SNA East Developing the Leader

by Vice Admiral Roy
04 May 2022
Good afternoon. VADM (ret.) Hunt, VADM (ret.) Giffin, VADM (ret.) Route [VIRTUAL],  RADM McLane, RADM Schlise, RADM (ret.) Hart, RDML Alexander,  RDML Menoni, RDML (Sel.) Kennedy, RDML (ret.) Williamson, Captains, Commanders, shipmates, and colleagues. It’s an honor to speak with you and a pleasure to be back on the East Coast. To the SNA Team, thank you for all the hard work that went into setting up this conference and for everything you do for the Surface Warfare Community.
 
For the past 247 years the Surface Force has consistently put ships to sea and defended the nation’s interests. We’ve done this boldly and professionally through the collective discipline, intelligence, and leadership of our Sailors. Every rating and Officer has a hand in this achievement from the Captain on the bridge to the seaman handling line. And while we’ve had challenges - our ability to deter aggression and maintain freedom of the seas is unparalleled.
 
It’s entirely too easy to discount our success, focusing solely on things we’ve haven’t done well. I’ve seen this issue throughout the Force and it detracts from our organization. I, and I know this may come as a shock, have attended a fair number of evolution debriefs, walking through each small mistake, rehashing the precise order of commands, or reflecting upon the timeliness of reports. Assessment of our actions is vital but it’s critical it does not become flagellation. As leaders, we can’t punish our Sailors for mistakes made in the process of learning. It is the surest way to foster a culture of silence and indifference.

The Surface Force conducts difficult operations every day -tracking submarines, shouldering adversary ships, replenishing at sea, launching helicopters; AAVs; and LCACs, …too name only a few… These missions are incredibly complex. But challenging evolutions are what we do and our Sailors are capable of surmounting any obstacle with the right leadership, training, and tools. We demand proficiency and we only achieve it by training our Sailors into confident crews, tested and able to adapt as a team to the most trying situations.

This cohesion and proficiency is displayed by our Navy every day.

Recently, USS The Sullivans (DDG-68, We Stick Together) responding to the invasion of Ukraine rapidly deployed from Norfolk in support of NATO and our partners in Europe. Meeting our allies in the North Sea, the ship transited through the Danish straits and into the contested Baltic encountering Russian frigates upon entrance. As allied German submarines got underway, deploying amidst the heightened tensions, the Russian frigates attempted to close and track the subs. The Sullivans’ watchstanders recognized this intent and the CO, TAO, and OOD ordered the ship to intercept,

Shouldering and blocking the frigates before they could acquire datums on the subs. With close coordination between the German Maritime Operations Center and a British reconnaissance aircraft (P-8) The Sullivans pushed the frigates out of the operating area, away from the submarines, reducing the Russians to mere observers unable to interfere with NATO operations.
 
And if you ask Sailors aboard The Sullivans what it was like to conduct these maneuvers and deter our adversaries, in their own backyard,

They’ll tell you, “Sir, it wasn’t too difficult I just did what I was trained to do.” That says a lot about our Sailors. This was an unconventional task, in unconventional circumstances, and they, unsurprisingly rose to the occasion. They demonstrated ingenuity, interoperability, tactical expertise and most importantly assessed the risk, understood the risk and executed a sound plan. But to them it was little more than doing their job.
 
I’ve got one more story, a west coast story and it’s another great example of the quality of our Sailors. 
 
About a year ago, USS Mustin (DDG-89, Always Be Bold) received orders to shadow the Chinese carrier Liaoning [Lee-Ow-Ning]. The Captain gave the command, the crew took in lines, and the ship got underway. The team plotted a course towards the carrier, discussing how they intended to handle their mission as they steamed towards the Chinese ship.

When Mustin finally met the carrier the accompanying Chinese cruisers and destroyers moved to intercept. Their presence didn’t deter Mustin’s crew and they steamed in near to the carrier. As they moved closer the Chinese ships started to back off, giving us an important piece of information –that the Chinese have specific operating restrictions around their carrier. Mustin didn’t have those and the ship proceeded, finding a good station alongside, taking pictures and observing the carrier for quite some time.
 
