just wanted to give you a little context that the editorial itself lacked.

First, let me set one thing straight up front — there is no mysterious list of officers who receive special benefits. As you point out, and as I think most reasonable people would agree, talent knows no race, gender or ethnicity. Yet the fact is that minorities and women are significantly underrepresented in Navy leadership positions. So, in order to make sure the most talented officers have a fair opportunity to advance, CNO asks the flag officers who lead the various Navy communities to be able to identify their most talented minority and women officers and to explain how the Navy is offering them the same consideration and opportunities to succeed as other officers. The unattributed internal e-mail that was cited was clearly just one leader’s attempt to make sure he could do that as he got ready to meet with CNO on the subject. This is about making sure the playing field is level, not tilted in favor of any group.
You can be sure that there is still only one way to advance in the Navy, and that is to excel at what you do and demonstrate potential for success in positions of greater responsibility, especially in operational assignments.  The only imperative on the part of leadership here is to have the best people leading our Navy now and in the future. A lot of folks are working hard to make sure everyone in the Navy has an equal chance, based on performance, to reach their potential. Frankly — and I say this as a shipmate — I’m proud the Navy is doing that, and I personally think all Navy vets can be proud of it, too.
Anyway, I hope this helps. Happy to talk to you about it more if you have questions.


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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Lex, Navy, USNA

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