Mistrust, Careerism, and the Loss of the Warrior Ethos or
Why One Lieutenant is Leaving the Navy

April 17, 1999

Comment: #261
Discussion Thread:  #s - 126, 129, 138, 142, 155, 186, 207, 233, and 242


[1] Lt. Melanie C. Butler, "Why I Will Leave The Navy," Proceedings of the US Naval Institute, April 1999.  Attached.

As the United States slides down the slope of putting more of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines in harm's way in the undeclared Serbo-NATO war, the military's deteriorating readiness problems have been conveniently forgotten, but they have not gone away, and they could cause problems if the viciousness of the fighting and/or the tempo of operations intensify.

Among the most dangerous of these readiness problems has been the growing wedge of mistrust between the high ranking officers on the one hand and lower ranking officers and NCOs on the other [Comment #'s 126, 129, 138, 142, 155, 186, 207, 233, and 242 discuss different aspects of the wedge of mistrust]. Many of the juniors believe the senior officers put careers and bureaucratic prerogatives ahead of the hard decisions needed to protect the welfare of their people and the warfighting ethos of military service.

There can be no unit cohesion with out mutual respect and trust between the leaders and the led, and as any seasoned combat veteran will tell you, a breakdown of cohesion courts disaster when a unit is subjected to the intense stress of a hard-fought battlefield.

In the attached article, Lt. Melanie C. Butler provides a cogent analysis of factors that have been demoralizing and driving junior officers out of the Navy. Note that the issue of trust and confidence in leadership lies at the heart of the lieutenant's articulate analysis.

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]


USNI Proceedings
April 1999

Why I Will Leave The Navy

By Melanie C. Butler

I do not want to leave the Navy, but I will. I know this, even as I discuss--with my husband on a weekly basis--the possibility of staying at least through my department head tour. Even though I truly love being a surface warfare officer, I cannot do this for the next 15 years.

Why will I leave? There are a lot of reasons, many of which already have been briefed to the CNO and most of the flag officers. But very few junior officers will open up fully to an admiral, so the extent of the problem still may not be appreciated. There are several elements: a lack of compensatory pay for work done; a lack of trust in senior leadership; a lack of understanding about the balance between personal and professional life; and a disappointment in the loss of the warrior ethos that permeated the Navy when I was at the Naval Academy. The most compelling reason for my decision to leave my chosen profession, however, is a total absence of fun, coupled with an understanding that the senior leadership is unwilling to accept the fact that the Navy is broken.

What I mean by "fun" is the passionate enjoyment and fulfillment that comes from doing work you love. It is the excitement that comes upon waking up, ready to face a new day filled with challenges and opportunities. It is the pure unadulterated satisfaction you feel at the end of a hard day, knowing that you have made a difference in the world. This is "fun" to me.

The fact that I am still in the Navy already puts me in a minority. At my five-year reunion weekend in Annapolis, I was surprised that as much as 25% of my class attended. And I was even more surprised to learn that 80% of those who attended were out of the Navy. As I talked with my classmates about their new careers and how their lives are, I noticed
that they all seemed very happy with their decisions. The interesting thing about our conversations was that we never discussed the reasons why they had left. Everyone already understood.

During the first weeks of Plebe Summer one of my detailers asked me what I wanted to do in the Navy. I told him that I had joined to become an intelligence or cryptology officer. Wrong answer! I was told emphatically that I was there to be a warrior, that I was joining the Navy to kill people. This took me aback--though deep inside, I understood I might have to give an order that would lead to someone's death. After all, that is what military service is all about. I do not think I ever would have considered myself a warrior--or taken being called a warrior as a compliment--until I met my first commanding officer on the USS Whidbey Island (LSD-41), Commander Terry Pierce.

I honestly can say that I have never met another officer like Commander Pierce. Although he claimed that he was just a backwoods rube from Oregon, he is a highly educated man, well read on past and present warfighting. He is a Civil War buff and loves to apply the Marines' maneuver warfare framework to Civil War battles and to daily situations on board ship. He taught me how to think differently: looking for surfaces and gaps; focusing on the critical vulnerability in a
situation; and thinking two levels up to make the boss's job easier. He trusted my instincts when I served as Officer of the Deck. He asked for input on things--from policies for the ship to grammar recommendations on drafts of articles he was writing for Proceedings. He had some quirks that occasionally drove us crazy, and there were times when I did not
understand him at all--but I still respected him tremendously. I wanted to be a CO just as good as he was, but I found out very quickly just how much in the minority he is.

Many of the other senior officers I have met are so intent on attaining the next rank that they are oblivious to the great amount of time they dedicate to that end--and the difficulty that causes for the people working for them. As a corollary to this, these same senior officers are afraid to speak up and tell their own seniors the truth. No CO is going to admit to his commodore that his ship is not ready to carry out her mission--and as a result, the ship's personnel suffer. I cannot begin to count the number of hours I have spent on the ship (when I did not have duty) trying to finish some "emergent" tasking for some superfluous inspection that was supposedly just a "training assist visit"--but which the CO treated as a full-blown Propulsion Examination Board visit. We focus on the inane administrative minutia; as a result, the warfighting skills we are supposed to refine for our nation are eroding.

Why do nine out of ten junior officers not want to command? Why would anyone want to put themselves through the wringer of constant stress, long nights away from their families, looking over their shoulder for a potential backstab, or worrying that one of their officers or sailors might make a mistake that would cost them their careers? After Commander
Pierce, I have yet to meet another CO who would classify his command tour as "fun." I do not think that command is what most senior officers want anymore; command at sea is seen as a necessary evil en route to flag rank.

We junior officers have not lost our patriotism or our commitment to freedom--we have just lost the rose-colored glasses that were issued to us at graduation. For too many of us, the Navy is no longer an adventure--it is a chore that takes longer and longer each day. I love going to sea and being a warfighter. But the Navy is not about going to sea or being a warrior anymore. It is about day-to-day administrative drudgery; it is about micromanaging your sailors' personal and professional lives; it is about having your hands tied when all you want is what is best for your sailors.

I know the party line: things are changing. If there is real change, I have not seen it--and I cannot make myself believe that the reductions in the interdeployment training cycle will stand. Call me cynical, but I think "they" will just change the names of these "inspections" to "assist visits," and we all know what happens to those.

I do not really think that one lieutenant can make a difference--although I have tried very hard, within my own areas of responsibility.

When it comes right down to it, the Navy just is not fun anymore. And if it is not fun, why do it?

A qualified surface warfare officer, Lieutenant Butler served tours on two ships and screened for department head school.