Predicting Music Genre with Lyrics and Machine Learning Algorithms

June 26, 2021 — Capstone Project in Partial Fulfilment of the Requirements for the Certificate in Data Science.

Disclaimer: The insights and analysis expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views, official policy, or position of Georgetown University and its stakeholders.

Cohort 23 — Capstone Project

Author: Tony Wright

Capstone Advisor: Karen Belita


Using algorithms to identify a product, a corresponding consumer, and uniting the two is the dominant use of advanced algorithms today (metric: ‘money generated from the activity’). Identifying attributes of a new song is a necessary first step in finding a consumer for that song. The most fundamental of song attributes is genre. Fortunately, consumers readily identify themselves publicly by their favorite genres making it a powerful Foreign Key to complete the sale. This capstone used machine learning and the song lyrics to identify a song’s musical genre.

Data Science has several tools to convert language into consumable data for various algorithms. Natural Language Processing (NLP) adds several unique steps to the front of the data science process.  NLP strips away the pieces that help language make sense for people but add nothing to a machine’s understanding.  These NLP tools are rightly focused on literature and common media products.  Applying NLP to songs faces several unique issues, however.  First, words in music are often used as another musical instrument.  Repeated words in repeated lines of a chorus help keep the beat.  But a chorus makes a mockery of n-gram analysis. Second, words are often chosen more for their sound than their meaning.

‘Don’t fix your lips like collagen.

And say something when you goin’ end up apologin [sic]”

Kanye West’s ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothin’[sic]” -2016

The man’s a genius, but how does a machine identify that sentiment?  This capstone project attempted to sharpen the NLP tools by using a large corpus of songs to create domain-specific NLP sentiment analysis variants, among other things.

Much of this is artificial, of course.  The music industry has no limit to the people who promote, critique or sell music products that can ‘Name that Genre!’ in three notes or less. And an acute manpower shortage in this group made the Data Science Journey of Discovery an end in itself.  Several necessary steps to lay the foundation for a legitimate data product were skipped to stay aligned with the syllabus overall and the rest of the groups.  The data scrapping and much of the code fine tuning required to create something sustainable are not here.

Hypothesis and Framing

Given a song’s lyrics it is possible to identify a genre for that song using machine learning. Hip Hop is more distinct and machine learning will have more success classifying Hip Hop songs.  

This capstone conducted training using a corpus of pre-labeled data with three genres. Rock, Pop, and Hip Hop.  We assumed the genre label was correct.

There were two major concerns apparent at the start of this effort.  First, song lyrics are not Natural Language (or they are hyper-natural depending on your nature), and NLP tools have limitations as a result (discussed above).  Second, the corpus spanned decades of music and the subjective genre label may well have shifted, creating a moving target [variable].

The capstone attempted to mitigate both issues by using the data to create the tools required to evaluate the data.  The tools are a derivative of existing NLP tools, created with domain-specific knowledge, in turn created by the corpus itself.


Logistics.  The software environment was created and constantly updated using the full spread of available options (Anaconda, pip and Homebrew).   A current environment.yml is kept in the ‘cfg’ folder of the Git repository (https://github.com/georgetown-analytics/Music-Lyrics).   That repository contains the recommended format and various pieces, including ‘notebooks’ and ‘sample’ folders. The ‘sample’ folder contains python scripts created first in Sublime Text, which were then tested piecemeal in a Jupyter Notebook and then run in their entirety in Terminal.  The ‘notebooks’ folder is a series of Jupyter Notebooks outlining the data science journey. As data was cleaned, wrangled and munged it was kept in an Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) ‘bucket’. Several buckets were configured as WORM with ‘Object Lock’ enabled.  These held the original dataset and specific canonical dataframes created at defined checkpoints along the way.

Data Ingestion and Wrangling.  The datasets came from Kaggle.  This set off a series of dataset-to-exploratory-data-analysis (EDA)-to-hypothesis-modification-to-dataset cycles, a necessary artificiality.  We had turned the first steps on their head as one should start with a hypothesis and then go find, or make, or scrape the data.  We thoroughly explored three different sets.    We chose ‘6 Musical Genres’ because it had the key features (lyrics and corresponding genre) and the lyrics were not yet pre-processed.  This enabled us to fully work NLP.

Kaggle datasets considered. Song Lyrics from 6 Musical Genres was selected.

NLP Pre-Processing. This process is unique to NLP and required some self-education[1][2] and Teacher Assistance (TA) assistance.[3] NLTK, Gensim, and regex tools were used to create initial features (word and letter counts for the full set of lyrics) and process the lyrics for more advanced parsing.  Before removing highly repetitive / low information words (stopwords) the group decided to look at multiple NLP options. The half-pre-processed lyrics through a standard path and the group started to send the same data, at the same point in cleaning, through a spaCy set of analysis.[4]  The standard path included genism stopwords and NLTK lemmatization.  This created a reduced set of lyrics with their own word/character counts.  Additional feature engineering added a sentiment score and label (positive, negative and neutral).  The group also appended a different sentiment analysis feature using the AFINN lexicon. While it was clear that spaCy was a powerful and clean way to accomplish most NLP things, the group failed to find a repeatable way to append the nlp.doc to my growing dataframe.  The group had to run spaCy nlp.doc again with each new Jupyter session.  We dropped the spaCy avenue of investigation.

Early EDA and Visual Analysis.  The second time through EDA looked at the earliest features created and identified some promising facts (Hip Hop counts and sentiment are different, visually, from the others) and some concerning ones (Rock and Pop are similar). There is a disparity in the number of examples of each genre in the total data set of 86,290.  Down sampling was required.

Rock was by far the most prevalent class in the dataset.

While doing wordclouds, I found more differences within a sea of very similar words. 

Digging deeper in n-grams (CountVectorizer) we found some differences when looking at individual words and their frequency.  There was real divergence between genres at the df.head(200) level of detail. However, bigrams and trigrams looked very similar regardless of the genre with many ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’s. This is the impact of using NLP tools on songs. N-gram analysis can be very useful, but the choruses in lyrics make repeated words too common to have usable meaning.