I talked with Mustin’s CO later about the event and during our conversation I noticed that he had an interesting patch on his uniform. It said, “non-grata,” and when I asked why he told me the Chinese demarche had sent the State Department a note saying USS Mustin was no longer welcome in the South China Sea as they were such a disruption.
To me that shows the boldness of our Sailors. Not what they are trained do but what they are capable of. When you talk Mustin’s crew, it wasn’t just the Captain, it wasn’t just the XO, it was the whole crew. They knew what they were doing.

These events, these decisions, these Sailors define the Surface Force. They define who we ARE - Bold and professional warfighters.
 
So when we evaluate our organization we must do so from these examples, these mindsets. Planning as a team, intelligently assessing risk, and executing cohesively –that demonstrates warfighting readiness.
We should all be performing like this but unfortunately we do not.
 
We have variance in the Force, we have a preponderance of high performing teams and others that are not quite there and it’s our responsibility as a community to reduce that delta.
 
 Why is this a call to arms for me?  It’s simple, we will never win a war of attrition against the Chinese, they have greater numbers; and we certainly cannot afford to attrite our own forces -taking them offline for months due to issues well within the control of our Teams.

We will prevail with our capability and our Sailors but everyone must be ready to join the fight.
 
So “How do we reduce variance in the Surface Force?”
 
I believe there are five concepts that help us reduce variance regardless of where you sit in the community: standardization, trust, transparency, consistent learning, and safety.
 
Take a moment, reflect on your best command, or your best work environment and I bet all those attributes were present.
 
Our task is to create that environment and those teams across the entire Surface Force developing and refining the character, competence, and connectedness critical for success and most importantly winning tomorrow’s fight.  
 
This process starts with our Sailors and our crews, molding them into steadfast teams that trust one another and communicate openly. It takes leaders at every level to do this – from deck seaman to VADM. To demand honest risk and readiness discussions, especially when it feels the most uncomfortable, and receive the information without adding undue stress or urgency. It’s especially true during these moments of stress that our leaders must have trust in themselves and their teams. Ask yourself, “Who do you want running the watch team?

The watch stander who startles at every new contact and berates the watch or the calm leader who uses their whole team efficiently to find a best course of action.” It’s an obvious answer but not always what we find on our ships.  
There is a noticeable difference when you walk onboard a ship between a crew that is confident and takes pride in what they do and a crew that does not. You can see it in the little things –Sailors wearing command patches, the bell on the focs’le shining in the morning sun,

The smart execution of colors, communications between a watch team, and the recitation of the Sailor’s Creed at quarters. Pride, teamwork, and trust set the tone for how we operate. They’re the difference between giving up when things get tough, and reaching down deep to embrace a common ideal to help us persevere. Many of you know what I’m talking about.
 
While we’ve funded tools like the Leadership Assessment Program-Surface to evaluate the readiness of our people to command our ships
And sailors, the Afloat Culture Workshop to provide triads an in-depth review of the atmosphere aboard their ships, and No-Blame Reporting to promote transparency and risk-awareness throughout the Force; these tools alone will not change the trust our Sailors have in their leaders. It takes a sustained commitment, to integrity transparency, and training to build a team’s trust and confidence.
 
We’ve invested heavily in learning and the provision of competency tools since the collisions of 2017…

And the major fire aboard USS Bonhomme Richard. We’ve opened new Mariner Skills Training Centers; in San Diego and Norfolk, installed dozens of ship handling simulators, advanced the damage control conversations, and provided new electronic classrooms across all fleet concentration areas. The initiatives we’ve started are having a noticeable effect. The competence of Sailors is better than I’ve ever seen. Our Junior Officers report to their ships with a greater knowledge of seamanship, a strong foundation from which to build their skills.
 
Surface Warfare Schools Command has conducted a major revision of the Advanced Division Officer Course curriculum. They’ve reenergized maritime warfighting, expanding the instruction to three weeks, and greatly increasing the graduates’ abilities to qualify as Surface Warfare Coordinators.

Our growing community of Warfare Tactics Instructors (or WTIs) are applying their expertise to guide our Force’s training -interpreting and shaping the warfighting requirements that dictate capability development.
 
 [Let me tell you a story about WTIs]
 
These programs exemplify our continued commitment to consistent learning, and raising the proficiency and competency of our Sailors throughout the Surface Force. But programs are only as effective as the people who execute them.

It’s our leaders, our mentors, our shipmates who must imbue a thirst for learning and have the ability to recognize when tactics aren’t working and reassess.

