15 July 2005


I will probably be a wee bit light on the posting for the few weeks. On Monday I head out to Pearl Harbor for work shtuff, and will be there for ten days (rough job, I know it). Actually, Mrs. PBS is ready garrotte me, since she and M-PBS V2.0 Mods 1-3 are all staying behind.

Ah well, she can at least take heart in that:
1) This is coming out today, and Amazon.com should have it to us by tomorrow, so she and M-PBS V2.0 Mod 1 will have plenty of time to read it together.
2) Rob tells me that seeing sights like these is extremely unlikely, considering where I will be on the Island.

14 July 2005

The wonder is always . . .

. . . new that any sane man can be a sailor (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

The fellows over at Castle Arrgghh! pointed out this article by the LA Times which notes that the junior, or company grade, officer attrition rate from the Army is worrying some in that service's leadership. This struck a chord with me because 1) That is the most common time for submariner officers to bail, as well; 2) The article blames Iraq for the attrition
(continues in Full Post)

-So, to sum up the article:
>Army JO attrition rate is currently at about 8.7% - higher than any year since 2001.
>Why are the bailing at this point in their career?

  • "Young captains in the Army are looking ahead to repeated combat tours, years away from their families and a global war that their commanders tell them could last for decades. Like other college grads in their mid-20s, they are making decisions about what to do with their lives"
  • One interviewed officer said, as most feel, that, "At 26, he felt his window of opportunity to change careers was closing."
  • The Army even acknowledges that, "if they are able to persuade captains to remain in uniform a few years past their initial commitment, the odds are good they will eventually commit to a full 20-year military career.

> The article also states: "The officers ... are proud of what they accomplished ... and they are generally optimistic"
> The Pentagon is considering slowing the rate of deployments to improve quality of life and hopefully raise retention. However, even with those efforts, and "with [his Army] achievements behind him, the Notre Dame graduate said he was looking for a life with more stability."
> And, frankly, JO's are in high demand. One such headhunter (from Lucas, grrrr) told "how eager private-sector employers were for young, combat-tested officers"

Fascinating. Sooo, the article seems to imply that Iraq, and the "uncertainty about ... an unconventional war" is what is driving attrition, along with a hungry economy, and the general harshness of a military career.

So, is the driving force really this "unconvential war?" Too bad we don't have data from before the war to compare. Oh wait, we do:

In Jan 01, in the Field Artillery Journal, MGEN Stricklin addresses the problem of retaining captains. He points to senior leadership as needing to reform to meet the needs of junior officers.

In March 01, the ADA online magazine wrote about how to emphasize the positives of military life in order to retain officers. When researchers asked "company grade officers what they "most liked" about being an officer. Of almost 19,000 surveyed, the top four categories in order were: Opportunity to Command, Patriotism, Working with soldiers and Camaraderie."

In order to put this in terms I can understand, I also compared what these three articles said to the state of the submarine community, the area I feel most comfortable commenting on. It is not a simple one to one comparison, as we shall see, but at least some parallels can be drawn. By the way, most of the following data is culled from the BUPERS community status brief.

To get a good overall feel, let's look at officer manning rates from nubs to COs. First off, the accession rate:

So, we didn't get quite the numbers we wanted from 94-99, but like most of the services, we got a bump in 2000, and more than we expected after 2001. This year, though, it looks as if we will not recruit quite as many as we had hoped (although the year is not yet over). So, perhaps there is some truth to the fear of not enough officers? Let's keep looking.

The next big step, after signing up, is who goes on to be a Department Head. This is the same point, time wise, that the LA Times article discusses with the Army.
So, the biggest shortfalls in people continuing their careers were from 2000 to 2003 - at which point a nominal Dept. Head tour was running upwards of 42 months - my WEPS did a 46 month tour. Any wonder why being a Dept. Head didn't sound thrilling to JOs at that point - it was a self-reinforcing cycle. But now it looks like we are right on track with how many guys we are keeping. Sure, 60%(!) of JOs bail (as compared to the Army's 8.7%), but we had planned on it.

So, perhaps the manning "crisis," while notable, is not truly a crisis yet? Let's review command structures to give a little more insight.

Of a group of 100 sub JO's, only about 40 will go on to be Dept. Heads. Of those, about 28 will get LCDR billets (XO or XOSS) - and right now it looks like all of those 28 will get CDR billets (CO or COSS). Are these numbers startling? Well, no, not if you are familiar with a sub's command structure. When I left ustafish, we had 10 JOs, 3 Dept Heads (no, I do -not- count Chop), 1 XO and 1 CO. All the tour lengths are supposed to be around 3 years, with the exception of the XO (2yrs). So, that ratio of attrition works out for subs.

