February 16, 2023

‘Those Who Will Not Risk Cannot Win’

Establishing DEI chains of command goes outside good leadership.

By Tom Klocek

These words of John Paul Jones, one of the greatest Naval heroes of all time, have guided our Naval warriors and leaders since the Navy’s inception in 1775. John Paul Jones was not only a great seaman and Naval warrior, he also understood leadership and what it takes for success in battle, particularly at sea. He understood the importance of those who made up the crews of a Naval ship as evidenced by another of his sayings: “Men mean more than guns in the rating of a ship.” There is no sense of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) in any of those statements. I sincerely doubt that he would agree with our current Chief of Naval Operations who said recently, “Our strength is in our diversity.”

When he wrote about the “Qualifications of a Naval Officer,” John Paul Jones said nothing about race or equitable outcomes, but only about the merits of an officer, including such concepts as gentlemanliness, charity, and honor. The whole tone of the letter shows the need for personal responsibility. He also encouraged rewarding meritorious actions while not overlooking faults. Nothing in this or the history of the Navy in all of the wars since then addressed diversity. While efforts and programs existed to facilitate equality of opportunity regardless of background, ethnicity, or religion, final outcomes were based on performance, not quotas. I doubt that John Paul Jones would even consider a need for safety and inclusion. Remember, this is the man who said, “I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast, for I intend to go in harm’s way.” That doesn’t sound like someone looking for a “safe space.”

The USNA DEI Master Plan mission statement, which begins, “Attract, retain, and develop a diverse cadre,” is missing a key word: capable. It has, as objective one, to “Become a school of choice because of an inviting, safe, and supportive campus where everyone feels they belong and have equitable opportunity for success — regardless of race, ethnicity, culture, gender or socioeconomic background.” The elimination of merit as a primary consideration in recruiting, training, and retaining midshipmen is an obvious weakness in the plan. As I recall in my days at the USNA and in the Navy, one had to earn the support of others. One was given a “grace period,” during which they had the opportunity to prove themselves, show their intent and ability to become a member of the team, and be willing to embrace the goals and mission of the unit. If they failed, they were “washed out.” There were no “safe spaces” to which you could run, although often a new member of the team would find, at least for a minimal time period, a mentor in whom they could confide, discuss issues and concerns, and obtain guidance. This fostered the development of both individuals as well as building understanding and teamwork in the subordinate.

The above master plan statement appears to ignore the concept of adversity in the development of leaders and teams. Having had an older brother who graduated three weeks prior to my entering the academy, I ran into several upperclassmen who “had it in for me” (my brother wasn’t popular with everyone). I had to deal with being singled out for special attention, and it only made me more determined to get through Plebe Year. When the brigade returned the next fall, one of those upperclassmen, on passing me in the corridor, congratulated my tenacity and determination, saying, “Glad to see you made it.” As the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.”

When I was executive officer of a guided missile destroyer, I personally greeted and interviewed every new addition to the crew. I impressed upon them that each man was an important part of the crew regardless of his position. I pointed out that at some time, without knowing it, the lives of some or all shipmates could be in their hands, whether they were the officer of the deck or a lookout or a food-service worker. In this way I was trying to emphasize not only the importance and significance of each individual member of the crew but also the need for them to take responsibility for their actions.

Was this effective? Did it foster team building and pride in being members of a cohesive fighting unit? I believe so. I base this on the fact that, during a port visit while deployed to the Mediterranean Sea, some of our crew met up with crewmembers of another ship. These other crewmembers were bragging about how easy it was to get around the rules and the leadership and to obtain drugs on the ship. Our crewmembers responded to them that “we don’t do that on our ship.” Later in the cruise, a few ships were selected by the fleet commander to visit a port at which the fleet was refused visiting rights because of past negative behavior. Our ship was one of the four selected to visit. We had a good reputation. (Later in history, both of the commanding officers I worked with went on to achieve four-star rank and serve as Vice-Chiefs of Naval Operations. Good, meritorious leadership has its rewards.)

The Navy has had a long history of holding people accountable at all levels of command. It has always been important that decisions be made at the lowest level possible, consistent with the rules and regulations, good engineering and seamanship practices, and capability (merit/leadership). Establishing DEI chains of command goes outside good leadership and is akin to the policy of having commissar overseers once found in the Soviet Navy, which weakened initiative and leadership and instilled timidity rather than boldness of action. A far cry from intending to go in harm’s way.

Furthermore, sadly, increasing diversity usually means a reduction of standards. There is a reason for the old adage, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” Do we want to recruit people who can do the job, or do we just want people who meet some mythical breakdown of ethnicity, faith, sex, or whatever without regard for merit? Already the services are relaxing recruitment standards to increase the availability pool. This includes relaxing age and qualification score requirements. In this treacherous international environment, weakening the chain is not good policy.

So, the question becomes, do we want to build a cadre of bold, fearless, capable Naval Officers, like the example set by John Paul Jones, CAPT James Lawrence (“Don’t give up the ship”), CAPT Isaac Hull (“If that fellow wants a fight, we won’t disappoint him”), and Bull Halsey (“Hit hard, hit fast, hit often”), among others? Or should we lower the bar in both recruiting and training, thus enshrining mediocrity to foster a false sense of virtuous diversity? Even the old Star Trek shows and movies embraced the former: “To boldly go, where no man has gone before.”

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