Thursday, July 08, 2010

Navy culture on the skids?

One thing that the US Navy inherited from the Royal Navy was a tradition of anal-retentiveness when it came to cleanliness and maintenance. This was how you told USN and RN ships apart from the Russians and the French and other assorted wog flotillas.

Stuff on our warships was maintained neurotically and kept clean enough that you could eat your meals off any surface you pleased, or at least that was the goal: If a metal surface wasn't covered with tacky, drying paint, that's because it was due to be scraped and painted tomorrow. In light of this, I find the following article a little disturbing:
The Balisle commission does warn of the dangers of an “it’s not my problem” ethos in the surface force, which it said will make the Navy’s troubles, from Aegis to corrosion, all the more difficult to fix:

“From the most senior officers to the most junior petty officer, the culture reveals itself in personal attitudes ranging from resignation to frustration to toleration. The downward spiral of the culture is seen throughout the ship, in the longstanding acceptance of poor housekeeping, preservation and corrosion control. Over time, the ignored standard now becomes the norm. Sailors watching their commanding officer, department head, division officer and chief petty officer step over running rust, peeling non-skid or severe structure damage long enough associate this activity as the standard.”

This sounds more like the horror stories I've heard about the post-Vietnam Navy of the Carter years than it does the branch of service to which Tom Clancy wrote loopy little love notes all through the '80s and '90s.

BONUS!: Old NFO offered his thoughts on the same readiness report a couple weeks back.

(H/T to Bob at The Drawn Cutlass.)


Anonymous said...

Read that linked report, except everywhere it mentions a navy functionary, replace with a medical position, a nurse, phlebotomist, whatev.

Everytime it says "Navy" replace with "Health and Human Services."

This is your future America.
[cue Lee Greenwood]

Tam said...

My, aren't we just a ray of sunshine this morning? :)

TJP said...

Hey, it's like a floating public school system!

ZerCool said...

Good news, though: it's only affecting troubles from Aegis to corrosion, so we're still in good shape on dinghies, draft (that'd be of a ship, not a conscript navy), Exocets, F/A-18s, right on through to scurvy, Tomahawks, and up to the USS Zuni.

Sadly, however, the Constitution is fubared. Damn that alphabet...

Caleb said...

I have heard tell that part of the problem with the Navy is they lack a "serious enemy". Apparently it's hard to stay motivated about rocking someone's shit when it's plainly clear that there isn't anyone's shit worth rocking or somesuch.

Don't worry though, the Coast Guard is still taking good care of their boats. :D

Bob said...

Thanks for the linkage, Tam.

Boat Guy said...

I must disagree with Caleb; there ARE serious naval threats out there. While they are threats that the Navy entitled to Clancy's loves notes could have easily vanquished I'm not so sure about today's politically-correct, diverse-in-everything-but-thought Fleet. Todays Navy is worried about EVERYTHING EXCEPT seamanship and weapons in target, they are short of fuel and ammo - and the permission and opportunities to use some of either for practice.

Rustmeister said...

Sounds EXACTLY like the post-Vietnam years. Lack of money, lack of energized leadership, and a host of youngsters willing to go with the flow.

The Army managed to get things turned around by overhauling their leadership school curriculum. The Navy, as I understand it, doesn't have that option.

Robert said...

Having been in the Navy for a few years about 20 odd years ago, I can say that the majority of officers and chiefs then did not care much if the machinery was in perfect working order, but it better have a fresh coat of paint on it. Now they don't care about the paint either.

FTNuke said...

Most of this is attributable to the Navy's decision to make the fleet more efficient 10 years ago by reducing the size of the crews and turning over most of the maintenance to civilians instead of ship's force. Thankfully this problem doesn't yet affect the submarine force, mostly due to the fact that we have never had enough people to get the job done but have always been held to a much higher standard despite that because of the nuclear power program. What I'm saying is this one isn't Obama's fault, it is a product of the mindset of running the Navy like a business.

staghounds said...