Early Feature Engineering.  Remembering recommendations from Dr. Bengfort and looking at a dataframe with every single word and its frequency, we decided to pursue the ideas of (1) domain-specific stopwords list, and (2) domain-specific sentiment. It started as another ‘branch’ our notebooks but became a concerted coding effort for the better part of four days. To avoid, or at least minimize, leakage, the lists were created using 80% of the total dataset with the same distribution of the target feature, genre.

Stopword lists are small lists for numerous words, with little meaning for NLP tools.  The group asked what if they are also huge lists of little used words, each lacking meaningful statistical relevance? If one gets rid of 20,000 words used only 5 times each in a corpus, they’ve gotten rid of 100,000 points in a tf-idf sparce matrix.  

“Stopword lists are often applied without much thought or concern, despite having a dramatic impact on the corpus left behind and any follow-on feature engineering. Looking further, “We hence recommend better documentation, dynamically adapting stop lists during preprocessing, as well as creating tools for stop lists quality control and automatically generating stop lists.”[5]   

The process developed leveraged sklearn CountVectorizer and allowed the group to breakout words for various genres with a metric for how common they were (frequency).  The first step in the process was to capture all words in all the lyrics. This was over 135,000 (from 30.6M total). Following a recommendation from Dr. Bengfort, a stop words list was made which constituted the least used words whose frequency sum added up to 5% of the total – about 96,000 different words, each used less than 36 times. The belief was that removing these words will reduce noise for clustering types of models.

The next step resulted in total word lists by genre.  We pd.merged those lists pairwise (Hip Hop and Pop, etc.). By using indicator=True & groupby, we broke out lists of words which were in one list, but not the other (Hip Hop through Rock, etc.). We then pd.merged the resulting dataframes by genre (Hip Hop through Rock with Hip Hop through Pop) and selected the words that were in both dataframes.  With that, we had a list of words truly unique to each genre.  The (80%) Pop/Rock/HipHop lexicon has 66,691 words.

We used the domain-specific stopwords list amended to NLTK stopwords list to make a third set of lyrics.  Sml_lyrics is ~ 600,000 less words than med_lyrics, which is ~21 million less than full_lyrics.  We re-ran the feature engineering steps on the sml_lyrics (counts, sentiment, affinity) and had another set of features to consider.  Next we modified the NLTK stopwords process to create a count in each instance of how many of which genre_specific words were in each med_lyric and sml_lyric.  Again, more features to consider.

EDA and Visual Analysis.  From the original data set with four features, we had grown to 29 features across three main sets.  Features came from either the full_lyrics, the med_lyrics or the sml_lyrics. Getting from full to med went through genism STOPWORDS.  From med to sml went through NLTK’s stop_words and the genre stop words list we’d built.  For full, med and sml there are word and character counts.  For med and sml there are affinity and sentiment scores / labels, and then the count, by genre, of genre-specific words. Forty eight percent of the entire dataset set had at least one genre ‘hit’.  And 89% of those were exclusively in one genre.

We knew we had collinearity when we plotted features from across each of the three pillars (full, med, sml).  But apparently, we had it within the pillars as well.  We attempted to bring out the importance of the genre_count by scaling (MinMaxScaler) those features – to no obvious effect.  RadViz plots below are broken out by med & sml features, and then those same features scaled.

Feature Engineering. An early run of various ML pipelines showed that the algorithms were often confusing Rock and Hip Hop.  This made it obvious the genre_counts weren’t making a difference even though 70% of Hip Hop instances had a unique Hip Hop word.    Also, clustering visualizations showed that scaling genre_counts didn’t make the difference obvious either (all other things being equal).    edecided to create a new feature, a simpler binary feature which indicated the presence of one or more domain specific words. [size]_[genre]_bool    We had 35 features.

The complete set of features.

Visual Steering and Feature Selection. 

“Most of these techniques are univariate, meaning that they evaluate each predictor in isolation. In this case, the existence of correlated predictors makes it possible to select important, but redundant, predictors. The obvious consequences of this issue are that too many predictors are chosen and, as a result, problems arise.”[6]

A graphic example of massive co-linearity.

An example of the problem, above.  In order to move through the visualizers faster, we created a numeric-only dataset and toured the various tools to conduct feature selection.    As this was a numeric input with a classification output, attempting feature selection one at a time (Analysis of Variance (ANOVA)) worked best.  Sklearn, f_classif() does not have a visualizer. So, we repeatedly ran ANOVA selecting an expanding group of features (k=3,5,7,10, 12, 15, 20, 25) across three different models, documenting F1 score and selector.support_ each time.  ANOVA recommended various word counts and the [size]_[genre]_bool features.  The ‘knee in the curve’ for best F1 was ~ 10 features.   ANOVA did not select affin or sentiment.   

We tried Rank1D and Rank2D next.  These are best with regressions, and not classifiers, but they are easy and still useful for getting a different look at the same data.  Rank1D selected affin and sentiment and didn’t select [size]_[genre]_bool. Rank2D weakly highlighted the power of cross-referencing word counts, [size]_[genre]_bool and sentiment and/or affin. 

We next looked at Recursive Feature Elimination and Cross Validation (RFECV) to see if I could break the tie.  Again, ten features were about the right number.  It was harder to prioritize features using RFECV. It would just report the ‘top 18’. However word counts, sentiment/affin and [size]_[genre]_bool were in the top 18.  

EDA showed why some things were impactful.  Hip Hop was simply much more verbose.  Sentiment was not as stark a difference between genres, but Hip Hop sentiment was negative 42% of the time, whereas Pop was negative 24%.   That was not nothing.

Perhaps because of our own biases, we explored the recommended features from ANOVA first. The RadViz was different, exciting. The breakouts between Pop, Rock and Hip Hop were right there, pointed at the target.  There was some red everywhere, but that could have just been a visualization issue.  Red shows up more when Alpha=.03. 

But, even if that were true, we knew the lyrics did not conform to such tight buckets.  For every Snoop Dog making classic Hip Hop, there is a Linkin Park performing at the intersection of Rock and Hip Hop.  And don’t get us started about Old Town Road. This was too artificial.  

Exciting, but obviously showing something artificial. Song lyrics are too similar across genres to show this distinction. We needed to look harder.

