Be All You Can Be -- The Navy Steps Up to the Army's Challenge

February 8, 1999

Comment: #234


[1] Gregory L. Vistica, "A Very Few Good Men: The Navy tries to bulk up its thinning ranks," Newsweek, February 15, 1999.

It is becoming clear that the All-Volunteer Military is in deep trouble. The Navy is about take on the Army in the "Be All You Can Be" Advertising War.

The interrelated readiness problems of retaining a highly-motivated, well-trained, patriotic people while they are being overworked to simply maintain aging, complex, high-cost weapons are mounting daily. Ironically, overworked people are voting with their feet while spending for Operations and Maintenance, when viewed on a per unit basis (O&M dollars per plane, ship, or maneuver battalion), is higher today than it was at the peak of the Reagan spendup, even after one removes the effects of inflation.

The answer proposed by the Pentagon and Congress is to fix these problems by throwing even more money at readiness and retention. But we have seen that the corrupt bookkeeping system makes it impossible to determine the detailed financial cause and effect relations driving the meltdown [see Comment #169], and therefore, there can be no rational basis for assuming a spasmodic spending spree will fix matters. Twenty-five years of studying such problems has convinced me that more money spent the same way will set the stage for worse problems in the future by reinforcing the pathological behavior that is created today's problems..

The referenced report by Gregory Vistica is a typical example of how short-sighted, band aide fixes aimed at protecting the cold war status are setting the stage for long-term problems—in this case a Navy with core values more akin to those of self-indulgent mercenaries.

Vistica reports that the Navy intends to fix its shortfall of 22,000 vacancies in the fleet by reducing educational and physical fitness standards, offering critical skills re-enlistment bonuses of up to $45,000, lobbying for a 10% across-the-board pay raise (which means admirals get the largest raise of al, even though there is not retention problem for admirals), increased creature comforts (including, ironically, more shipboard email, even though email discussions about readiness problems are being discouraged by the leadership—see Comments #221 & 233), all glued together by a brand new $70 million advertising blitz, including TV commercials that will portray a cool high-tech "lifestyle" and the idea that life in the Navy is fun.

If this report correct, what does this personnel retention program tell its people about the Navy's core values? Standards are merely opportunistic management devices. Self-interest is more important that self-sacrifice. Being cool and having fun is more important than patriotism.

A warfighting force holding these values will crack under the stress of hard combat, like that experienced in Mogadishu or Iron Bottom Sound off Guadalcanal.

With thinking like this at the upper levels, it is not too difficult to see why the Defense Department produces Armed Forces Day Posters that hold soldiers, sailors, and airmen (male or female) in contempt by celebrating weapons and ignoring people.

Maybe contempt of the troops is a core value held by the courtiers of Versailles on the Potomac. But of course, that would have nothing to do with why people are voting with their feet.

Chuck Spinney

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