What about the Army? Granted, here I am a little out of my depth, but from what I understand, there command structure isn't quite as tapered off as ours, hence they look for a much smaller attrition rate. But is there rate startling? Well, it is hard to say. I could not find accession rates vs. expected for the Army officer corps (I am much more adpet at surfing Navy personnel pages), but we can make some assumptions.

1. The Army had a surplus of new people after 9/11 - all the branches did.
2. Those people now have at least one deployment under their belts, for the most part.
3. Their initial 4 year commitment is almost up.

Now, I am going to to define two types of servicemembers: 1) "Regulars" - Those who would have served whether we were at war or not; and 2) "Crisis volunteers" - Those who signed up do to 9/11 and/or the GWOT. Prior to 9/11, the military had projected a certain manning level based on group 1), as that was all they had at the time, and their manning was fairly consistent. After 2001, a large number of folks from group 2) swelled the ranks. However, they joined not with a career in mind, as many in group 1) did, but with the idea to help fight the war on terror. Now, with a deployment (at least) down, and significant time in, they probably feel as if they have done their part, and they are ready to move on. Hence the uptick in attrition. However, as long as group 1) stays consistent with pre-9/11 projections, the military is probably not in a crisis mode yet. Sure, the % may be higher than expected, but do you still have enough people to fill the needed billets? I would guess yes - mere percentages can be misleading, and no hard numbers (such as 'The Army will be short 200 CAPTs for critical infantry billets next year') are provided, or available anywhere I can find. As we have heard no such alarm being raised, I think it is a safe assumption that this situation does not yet exist.

Attrition is an unfortunate fact of life for the military. But, as you will never have as mnay COLs as 2LTs, it is planned for and expected. In fact, if it didn't happen, they would probably force it to. It is how the force is structured. While every branch would like to retain people, especially the seasoned junior officers, that is simply the most logical point for them to leave, if they are going to. Myself, I actually stayed in past my initial commitment. However, I did not remain much longer. No, not due to Iraq, and not due to the 'poor' pay, for, check this out:

This is what BUPERS thinks a LT makes. Take out the nuke bonus and the 'tax advantage' - which I think is a bit of bogus number inflation, and that is what most O-3's, in all branches, should make base salary, approximately. So that bit in the LA Times article about civilian jobs with slaries of 50-70k being much more than an O-3's salary - yeah, not so much. While I did not get the nuke bonus (I was a rent-a-nuke, not buy-a-nuke), I still took a pay cut when I went civilian. As several of the other articles pointed out, money is not really a factor. It won't draw us in, and it won't keep us in. It is, however, a nice bennie, so keep it coming! Seriously, though, O-3s are going to leave the service. That is just how it is - if you wait past your initial commitment, it just gets harder and harder to leave, I know this from experience, and most O-3s are forewarned about it. Are they going to struggle with the decision? Yes. Are they going to leave because of Iraq? No - for the most part, everyone involved in this is proud to be serving, and doing the job they signed up to do. Are they going to leave because of financials? Not for the most part. Then why? They finally have first hand knowledge of the reality of the job, and for various reasons (family, stability, education), that reality just does not fit with how they want to continue to grow. This is natural, and should not be panicked over. When the military starts to announce that it can not man senior posts, then we will know we have an attrition problem. But we are not there yet.

And yes, if you are wondering, it is a hard decision, either way, chosing to stay or go. I did not make up my mind until the day I turned in my letter - and even then I almost changed my mind, after an hour long talk with my CAPT. Do I regret my decision? No - luckily, I still serve in a different capacity. Do I ever think about changing my mind. Lots - especially since I am still a reservist, and could technically get back in fairly easily. However, the point of contention for me was my kids. When I got back from my last deployment, my oldest (who was 3 at the time) would not speak to me for weeks, except to tell me he was angry at me for leaving, and #2, who was 1, did not recognize me at all, as I had only been around for 7 weeks of his first year of life. For him, "Daddy" was the picture in the living room. So no, if I sit back and think about it, I know I will not be going back. Especially since #3 has never known me to go to sea, and I don't intend to let her experience it.

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12 July 2005

When hobbies and professions intersect

As some of you may or may not know, I am a bit of a neophyte amatuer astronomer. I blame my Astrophysics major in college. Since I have left the boat, I have slowly ramped up my pursuit of this hobby. Part of this habit, errr, hobby is the subscription to Sky and Telescope my wife obtained for me. I was recently reading through the May '05 issue (somehow I skipped this issue) and ran across an article that caught my interest for several reasons.

The article, less than a page long, was a sidebar to an article concerning Gamma Ray Bursts. The reason the sidebar drew my interest was twofold. 1) It discussed how amatuers are contributing to the detection of GRBs; and 2) It concerned how GRBs and solar flares disrupt the ionosphere.