We put in sentiment and affin next. And then we tried all of the features, in all of the ways.  Sentiment and affin ‘mattered’.  But they also muddied the picture.  Without them, the picture was too clean unless redundant word / character counts were added.

Next we tried just affin, and then just sentiment.  We chose sml vice med as the range and standard deviations were broader.  These visualizations seemed the best fit (most defined groups) yet.

RFECV broke out affin above sentiment.  In an unscientific look at RadViz, the sml_content_affin groups look more defined.  And because sent_label encodes the sentiment information in a more definitive way (0.0001 and a 0.98 sent_scores are both ‘positive’) we felt there was a chance that clustering algorithms would pick up the Hip Hop / Pop sentiment divide better.  We next picked the full word/character counts as the differences between genres was larger when compared to med and sml.  Finally, the three med_[genre]_bool features rounded out the numeric feature selection.

For clustering algorithms, this RadViz visualization showed what features may be most impactful.

Modeling. There were four types of features selected: objects (sml_vector); categorical (sml_sent_label (positive, negative, neutral); numbers with outliers (word and character counts); and numbers without outliers (genre Boolean feature and sml_content_affin).  Each type needed to be scaled or otherwise prepared for modeling in different ways.  A column transformer prepared the data which was then fed into a series of models for preliminary evaluation.  Code block below.

The first look at 15 different models is below.  The green highlights performance in the top 20%, red shows poor performance.  As expected, the models were more successful identifying the genre using lyrics when the songs were from the Hip Hop genre averaging an F1 score of .851.

The green arrows highlight the models selected for tuning.

Hyperparameter Tuning

The group selected four models to tune. Two were chosen based exclusively preliminary performance (ExtraTreesClassifier, LogisticRegressionCV).  Two were chosen simply to tune different families of models (MultinomialNB, MLPClassifier).

ExtraTreesClassifier. This ensemble method performed well from the start. The out-of-the-box parameter settings left little to be improved upon.  Only adding additional estimators and constraining the max depth forced a slight improvement. The table below shows which parameters were explored, which were default (in red) and which were selected as most effective (highlighted in yellow).

The confusion matrix below shows the precision recall, F1 and test set for each of the genres using ExtraTreesClassifier and optimum settings.  The print statement below the confusion matrix highlights the difference between training and test data and the time required to fit the model.

Hyperparameter tuning did not accomplish much with this classifier. The ‘Second Pass’ highlights the best set of hyper parameters.

MultinomialNBClassifier. This probabilistic classifier had few parameters to tune, the parameters were set correctly from the beginning, and was very, very fast.

LogisticRegressionCV.  The parameters for this model could not be improved upon. I had two attempts fail to converge on any solution at all.

MLPClassifier.  This multi-layer perceptron classifier had myriad tunable parameters and was fascinating to work with.  


The data science pipeline and this analysis supports the hypothesis that a song’s genre can be identified using the lyrics and machine learning algorithms.  Further, in that same pipeline, lyrics of Hip Hop songs make them more identifiable.  Creation of a genre-specific stopwords list reduced the overall size of the corpus required to be put into machine learning algorithms improving processing time, slightly.  A genre-specific lexicon of words was an important feature used by the algorithms to classify the labeled training set.  Even with these additions to Python’s NLP tools, classifying Pop music, as compared to Hip Hop or Rock, was difficult and severely degraded the performance overall.

Next Steps

Performing this type of analysis more accurately, faster, across more genres in a repeatable way would require many improvements to the process used here.  More data, with more classes would add relevance to this set of genres.  Expanding beyond lyrics to sound would bring a dramatic improvement in performance as the combination of lyrics and sound is at the key to what a musical genre uses to describe itself.  A function to identify choruses (repeated lines of lyrics) would allow running sentiment/ objectivity lexicons, term frequency (inverse document frequency) or n-gram analysis on the ‘meat’ of the lyrics, the verse.  That would perhaps improve the performance of those NLP tools. A model based on a Feature Union would enable weighting the various intertwined pipelines differently.  This would add a new, perhaps critical, dimension to hyperparameter tuning.

[1] Bengfort, Bilbro, Ojeda “Applied Text Analysis with Python”, O’Reilly Media, Inc. 2018.

[2] Sarker, Bali, Sharma “Practical Machine Learning with Python”, Apress Press, 2018

[3] L Carter, Sansui, Holland, Tanner, Scaramella, Johnson “Article Classification Between Real & Fake News” https://github.com/georgetown-analytics/From-Russia-With-Love-fake-news-

[4] spaCy API, Explosion 2016-2021, https://course.spacy.io/en

[5] Notham, Qin, Yurchak “Stop Words Lists in Free Open-source Software Packages” Proceedings of Workshop for NLP Open Source Software, pages 7-12

[6] Kuhn, Johnson “Applied Predictive Modeling: 2nd ed, 2018. Springer Publishing


Power and the JO – Anthony Wayne Wright

Brand new naval officers have an incorrect mental representation of power when they come aboard their first command due to their indoctrination.  Their subordinates, particularly senior enlisted, have more experience with, and a much more nuanced view of, the power relationships within the navy.  As a result, the mental representation that senior enlisted use to make behavioral decisions is closer to the true nature of power within the command.  The dissonance, which is a common feature of a young junior officer’s (JO) first dealings with enlisted, is the result of two problems within their relationship.  First, the young JO is attempting to decide how to behave using the wrong mental representation. (The consequences of acting on this incorrect mental representation affect the JO’s relationships with his or her seniors much less.)  Secondly, and more subtly, both the young JO and the senior enlisted assume that the other is using the same mental representation and therefore any failures to behave in the way anticipated are attributable to the characteristics of the other’s personality.  This exacerbates the situation by causing even more misunderstanding between the two.

            In the best-case scenario this dissonance and misunderstanding may result in a few uncomfortable moments, a general malaise and confusion within the division as the power relationships are sorted out.  (Perhaps a funny story will be told from two different perspectives in the chief’s mess and the ready room.)  In the worst-case scenario the misunderstandings and dissonance create a positive feedback loop which spirals out of control, severely impacting all participants negatively.  Either way the efficiency of the command and the quality of life of its constituents is negatively affected due to the JO’s poor leadership; poor leadership caused by an inaccurate mental representation of the power relationships within the command.