They must utilize every challenge or defeat as an opportunity for development –personal and professional.  No one is infallible and we must humble ourselves, throughout our careers, to continued learning. I would tell you that I still learn something every day, whether it’s from a Chief Petty Officer challenging one of our seamless policies or a young LT demanding we utilize technology that would make our Sailors lives so much easier. 
 
We cannot afford hubris to cloud the judgement of our Sailors.

It leads to unsafe working conditions and mishaps. Breaking the error chain requires our people to speak up when risks arise. Arrogant leaders hinder these discussions.  When Sailors think their concerns will be met with indifference or disdain we all know what happens: ITS NOTHING GOOD. Leaders must be humble and transparent, risk management must be an inclusive conversation.
 
As leaders we must demand inclusivity. When Sailors are surrounded by peers and commanders who value their contributions…

And assist them when they struggle their growth is exponential. I think we can all recall a leader or mentor that encouraged us, helped us when we made a mistake, and provided a word of wisdom when we were unsure. It’s hard to hear – trust me if you stay around as long as I have it never gets easier - but when delivered in a constructive manner it is a GAME CHANGER!
 
We’ve implemented programs to measure an organization’s climate perception, unit cohesion, leadership, job stress, error management,

And command safety practices. We’re reviewing crew endurance measures like, sleep hours, sleep disturbance, and health. Items that capture leader perceptions of subordinates and open-ended comments that provide opportunities for respondents to share their thoughts about safety and crew endurance. But these monitors will not change climate alone. It takes our dedication to the concepts of trust, transparency, consistent learning, and safety to create the environment we need to produce the warfighting readiness our nation requires.
 
As a community I promise you we are dedicated to this task. We must advance our culture. The Surface Force cannot allow Sailors that do not look out for their shipmates to permeate the community. It creates a sub-optimal environment and dulls our competitive edge. All of us must assess our teams and reflect on the climate we have created – it is not something done once a year as tasked it is something you must do every day. If NOT, cracks become fissures and we fall to mediocrity or worse... In command I used to tell the crew, “you know I could probably take a score of you to sea with me and operate this ship; but we would, probably,

Only be about 50-55% effective; I need all of you physically and spiritually to be 100% effective and more importantly to put the fear of King Neptune into any would-be adversary to cross our path”. I demand you think deeply about how well your teams work together.
 
Changing how we think about ourselves and interact with others can be difficult. But understand, this is a collective effort and by no means unprecedented.

When ADM Elmo Zumwalt assumed the role as Chief of Naval Operations he knew the Navy had to change. Step-by-step he labored to advance the conversation and create a stronger warfighting organization. He incepted the Sailor of the Year program to recognize outstanding Petty Officers. He released Z-Grams, one famously, addressing the greater need for equal opportunity within our ranks, and of course he pioneered the nuclear navy. Like all major change there was pushback at each advancement. Naysayers who thought things were fine the way they were. History and our success proved them wrong.

But imagine for a moment if ADM Zumwalt did not encourage trust and transparency throughout the Navy. If he didn’t focus on his leaders and Sailors. Where would our Navy be?
 
Advancing our culture cannot be accomplished by any one individual it must be done as team.
 
Now as we prepare for conflict in the 21st century, where the limitations of the future fight demand coherence, vision, and lethality. Our leaders must embody trust, safety, transparency,

And consistent learning. For some it may be difficult but it’s our job to enable them.
 
We remain dedicated to our imperative of producing competent Sailors and will continue to invest in mariner skills, a tactical continuum and the technical skills. But now we must also commit ourselves to improving ourselves, to reducing the variance we see in our force, to developing the character of our leaders and evolving our community’s culture of learning. Make no mistake, we progress because it is the right thing to do,

But more importantly it improves our warfighting readiness. It enables us to produce more ready ships manned by teams of Sailors who will give pause to any adversary that contemplates testing us today, tomorrow or in the future.

Thank you and I look forward to your questions.


 
Commander, Naval Surface Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet, 2841 Rendova Rd. San Diego, CA 92155-5490
 
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Commander, Naval Surface Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet, 2841 Rendova Rd. San Diego, CA 92155-5490

This is an official
U.S. Navy website

U.S. Pacific Fleet
2841 Rendova Rd
San Diego, CA
92155-5490

Email:
Public Affairs Officer
Webmaster

 
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