TJP wins.

1. A fish rots from the head down.

2. "Apparently it's hard to stay motivated about rocking someone's shit when it's plainly clear that there isn't anyone's shit worth rocking or somesuch."

My a$s, if anything, the opposite is true.

In the old Queen's day Jacky, Champagne Charlie, and Silent Jack had the only fleet on the planet.

It is said that their final exam for a boatswain's mate's rating was to paint an entire ship's longboat white, inside and out, even under the thwarts, while wearing dress dark blue uniform.

No paint on the clothes, you passed.

3. I wonder what the ships in however they now spell Tsingtao look?

Bubblehead Les. said...

As someone who served in the Navy under Carter and Reagan, it saddens me to hear how the Fleet has degraded back to Carter era standards. One short sea story: In the summer of 79, while docked in Rota, Spain, we had to spend 3 extra days in port because we had expended our yearly consumable budget, and we had to send a message to our parent command, saying we were unable to do our mission. The cause? We had run out of TOLIET PAPER, and we couldn't restock until the Budget was passed in OCTOBER! Needless to say, the Pentagon was not too happy , but our supply officer wasn't punished, because he had the documentation to prove we hadn't wasted any money.

The way we got out of this attitude was to elect Reagan, who got rid of some chairwarmers, and instituted the "Pride and Professionalism" program. It came down to a very simple philosophical change: "It's MY Navy!" You saw a mess, grab a broom and clean it up, because it's Your Navy. You want to smoke dope and be high on watch? Not in MY Navy! Need parts? You went over the bureaucrats heads, bitched, moaned, fought, argued, do whatever it took to get your ship going, because It's MY Navy! Took awhile, had fits and starts, and there was mishaps along the way, but it all worked out in the end, because IT'S MY Navy!

Now these bastards are recruiting people to join "A Force for Good," as if the Navy was a branch of FEMA.

Hear that whirring sound in the distance? That's John Paul Jones, Dave Farregut, Adm. Dewey, King, Nimitz, Halsey, Mitschner, spinning in their graves at 400,000 RPMs.

Tennessee Budd said...

Sure doesn't sound like the USN I served in, & it wasn't that log ago (1988-92).
Then again, perhaps all the mall rats with "Old Navy" t-shirts can go straight into the new Navy.

Pointman said...

I've seen this syndrome in the tech sector and almost every time I encounter it there are micro-managing (sometimes empire building) control freaks at the helm. There is little that quashes good conscientious employees faster..

Anonymous said...

The Old NFO blog cover this a couple of weeks ago.

I know that some equipment that was to be in stock is no longer available in the supply chain. I received several calls from 5th Fleet on rushing gear to Bahrain.

SOP and logistics do not jive. I've heard the Coasties are in even worse shape.


Caleb said...

Whenever at the top level the leadership forgets that the primary mission of the military is to kill people and break their toys, we end up with all this namby-pamby "feel good" nonsense about the military, resulting in recruiting slogans like "a force for good". I remember when the Navy's recruiting commercials were nothing but 120 seconds of explosions and the roar of an F-14's afterburners.

Crap, even the Coast Guard has gone weaksauce in recruiting again. When I joined it was "Jobs that Matter", but then someone thought that was gay (it was) and changed it to "Shield of Freedom" which is pretty awesome. Now it's lame again: "born ready".

It should be "US Coast Guard: When weather makes the Navy put their toys away, we saddle up and go outside to play."

Joe in PNG said...

The Carter years are back, ya'll!

Cargosquid said...

I retired in 2008. Left the ships in 93. I saw this coming when I kept reading about how the Navy and other service "could more efficiently and cheaply outsource basic "non-combat" jobs to civilians."

A ship is a box that will sink without a dedicated crew. And keeping that box shiny helps keep that crew motivated. The powers that be keep talking about management but not leadership. Thousands of manhours worth of "computer based learning" is mandatory, repeating the same lessons that were mandated last year.