            I am endeavoring to correct the situation with this two-part paper.  In the first part, I will work to justify my thesis.  This will require a definition and description of mental representations. Next, I will discuss a few theories and definitions of power as well as the mental representation that results from typical indoctrination.  To close the first section I will show that this mental representation is inaccurate and harmful to the execution of quality leadership.  In the second part, I will offer a simple mental representation, derived from Pfeffer and Fairholm, which a young JO may use as a framework for a more accurate picture of power use within his first command.

Mental Representations

            In this paper mental representations are an attempt to describe how people think and, by extension, explain how they behave.  Mental representations are how people attempt to perceive their environment, how they attempt to see the ‘Truth.’  (Discussions of whether the ‘Truth’ exists at all outside of our understanding are beyond the scope of this paper.)    At the simplest level, mental representations are a tool that people use to make sense of the unending torrent of inputs / facts that flood our senses.   

            For example, a person with no capability to construct and use mental representations may walk up to a tree, stop, and see “Bark-gray, brown, white streaks, cracks, oozing sap at about three feet above the ground.  Ground has roots, one, two, three, four main roots, several are breaking up the sidewalk…which is covered in leaves.  Leaves fell from the branches, leaves are wiggling in the wind and are burgundy, green, yellow…” etc., etc., etc., etc.  This person may not move again until some physical sensation directs his or her (statistically speaking, this person is much more likely to be male) attention elsewhere…where the process would start all over again.

            Clearly this method of perceiving the world has some evolutionary drawbacks.  The first level of mental representations is how people typically react in this situation.  “Oh, it’s a tree.  Okay.”  They do not see it to the level of detail that the first person does, but they see it well enough, typically.  The tree they think of is not the detailed object described above.  It is a symbol, a mental thumbnail sketch that contains enough detail to deal with the ‘True’ tree adequately.  “That is a tree.  It is important that I not drive my car into it.”  How we represent it to ourselves is almost impossible to convey, but it is well understood and enables us to move our attention elsewhere, quickly.

            The second level of mental representations is a large, rule-based system representation of a larger group of objects in the real world.  Stacking symbols on top of symbols forms a structure.  This symbolic structure is more complicated but more capable of describing increasingly complex and intellectually useful concepts.  For example, language is a tool to understand communication; arithmetic is a tool to understand mathematics.  A theory of power may be used to understand who is directing whom in your command.  

            The third level of mental representations is the set of beliefs that people hold about the symbolic structures they use.  This is the level people speak of when they describe their mental representation, how they believe their mental representation works.  People act upon these beliefs; their behavior with regards to this symbolic structure begins at this level.  It is possible for people to have the same mental representation at the second level but different beliefs about it.  Ergo, they may react differently despite working with the same mental representation.

Theories of Power

            Robert Dahl’s article on power is a useful starting point for discussing theories and definitions of power.  Throughout he states that the failure of academics to make substantial progress on the study of power is due to the plethora of different descriptions, methodologies, metrics and constituent parts to power.  He attempts to distill the study of power into a more manageable system of concepts and definitions (1968).

            Three descriptive characteristics from Dahl that are useful to us are magnitude, scope and domain.  Magnitudeof power refers to the amount or degree of power of one person over another.  An accurate quantification of magnitude is difficult to describe, at best.  However, it is intuitively obvious that the AV/ARM Division Officer has less power over his chief than the Commanding Officer (CO).  Scope “…individuals or groups who are relatively powerful with respect to one kind of activity may be relatively weak with respect to other activities” (Dahl, 1968, p.12). For example, the CO is heavily influenced (a form of power) by the Command Master Chief (CMC) on issues regarding the enlisted personnel.  But the CO is completely unmoved by the CMC on issues of tactical training.  Domain  “[an officer’s] power will be limited to certain individuals” (Dahl, 1968, p.13).  The CO can tell his Executive Officer to go check the heads, but he cannot tell anyone else’s Executive Officer to do so for they are outside his domain.

            In an effort to explain the differences in the amount and quality of power between individuals, Dahl goes on to define four explanatory characteristics – resources, skill, motivations and cost.  Pfeffer and Fairholm refine these four characteristics into a theory of power which is fairly liner.  They view individuals as having two fundamental sources of power: personal and organizational.  These two sources combine with situational circumstances to create different forms of power that are available to the individual for use via certain tactics.  We will discuss their theory extensively in the second part of the paper.

Bachrach and Baratz introduce a second face to power.  “Not only does ‘A’ exercise power over ‘B’ in overt decision making (as in Dahl) but ‘A’ may equally well exercise power over ‘B’ by limiting the scope of the political process to issues which are relatively innocuous to ‘A.’ The most obvious instance of this is the process of agenda setting whereby an issue of importance to ‘B’ is deliberately left off the agenda by ‘A.’” (Haugaard, 2002, p.26).  The JO who is surprised to find that his division’s day and night shift rosters have changed, without his input, is experiencing this ‘second face’ of power. 

            Lukes takes the second face, makes it a dimension and then adds a third.  “[it is] … the supreme and most insidious exercise of power to prevent people, to whatever degree, from having grievances by shaping their perceptions, cognitions and preferences in such a way that they accept their role in the existing order of things, either because they can see or imagine no alternative to it, or because they see it as natural and unchangeable, or because they value it as divinely ordained and beneficial[.]”

These three dimensions of power, as viewed from the patient’s perspective, can be boiled down to:

  1. Questions you have of authority that you can conceive and act on.
  2. Questions you have of authority that you can conceive but cannot act on because others control the decision-making venue.
  3. Questions that you cannot conceive.

(The above is an example of yet another, more manageable mental representation.)

