We are halfway through the Company Command Series and are taking a quick intermission this week from the series. We continue discussing company command next week with policy letters.

Army-Navy football; working with peers or bosses during joint service time as a field grade officer; popular Hollywood films like The Hunt for Red October, Master and Commander, and Top Gun. I can think of few other times the Navy really ever comes to my mind as an Army officer and leader. Especially for junior officers or enlisted Soldiers, we don’t tend to consider our Navy brothers and sisters in arms during our daily professional routines or even throughout most of our careers. It should be expected though; when was the last time any of us (outside of SOF) participated in a training or real-world mission with Navy personnel? Our branches serve two different purposes for our nation: an army brigade combat team of 4,000 Soldiers generally operates at the low tactical level of war during land operations, where a 135-man Navy submarine exists to achieve strategic level influence ensuring the freedom of the high seas. As the Department of Defense appears to be steering more towards ‘jointness’ or a joint team, the mission of the Army and the Navy illustrate the inevitable challenges that lie ahead.  The Army’s relationship with the Air Force, for example, illustrates how easy this transition may be with joint basing; however, the Navy has been less than motivated to share its property with anyone else.  I don’t need to concern myself with the Navy except the one day a year that we beat the hell out of Navy, right? Not quite.  

I had the good fortune of spending last Christmas with my family at my sister’s house in Bremerton, WA.  She is a Naval Nuclear Engineer most recently assigned to a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, the USS JOHN C. STENNIS (CVN 74), homeported at Naval Base Kitsap.  Her fiancé is a submarine officer assigned to the USS CONNECTICUT (SSN 22) at the same base.  My family and I had the incredible opportunity to tour both ships on Christmas Day.  During those tours, I gained a new knowledge and respect for the Navy, its Sailors, and what they do.  Through reflection, I realized there are several important lessons that Army Soldiers and tactical-level units can in fact learn from Navy Sailors.  Despite the different missions, culture, and ways of doing business, the Navy taught me several things that I can improve upon in my Army career.  I believe Soldiers and Army tactical-level leaders can similarly benefit from these lessons.

Unit Pride.  Known to Sailors as pride and ownership, it radiates throughout any Navy ship as soon as you step onboard.  Everything on the ship is personalized with the ship’s name and hull number.  In every space and passage way, all copper and brass pieces are immaculately shined.  Most impressively though, is the Foc’sle (ship’s anchor room).  The ship’s Boatswain’s Mates, responsible for the exterior beautification, embody unit pride through maintaining a pristine room with every piece, moving or not, perfectly painted; it all looks like it belongs in a museum.  Transitioning through the ship’s numerous passageways, I reflected on the question: how do we foster a similar unit pride that encourages such attention to detail and commitment in Army units?  How you influence your own team’s culture is unique and there are many different ways to approach it such as subordinate empowerment, leader development programs, counseling, and so on.  I encourage you to consider the importance of unit pride and what that can do for your team.  Leverage simple means like creating a quality unit logo and slogan that Soldiers can rally around, paint your unit area with it extensively, and/or create a unit challenge coin!  Those three things alone engendered incredible unit pride in my company during command.

Technical Mastery.  My sister, her fiancé, and their Sailors knew everything about their respective ships; my sister’s fiancé could even draw the linear map of every single technical system of his submarine.  Beyond technical ship details, they knew their ships’ history and extensive naval tactics.  Similarly, Army tactical-level leaders are expected to be masters of Soldier universal tasks, their MOS skills, associated tactics and drills, and the necessary equipment to complete their mission.  In my experience though, no Army leader I’ve worked with has mastered their technical craft like the Naval officers and Sailors I met on those short tours.  Leadership, Mission Command, trust, loyalty, courage – all these are required to be successful Army leaders.  However, do not allow these to usurp the need for technical mastery of what you do. As L. David Marquet stated in his book, Turn the Ship Around!, “as authority is delegated, technical knowledge at all levels takes on greater importance. There is an extra burden for technical competence.” As Army professionals, we preach empowering subordinates and the principles of Mission Command, but we never fully address the need to train technical competence to support that. If technical competence of the subordinate and superior leaders don’t increase as authority is delegated, missions fail.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP).  From battle drills covered in doctrine to unit Tactical SOPs (TACSOPs), our Army SOPs tend to become incomprehensible tomes.  How many Soldiers do we think read and know our extensive SOPs that we create?  In the Navy, they live and die by SOPs.  Whether it establishes how to communicate on the bridge or how the officer on duty conducts their required inspections, everything that is done on a ship is standardized.  Procedures don’t become “standard for operating” when you publish your multi-hundred page document explaining them, but when everyone in your outfit knows the procedures by heart and operates by them.  Make simple SOPs that achieve the desired effect; keep them concise and to-the-point.  SOPs must be reliable, repeatable, and sustainable processes so that anyone can assume the job and accomplish the task. Once established, teach your SOPs, rehearse them, and even test your team on them – live and die by your SOPs.

Modest Living.  I loved my Stryker as a company commander.  I rigged that beast for maximum efficiency and comfort for my crew and me during our brigade collective training and National Training Center rotation.  I relocated my JCR, removed some seats, and we even established our dedicated coffee station for daily French Press coffee.  Compare that to a submarine Sailor who is allocated storage the size of a gym locker and bunk beds stacked three or more high that they have to “hot rack” between two or three Sailors!  Some Sailors even have to sleep in cots stuffed below torpedoes in the submarine torpedo room.  Soldiers, Sailors, Airman, Marines – we all think we have it hard in certain ways.  However, I have yet to find a service member who has to continuously live as modestly as a Navy Sailor.  Remember to keep it all in perspective and communicate that perspective to your Soldiers.

During my one-day tour of the JOHN C. STENNIS and CONNECTICUT, I learned a considerable amount about what the Navy does and how they do it.  Before those tours, I knew little to nothing about the details of naval operations and their day-to-day business.  However, by understanding them better, I gained an immense amount of respect for my Navy brothers and sisters that day, especially for my sister and her fiancé. I also learned lessons that will make me a better Army leader.  As always, though – Go Army, Beat Navy.

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1 Comment

  1. Astute observations and applications, Josh. We all should work, at least for a day, with our brothers and sisters in arms to gain appreciation for their lives and, as you did, apply what you glean to our mother service.

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