As my senior research project was on solar neutrinos, I have since had an affection for anything conerning our closest star ever since. What really caught my eye, though, was how these amatuer astronomers were detecting solar flares and GRBs. You see, these guys, all members of the American Association of Variable Star Observers detect these incredibly energetic events by measuring how they disrupt the Earth's ionosphere. They do this by determining the radio-propagation properties of the ionosphere with homemade receivers. Any massive event, like a Gamma Ray Burst or solar flare, tends to spike the propogation of radio waves through the ionosphere. Cool, huh?

So how does this intersect with my professional self? Well, the AAVSO uses homemade receivers to track these Sudden Ionospheric Disturbances (SIDs). But if they have receivers, who has the transmitters? Well, you see, the spectrum they monitor is VLF. Yup, in fact, the latest GRB detection was made by an amatuer monitoring the Navy's transmitter in Jim Creek (Oso). The AAVSO guys involved in the SID search even have a list of every major VLF transmitter, from a slew of countries, including ustafish's mainstay, Cutler, ME.

Overall, this seems pretty innocuous, right? Military transmitters being used for good science. While I agree this is true, it still disquiets me. These are our encrypted transmissions to our boats. As a former COMMO & Nav/Ops (a story for another time - ours got fired, replacement had orders but they were a year out - sigh) I have perhaps an oversensitivity to comms security. Sure, these transmissions are encrypted. But the fact that they are regularly monitored and reported on by civlians just disturbs me. I cannot think of any plausible operational information they could cull from those transmissions (even if they decrypted the signal, the transmission would mean nothing to them), but it still gives me pause. Some attitudes die hard, I guess...

When Lawyers get involved...

...*everyone* gets sued!

Anyone remember when I posted about some cities not contracting with certain companies because of some pretty sketchy claims that some of their antecedent companies might have been involved in the slave trade? Well, the NAACP is taking it to the next level, according to the Washington Times. (registration req'd)

I was going to try and break down the partially rediculous, partially frightening consequences of this action, but it turns out the Capt. over at Captain's Quarters beat me to it. I highly recommend the read - if for no other reason than to get a breakdown of the article without having to go through the Wash. Time's silly online registration.

11 July 2005

Thank you, Admiral

From the New London Day (registration required, so I will quote liberally):

Washington, D.C. — Rear Adm. John D. Butler, a former commander of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, R.I., who for the last two years has been head of the submarine construction program at Naval Sea Systems Command, retired this month after 31 years of service during a ceremony in the Washington Navy Yard's historic Admiral Leutze Park.
During his tour as PEO, Submarines, he oversaw the delivery of USS Virginia (SSN 774), the first of a new class of submarine, and the delivery of USS Jimmy Carter (SSN 23), the last of the Seawolf Class.

RDML Butler was my boss back when I worked in DC. He was one of the best senior officers I have ever worked for. Personable, intelligent, wanted to hear your thoughts, no ego to speak of, he was what every flag officer should be in many respects, in my opinion.

Butler “shaped the submarine force of the future through his leadership of hallmark acquisition programs.” Among them were the conversion of Ohio-class submarines into SSGNs, which will fire conventional missiles and carry large complements of Special Forces; delivery of the Advanced Swimmer Delivery System; and delivery of USS Jimmy Carter at Electric Boat.

The RDML pushed for innovative thinking, encouraged non-conventional solutions, and really was a great facilitator for making a lot of the sub fleet's successful programs happen. It is amazing what you can accomplish when you know your superiors trust you and will back you up.

He entered the Navy via the Nuclear Power Officer Candidate Program in 1975. His sea assignments included tours aboard the fleet ballistic missile submarines USS Will Rogers, USS James K. Polk, USS James Madison, and the submarine tender USS Proteus.
Transferring to the engineering duty officer program in 1984, Butler headed a number of Navy programs, including the Seawolf program, and was naval aide to the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition.

He had a breadth of experience, both in subs, Eng Duty, and DC money games, that will be hard to match. He was a great, and relatively unknown, advocate for subs. His replacement, CAPT (actually RDML-select) Hilarides is currently heading the SSGN program office, is still an 1120 I think (not an EDO) and is very highly regarded. He has big shoes to fill.

So this is what our tax dollars pay for?

So, despite what my previous post claimed, I did not spend my entire lunch break goofing off. However, instead of working through lunch with my food at my desk, as I usually do, I decided to sit in my car under a tree, listen to the news and eat. However, I am actually sorry I did so, now. You see, one of the few stations we can get on base is NPR, and frankly, I could not stomach the drivel coming through my radio - I ended up cutting my lunch short.

What could cause this disgust? The " Peabody Award-winning weekday magazine of contemporary arts and issues," Fresh Air, with Terry Gross. If you feel like being frustrated and annoyed, read on...