Definitions of power are simpler symbolic structures.  These can help interpret reality in new ways and aid in the decision making process as well.  Weber states     “‘Power’ is the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance, regardless of the biases on which this probability rests.” (Weber, 1957, p.152)  The definitions of power used by Pfeffer and Fairholm are similar.  Pfeffer defines power “as the potential ability to influence behavior, and to get people to do things that they would not otherwise do” (Pfeffer, 1992, p.30).  Fairholm see power as “the individual capacity to gain your own aims in interrelationships with others, even in the face of their opposition” (Fairholm, 1993, p.7)

Hannah Arendt sees power differently, and the perspective is useful as it helps us see power use in a different light.  “Power corresponds to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert.  Power is never the property of an individual; it belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group keeps together” (Arendt, 1969, p.137).  This view turns the previous definitions on their heads.  In her view power is not overcoming resistance but harnessing group action.  Using violence to overcome resistance is the antithesis of power.  “Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent.  Violence appears where power is in jeopardy, but left to its own course it ends in power’s disappearance.”  “To substitute violence for power can bring victory, but the price is very high; for it is not only paid by the vanquished, it is also paid by the victor in terms of his own power” (Arendt, 1969, pgs. 142-143)

Fairholm acknowledges that force is a problematic and costly power use tactic.  However, he disagrees that power and violence (or physical coercion) are antithetical.  Instead he sees violence as the far end of a power use continuum.

So, who’s right?  It depends on the context.  Arendt was speaking of totalitarian regimes, Nazi Germany and the fall of governments.  Fairholm’s context was contemporary organizations.  Aspects of what they say are useful for looking at either situation.  However, what Ardent says rings truer in her context and Fairholm in his.  This is an important point.  One single mental representation of power, being a simplification of the reality of power, cannot accurately describe power in every context.  This is part of the price paid to have a tool that can be understood and used to make decisions.  

Which is not to say that – as long as you can discover what context they actually work in – all mental representations are equally good.  All mental representations are not equally good.  Some are better than others, more justifiable, closer to the ‘Truth.’  For example, you may be able to find a situation or an organization where the mental representation “Power is determined by height, ergo the taller the person is the more powerful they are” is correct.  However, further investigation will likely reveal that power distribution is more accurately described by something else.  

The goal for anyone trying to use power effectively is find a good set of mental representations and identify the situations in which those mental representations work best.  The mental representation a JO learns during indoctrination fails on both counts.

Mental Representation of Power Derived from Naval Indoctrination

            First impressions are important and influential.  This is doubly so when they are specifically designed to shape their audience.  Officer Candidate School is built from the ground up to heavily influence; it is designed to indoctrinate.  The environment is intense and highly regimented.  Everything happens fast with little time to think.  It is mentally and physically exhausting.  It wears people down on purpose.  It seeks to set the conditions whereby the JO is made even more impressionable.  This enables the Navy to build them up again in a certain, particular manner.

            That manner has specific goals in mind.  It seeks to teach that the chain of command is the hub of all power and movement within the culture.  Rank is earned and once earned it is rarely, if ever, questioned.  The motivation to follow orders is primarily to avoid the rapid application of coercive force by authority.  Put another way – prevent the Drill Instructor from making you do push-ups until he sweats.  

            Through no fault of his own, the young Ensign graduating from Officer Candidate School has a very specific mental representation after all of this.  “The point of this school was to make me an officer, to teach me to lead.  What happened to me must have some connection to how I am supposed to lead.”  In this mental representation, the sole source of power is hierarchical, either due to rank or position in the operational chain of command.  The predominate power tactic is rank.  Lesser tactics, should they be required, include coercion (as authorized by the Uniform Code of Military Justice) and reward (liberty, for example).  Any kind of overarching strategy of power use smacks of political behavior.  Political behavior is discouraged and unnecessary in an environment where everyone has sworn to not lie, cheat or steal nor tolerate those that do.  

Before this paper degenerates into a complete orgy of military bashing, it is important to note that what is taught does serve a very important purpose.  The military is designed to deal with a product and operate in an environment unlike anything other organizations will encounter.  The product is violence, or threat of the same.  The environment is war, or any of a hundred lesser variations thereof.  Distribution of the product must be tightly controlled as it typically results in death and destruction.  A strict adherence to a clearly delineated chain of command allows this.  Additionally the wartime environment demands quick compliance of orders which may result in personal injury.  Teaching people to defer to rank instinctively allows this.   

The Problem

            99.9% of the time the JO is not dealing with the senior enlisted in this kind of an environment.  The command is not producing the product it was designed to produce, thankfully.  A different context emerges as a result.  

            Navy commands are meritocracies, those individuals that are seen as more capable advance.  Meritocracies seek efficient operation because people trying to advance attempt to improve the command’s functioning in order to be noticed.  Efficient operation demands a diffusion of power which serves to flatten the organization.  (A ‘flatter’ organization tends to have fewer levels between the person asking a question and the person authorized to give an answer.)  The diffusion of power results in many people having many forms of power with different scopes, domains and magnitudes.  

The mental representation of power the JO has upon graduation from AOCS is completely inadequate for this more complex environment.  When faced with resistance from subordinates, he is most likely to use the power-use tactic he is most familiar with, rank.  The targets of this tactic see two problems.  First, recognizing that the JO has multiple power use tactics available, they are probably disappointed in his choice of rank.  They may assume his choice is due to his personality.  Second, rank is a largely coercive tactic.  It contains a veiled threat of “or else.”  As mentioned earlier by both Ardent and Fairholm, coercive power use tactics are ‘costly.’  It will work now, however it will likely induce increased resistance in the future.  Unless the JO learns his lesson, he will continue to use his rank inappropriately.  The situation could develop into a dysfunctional downward spiral in morale for all involved.

A More Useful Mental Representation of Power 

            While no mental representation can cover the range of contexts a JO could expect to see throughout his career, it is possible to describe one more useful than what he has upon leaving Officer Candidate School.  The second part of this paper presents an amalgam of the mental models developed by Fairholm and Pfeffer.  Hopefully this combination will achieve a golden mean between too complicated to be easily understood (and therefore too complicated to use) and too simple to be accurate across enough situations (and therefore be useless).

               I will begin the description with the fundamental sources of power.  These sources are mixed in differing amounts to produce power use tactics, which I will list next.  Finally, these tactics are used in conjunction with an overarching strategy to get things done inside an organization.