My ship and skipper were one of the last "old Navy" ships. It was run by a very senior Captain and was an amphibious Cargo Ship, LKA-117 El Paso. Bosuns tend to be "old Navy" and they ran the ship.

I haven't been on board a ship since then, but, if this is accurate, we need to kick some ass. Heck, promote me to o-6, make me a skipper, and I'll guarantee that the attitude on my ship won't reflect those in the article.

Bob said...

I joked two years ago about needing the late Admiral Ernest J. King to be injected with zombie juice so he could come back and kick some bureaucratic ass; scroll down for my effort at photoshopping Adm. King into a zombie.

Joe in PNG said...

Another reason for frequent painting and cleaning- damage control. The crew becomes familiar with their ships in a very detailed way. Then when war comes along and it's time for damage control, you know every inch of that corridor you spent the last few months painting and cleaning.

Note- that's something Niven and Pourneiie pointed out in "The Mote in God's Eye", one of the best SF novels ever.

perlhaqr said...

Hear that whirring sound in the distance? That's John Paul Jones, Dave Farregut, Adm. Dewey, King, Nimitz, Halsey, Mitschner, spinning in their graves at 400,000 RPMs.

My first thought was "No way, they'd come apart under that much spin." Then I thought about the sort of salt cured, tough-as-nails seagoing bastards you had listed and realised I was wrong. :)

Heh. Daniel Gallery lamented the lack of salty sailors when he wrote his novels back in the 60s. I can only imagine what he'd think of today's electronic barnacles.

Linoge said...

Speaking as someone who separated from the Navy a few years back, I can honestly say that the linked-to article is more-or-less correct...

Previous commenters hit the high points, and I will absolutely stand firm on the belief that there are exceptions to every rule (I served under a CHENG who had about 20 times your average amounts of "give a shit"), but suffice to say that the Navy today is not the Navy it was even 20 years ago.

Data Viking said...

This is not a new problem and should not be a surprise to anyone who has served. The first ship I was assigned to, USS Seattle AOE-3, was the first ship in the fleet to be built with galvanized steel in 1969 and by 1977 was one of the worst rustbuckets in the fleet due to 1) sailors assigned to chipping paint also chipping off the galvanizing and 2) over reliance on the same now absent galvanizing. All the rust is one of the main reasons this ship spent more than two years in dry-dock (1979-1981) after only ten years in service and was decommissioned in 2005 after less than forty years of service. So sad. One 'gives' the Navy new toys and what do they do with them ? They neglect them.

Ed Foster said...

The company I work for makes all of the Navy's turbine injectors and burner guns.

Remember when the Chinese forced down the Navy reconnaissance plane on Hainan Island and we sent the Kittyhawk to show the flag?

She was several days late, because she broke down in the middle of the ocean. I believe she was making all of 6 or 7 knots on auxiliary power.

It seems Throckmorton J. Scumsucker, the boy POTUS from Arkansas, had given the Navy the choice of enough JP4 and ammo to keep it's pilots in training, or enough spare parts to keep it's ships in spares. They did what they had to.

I had a Lt.Commander peering over my shoulder for 4 days, signing off on each unit as it came out of the flowtest stand and went through the coordinate measurment machine.

As soon as it was tagged and sealed, it was individually trucked to Westover Field and put on a C-5 headed for Guam and a COD sitting with engines running.

We ran 105 hours straight through, Colt and Pratt and Whitney had to suck hind teat for two weeks while we played catch-up, and Ted (the owner) never charged the Navy one extra cent.

He came from a country where people who spoke up got prison sentences or worse. For some silly reason he likes this place, and thought he had to make a small contribution to it.

Laughingdog said...

Working at a naval shipyard, I can say that what was written in that report does not apply to the nuclear vessels we repair here. The conventional navy may have slacked off. But knowing that doing a piss-poor job can lead to a reactor accident does quite a bit to boost your "pucker factor".