-Today, Ms. Gross had Dr. Francis Dufrayne as a guest. The good Dr. is a gastroenterologist and a Navy reservist (CAPT-type). This sparked my interest because my father is also a gastrointerologist (yes, there are two ways to spell it - it is the 'GI' tract after all), and used to tell me that if he was still part of the Public Health Service (the folks that run the NIH - think Surgeon General), his equivalent rank would mean I would have to saulte him. This usually elicited a snort from me.

Dr. Dufrayne, however, was recently called up and sent to Ramadi with his reserve unit, at the same time his son, an active duty Marine CAPT was sent to Iraq.

In my mind, this scenario opened up a host of potentially interesting questions, such as:
-How does one transition from being a medical specialist to a battlefield doc dealing with trauma and triage, with little to no work up time?
-What was the nature of your facilites there? (He was with his unit, not in a hospital or med facility)
-Did you get a chance to judge how the Iraqi medical community is recovering from the hostilities?

Were any such questions asked? Well, for the first half of the show (remember, I stopped listneing after that), no, nothing so insightful was asked. In fact, as a military member myself, I can say I was fairly insulted by the lines of questioning, and what they insinuated. I will say Dr. Dufrayne attempted to answer as honestly and honorably as possible, but it is hard to reply to implied slights. To wit, a sampling of the questions:

(all paraphrased, as I am by no means a stenographer, and shorthand is not my speciality)

Terry Gross: Why, after your enlistment was over, and you were already a doctor, would you rejoin the Navy??? (Yes, that emphasis was in the question. Complete disbelief)
Dr. D: The Navy did good things for me. It was a positive force in my life, and I wanted to pass that along to others.

TG: Did you have to deal with a lot of stress with the members of your unit?
DD: When we were working up at Port Hueneme there was some stress, as we were tense about going on deployment. But once we were in Iraq, we were focused on the mission, so there were not many stress-related problems. (Emphasis mine)

TG: Did you have to play therapist a lot to determine if ailments were real or stress related? (not letting the stress-angle go)
DD: Yes, I suppose, if someone kept coming to me again and again. (trying to be diplomatic)

TG: Did you ever have to prescribe sleeping pills to help troops deal with the stress? (Yup, determined to tell a story of over-stressed, soon-to-be PTSD-having troops)
DD: No. (He said a lot more than just "no", but it was all a polite way to say, "Are you stupid?")

TG: Did you have many troops attempt to 'play' you, and pretend they were ill when they weren't (basically malingering).
DD: There was a very small percentage, and I tried to deal with those informally. (So, not really, but thanks for asking)

By now, you might see why I was getting so angry listening to this arrogant, confident-in-her-own-opinion, made without research, "interviewer". To expand a little more:
There were several instances of Ms. Gross stating, "I know that..." regarding such wonderful topics as: Troops having diarrhea due to stress, troops "messing themselves" (her words) when first encountering combat, etc etc. And where did she get this certain knowledge? She didn't say, which leads me to believe that she has been reading too many combat novellas, and assuming they apply to real life and Iraq. How did Dr. D respond? By saying, "I suppose I would tell them," or, "I might say," which says to me it didn't happen, but hypothetically this is how he would handle such an occurance.

Frankly, this pathetic attempt to paint our warfighters as traumatized babes-in-the-battlefield is ridiculous and bespeaks a complete lack of knowledge of our armed forces. From my own experiences, yes, there was stress. But, on the few occasions when we thought, or worse, knew, or lives could be on the line, there was ZERO panic. That is why we train like mad. So when the chips are down, our reactions are automatic. Now, there were a few times, when all was said and done, and the danger past, that we did indeed take a deep breath and look at each other and say, "Holy S#!t, that was close." But that was it.

So please, Ms. Gross, take the time to learn a little about your subjects before you interrogate them. Or think up more pertinent and interesting questions. Either way, prove that you are worth the tax dollars that a fight in Congress just earned you. Sheesh.

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Lunch Break

So, via Arrrgh!, via Alphecca, I came across yet another silly quiz-thingy. However, I was most gratified to see that I am apparently one of my favorite scifi writers of all time:

I am:
Isaac Asimov
One of the most prolific writers in history, on any imaginable subject. Cared little for art but created lasting and memorable tales.

Which science fiction writer are you?

And that, boys and girls, is how I wasted my lunch break today ;-)

08 July 2005

Far East Update

Some more thoughts on China, courtesy of the US government:
  • Senator Bayh (D-IN) comments on China's overly aggressive, and possible unfair, trade policies.
  • The Pentagon can't seem to decide how much of a military threat the red dragon is. I don't know if it was just a Navy thing, but every threat assesment I helped with projected China being the major state military threat we would have to contend with in the future.

Not much else to post at the moment - way busy with that life-thingy.

07 July 2005

For Britain's sake defend

The pithy post I had started on will wait. Until then, I am grabbing news when I can, or checking Kat at the Middle Ground, who is liveblogging news from London.