Power Sources  

            Pfeffer cites two fundamental sources of power, personal and positional, with the more important of the two being positional (1992).  Positional power is based on the control of resources, the control of information and formal authority.  These bases are most often conferred on individuals via their job and position in the organization.  Ergo the organization can remove an employee’s positional power by removing him from that position.  The power belongs to the organization.  Pfeffer goes on to say personal sources of power, those that are the result of character, are not as powerful because they are situational dependant.  The right personality in the right job is a powerful thing.  That same personality in another job may be a disaster. (Ibid)

            Fairholm describes power as an impact process with nine bases and two fundamental sources, personality and position.  (1993) Several of the bases clearly come from the employee’s position in the organization (legitimate right to command, centrality, control over rewards).  Several others originate from the personality of the employee (charisma, expertise, social organization).  A few use both forms simultaneously (coercive force, criticality, identification with powerful others).  (Ibid) 

            The two authors agree on the basic assertion that there are two sources of power, positional and personal.  The two authors also agree that personal power is derived from the character of the person.  

Power Tactics (Fairholm, 1993, p. 41, 75, 82, 103)

Controlling the agenda.  Determining beforehand the issues, subjects, or concerns for group action or decision.  This tactic is part of the second face of power described by Bachrach and Baratz.

Using ambiguity.  Keeping communications unclear and subject to multiple meanings.  This is typically used to keep your options open.  Its use, if detected, will likely backfire due to the navy culture (i.e., Honor, Courage, Commitment).

Brinkmanship.  Disturbing the equilibrium of the organization to control choice options.

Displaying charisma.  Using the respect that others have for your character traits, presence, or method of operation to affect another’s behavior in desired ways.  Another way of describing this behavior is displaying military bearing or officer like qualities.  This is a building block of leadership as it typically goes towards your credibility in the eyes of others.  This is a very effective tactic with superiors.    

Forming coalitions.  Securing allies – both employees and other stakeholders in the organization or associated with it.  An effective tactic with peers.

Co-opting opposition members.  Placing a representative of the opposition group on your decision making body to induce the representative to favor, rather than oppose, your interests.  This is a useful tactic with peers.  

Controlling decision criteria.  Selecting the criteria by which decisions are made so that desired decisions result regardless of who decides.  This is part of the second face of power.

Developing others.  Increasing the capacities of others, thereby increasing overall power.  This tactic is very effective with subordinates.

Using outside experts.  Involving congenial experts in organizational decisions, thus allowing you to effect results without personally deciding.  This tactic is not readily usable by the JO.

Building a favorable image.  Creating a persona of skills, capacities, values, or attitudes to which others defer.  Yet another way of thinking about the qualities of leadership espoused by the navy’s culture.  Again, this is a useful tactic with superiors.

Legitimizing control.  Formalizing our right to decide through appeals to hierarchy or legal precedent.  This, of course, sets you up to exercise the second face of power more effectively.

Incurring obligation.  Placing others under obligation to us so they do what we desire.

Organizational placement.  Placing allies in strategic positions or isolating political opponents.

Proactivity.  Unilateral action to secure desired results.  An effective tactic with superiors.    

Quid pro quo.  Negotiating trade-offs with others to secure your desired results.

Rationalization.  Conscious engineering of reality to secure desired decision results.  This can be something as innocuous as framing a question in a new, more useful way to outright lying.  This is a very risky tactic in the navy.

Allocating resources.  Distributing resources under your control in ways that will increase your power in relationships with others.  This is a very effective tactic with peers.

Dispensing rewards.  Rewarding or punishing others to win their support.  The JO, with little institutionalized reward power, needs to think creatively to create power with this tactic.  He can not give out Naval Achievement Medals but he can do an amazing amount to improve the quality of life of his sailors.

Ritualism.  Inducing institutionalized patterns of behavior in others or in the organization.  The tactic can be seen as the third dimension of power described by Lukes, and a useful power use tactic with subordinates.  

Using a surrogate.  Use of an intermediary to secure compliance in others.

Using symbols.  Reinforcing control through symbolic objects, ideas, or actions.  This tactic is also part of the third dimension of power.

Training and orienting others.  Transmitting skills, values, or specific behavior to others to instill in them your goals, values, philosophy, or desired behaviors.  Another effective tactic with subordinates.

Power Strategy

Fairholm and Pfeffer have fairly consistent views of the mechanics of power use.  Pfeffer speaks in a language easily digested by those in business due to a plethora of examples taken from business and government.  Fairholm speaks in a more generalized way.  His power-use model is more difficult to follow though more useful to understand a broader spectrum of power use situations.

Step One.  “Decide what your goals are, what you are trying to accomplish” (Pfeffer, 1992, p.29).   Both see interdependence, difference of opinion and scarcity of resources as precursors for a conflict requiring power use to settle.  If the end state is a change then this is a situation requiring power.  Both discuss the ambivalence people have toward power and both see this view as unrealistic and possibly harmful.

Step Two.  “Diagnose patterns of dependence and interdependence; what individuals are influential and important in your achieving your goal?” (Ibid) 

Step Three.  “What are their points of view likely to be?  How will they feel about what you are trying to do?” (Ibid)  

Step Four.  “What are their power bases?  Which of them is more influential in the decision?”  (Ibid)  Develop an accurate idea of the various relationships and interdependencies for all who are involved.  Attempt to define who will react how with regards to your desired end state.  

Step Five.  “What are your bases of power and influence?  What bases of influence can you develop to gain more control over the situation?” (Ibid)  Both authors give extensive examples and descriptions of power available to the reader.  All forms of power derive from positional sources, personal sources or some combination of both.  

Step Six.  “Which of the various strategies and tactics for exercising power seem most appropriate and are likely to be effective, given the situation you confront?” (Ibid)  With a picture of the goal and the political landscape in mind, the critical nodes in the organization and the resources, or power sources, required will be visible.  These critical nodes are the people the specific tactics will be applied against.  

Step Seven.  “Based on the above, choose a course of action to get something done.”  (Ibid)  Select the best method to bring power to bear on the critical nodes in order to get them to act in the way required for your desired end state. 

            Pfeffer gives the impression that this process is fairly linear.  Pick a problem, a person, a source of power, and a tactic and press on.  While laying the groundwork for power use strategies, Fairholm touches on second order consequences and hints that the situation may be more complex.  “This refers to the indirect or deferred results coming from the immediate impact of power use on individuals, organizations and situations…This can create new problems of other situations where power must be employed.”  (Fairholm, 1993)  Fairholm is closer to the mark, but he does not go far enough.  The knock-on effects of power use in the open system environment are too complex to describe here.  The goal, of course, was to keep the model simple enough to use.


            This paper sought to show two things to the young JO.  First, that the mental representation of power he likely learned during indoctrination is not accurate and potentially harmful to his development as a leader.  It also sought to offer a more accurate mental model of power and its use within his organization.  This paper is by no means the final word on power use models.  It is, in fact, just a start.  

            The JO is empowered in many ways and for several different reasons.  Foremost among these reasons is to lead and take care of his men.  As a result he has a duty to become adept at the tools at his disposal towards this end.  Using his power wisely begins with knowing how to use it at all.


Arendt, H., (1969).  On violence. Harcourt, Inc.

Bachrach, P. & Baratz, M. S., (1962).  Two faces of power.  American Political Science Review, vol. 56.

Dahl, R., (1968).  Power.  International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, ed. David L. Sills, vol. 12. 495-415

Fairholm, G., (1993). Organizational power politics, Westport, CN: Praeger

Haugaard, M., (2002).  Power a reader.  Manchester, U.K.  Manchester University Press.

Lukes, S., (1974).  Power: A radical view.  Macmillian.

Pfeffer, J., (1992).  Managing with power.  Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.



Combat Air Patrol (CAP) Ethics with Anthony Wayne Wright

What would an average Navy F/A-18 pilot get from taking an ethics course?


What would an average Navy F/A-18 pilot get from taking an ethics course?  The best way to answer is to imagine a scenario fraught with ethical dilemmas.  Imagine an assignment to fly combat air patrol defending the fleet against hijacked civilian airliners flown by suicidal terrorists.  Imagine an airliner comes off the air route while turning and descending towards the fleet.  Imagine that the Admiral has authorized you to shoot down the airliner.  Do you take the shot as the airliner is forty miles away from the ship at twenty-five thousand feet and descending?  What if the airliner is at three thousand feet and five miles away from the plainly visible aircraft carrier?  Do you take the shot then?  Why or why not?  

The simplest answer is to take the shot, say you were following orders and point to the standing rules of engagement.  “A commander has the authority and obligation to use all necessary means available and to take all appropriate actions to defend that commander’s unit and other US forces in the vicinity from a hostile act or demonstration of hostile intent.”  (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction, 2000)  

Shooting the missile just because you are ordered to do so does not relieve you of the responsibility for the act.  It is not an ironclad defense against subsequent prosecution if the order is given in error.  Pulling the trigger because you are ordered to does not make it right.

            The Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations (1995) states, “Under the law of armed conflict, noncombatants must be safeguarded against injury not incidental to military operations directed against combatant forces and other military objectives.  In particular, it is forbidden to make noncombatants the object of attack.”  An F/A-18 does not have a weapon of sufficient precision to kill the suicidal pilot and leave the passengers unharmed.  I am not suggesting this is anything other than an “all or nothing” decision.  What I am suggesting is that the USS Vincennes has proven that not all identifications are correct.  If this is a civilian airliner experiencing mechanical difficulties, then shooting it down would put all participants involved under suspicion.  

            They would be under suspicion because just following orders is not a defense.  “Members of the naval service, like military members of all nations, must obey readily and strictly all lawful orders issued by a superior.”  (Department of the Navy, 1995) Furthermore, the Manual for Courts-Martial (2000) states, “It is a defense to any offense that the accused was acting pursuant to orders unless the accused knew the orders to be unlawful or a person of ordinary sense and understanding would have known the orders to be unlawful.”  So, following an unlawful order could make you, the trigger puller, culpable for the act.  

            More importantly, killing one or two hundred innocent people is tragic, even if justified.  But how does one decide if one is ever justified in committing such an act?  This is where ORSC 297.N1 can help. 

             Before getting into some of the ethical decision making tools, it is important to realize what this discussion is not.  It is not a discussion of tactics.  It is not another rehashing of the outward manifestations of an airliner with “hostile intent.”  For the purposes of this paper the airliner at forty miles from the ship is experiencing unknown difficulties whereas the airliner pilot at five miles clearly has violence in his heart.  

            I am not advocating serious and deep ethical thought at the time of action.  Most opportunities in air-warfare are too fleeting to allow such a luxury.  The time to think of these issues is when there is time, before getting into the cockpit.  Such mental exercises will result in a more reasoned execution when time is fleeting and allow superior reasoning when time is available.  If nothing else, such exercises will help you know when you just don’t know what is right.

Immanuel Kant (an eighteenth century German philosopher)

            Hinman (2003) states that, “Kant’s ethics rest on three pillars: duty, universalizability, and respect.”  I will look at each one in turn.

            Kant sees an act performed for duty that brings negligible good as more morally worthy than an act which brings great good but is done as a result of empathy.  The intention is what matters for Kant, so long as that intent rests on a sense of duty.  This duty is not simply to those issuing orders.  It is a duty to do what is morally right.  Taking the shot at forty miles, when ordered, is unnecessary and potentially unwise given the absence of an immediate threat.  I would offer that a pilot that takes the shot at such ranges would simply be performing like a mechanical switch.  At five miles the threat is real, the duty readily apparent.

            The idea of universalzability goes to the transmutability of the decision to act.  Could the decision to act be codified so that everyone in the same position ought to do the same thing?  Would that codification be ‘fair’?  Clearly, requiring that every airliner that leaves an air route be shot down at forty miles from the fleet is not a rational requirement.  Taking the shot at five miles, after thirty-five miles of threatening behavior, could be seen as something more rational in light of other environmental considerations.  Those considerations include a whole host of considerations which perfectly mirror the Navy’s current description of ‘hostile intent’. 

            “…Always treat humanity…never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.”  (Hinman, 2003)  Kant’s ethics demands humanity be treated with respect and never used just as a ‘means to an end’.  By broadening the scope of his subject from humans to humanity he opens the door to hurting some for the benefit of others.  Shooting down the airliner at any range is certainly not treating the passengers with respect.  However, not shooting the airliner at five miles is failing to treat the ship’s crew of 5,000 with respect.  If you can stop a horrible act but don’t, then you are (at least) partially responsible for the act.  So, shooting the airliner at five miles would be using the passengers not merely as a means in itself, but as an end towards avoiding a greater loss of life.  This does show respect for humanity, though at a horrible cost.


            Unlike Kant, utilitarians see the consequences as the true determinant of a morally good act, not the intent.  This results in a moral system which seems simpler at first glance, but is often more difficult to accurately use.  The moral system is essentially a calculus comparing the consequences of each possible course of action and choosing the course that brings about the most good.  Questions arise regarding units of measure, how much good is enough, and for whom is the good intended.  (Hinman, 2003)  Additionally this system requires a degree of foresight that cannot always be guaranteed.

            This scenario lends itself to a rather definitive answer from the utilitarianism perspective.  There are two courses of action to consider (beyond warning shots).  The unit of measure is number of deaths of terrorists, passengers and sailors.  It could also include the destruction of the airliner and the ship.  If the missile is fired then the airliner will be destroyed and the passengers will die.  If you do not shoot the missile what happens?  The answer is unknown at forty miles.  At five miles there is a strong probability that the airliner intends to (and is able to) fly into the ship, the airliner passengers will die, and hundreds of sailors that will be killed and injured.  Is this strong probability an adequate motivation to act and cause the certain death of the passengers?  Yes.  Failing to act at this point would be wrong because the apparent consequences of taking action results in more good than inaction.  

Just War Theory

            After mulling over such a horrible decision one may naturally wonder if going to war is ever the right thing to do.  If you agree that people have the right to defend themselves as part of their human rights, then you agree with one of the foundations of just war theory.  “States have rights, to things like sovereignty and integrity, only because their individual citizens have human rights.  People create, and adhere to, state structures in order to secure the objects of their human rights.”  (Stanford, 2002)  

            If you accept that states have rights because their citizens have rights, and you accept that failing to protect those rights is not a morally good thing to do, then you might accept that war is both horrible and necessary.  Just war theory accepts these precepts and seeks to establish ‘ground rules’ for when it is just to go to war, how to fight a war justly and how to end a war justly.  (It is easy to see the principles of just war theory within the Law of Armed Conflict.) 

            Determining the nature of a war using just war theory requires a state answer six questions.  Each question is a moral discussion in its own right.  Did the war commence for the right reason?  Does the state have the right intention behind continuing the war?  Did proper authority declare the war?  Was the war a last resort?  Is there some probability of success?  Is going to war a proportional response?  If the answers to all of these questions were yes, then just war theory would say this war is just.  


            Just war theory is not an irrefutable intellectual tool capable of justifying war.  It is western biased and lacks universal and unchanging reasons for a just war.  Kant and utilitarianism do not represent the full spectrum of mental models available to evaluate the ethicality of actions.  But they are a start, and that is what ORSC 297N.1 is as well.  

            As a strike fighter pilot, you are entrusted with a myriad of weapons.  As a naval officer, you may be responsible for others with the same weapons.  Almost every weapons release (both from your aircraft and from those you lead) comes with some ethical consideration by virtue of the violence which ensues.  The knowledge that comes from taking ORSC 297N.1 can help naval officer’s work through these considerations and potentially arrive at more reasoned conclusions.  


Hinman, L.H. (2003) Ethics:  A pluralistic approach to moral theory.  3rd Edition.  Belmont, Ca.  Wadsworth.

Standing Rules of Engagement.  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction.  15 January 2000.

The Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Naval Operation.  Commander, Naval Doctrine Command.  October 1995.

Manual for Courts-Martial United State.  Navy Judge Advocate General.  2000 edition.

The Ethics of War and Peace.  The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (2002) Downloaded from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/war on 11 June, 2004. 


Capstone Presentation: Predicting Music Genre with Lyrics and Machine Learning

June 26, 2021 — Capstone Project in Partial Fulfilment of the Requirements for the Certificate in Data Science.
Disclaimer: The insights and analysis expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views, official policy, or position of Georgetown University and its stakeholders.

Junior Officer Guide to Performance Appraisal by Anthony Wayne Wright

“Well, that went badly.”

The Chief nodded his head and grunted, his eyes never leaving his shoes.

LT ‘Loper’ Yankovich shifted uncomfortably on the cold, hard cruise box that was serving as both his seat and desk.  The cramped power plants storeroom was the only place the Chief could come up with at the last minute for the E-5 evaluation (or more simply ‘eval’) debriefs.  The rusty gray boxes were pushed together in a rough U shape so that the Lieutenant, Chief and ratee were all staring at each other, seemingly nose to nose.  

            Truth be told, all the debriefs had gone pretty badly thus far.  And it wasn’t just because of the smell of jet fuel.  Loper was visibly uncomfortable and since he was running the show that made the sailors uncomfortable as well.  He kept tripping over his words and seemed to be reading the evals for the very first time right along with the sailors.  

He’d tried three different debrief techniques and, given the way Petty Officer Schaffer had just stormed out, he wasn’t even close to an effective method.  ‘Just Answer the Questions’ had resulted in two rather stilted conversations. ‘Answer the Previous Guy’s Questions Because This Guy’s Probably Got the Same Questions’ had failed miserably because Petty Officer Gavin had been selected for the Seaman to Admiral Program.  He didn’t care about the same things.  Finally, ‘The Good, The Bad, and The Score’ had obviously upset Petty Officer Schaffer.

Though Loper didn’t realize it, his Chief was letting him twist in the wind.  Chief Vincenio had had nothing to add for the first four discussions and was unlikely to say much in the next six.  The Chief was upset for two reasons.  First, his sailors’ rankings had turned out different then the order to which the Chief’s Mess had agreed.  Second, he didn’t even recognize the eval write-ups; only the quantities were the same. 

What the Chief didn’t know was that, except for grammar, Loper hadn’t changed the evaluations the Chief wrote.  Because the evals were so poorly written, the Department Head and Executive Officer had completely rewritten them.  So now Loper was debriefing sailors he didn’t know very well, on evaluations he hadn’t read, with a Chief that was upset with him.  The fact that he just didn’t understand the goals of the evaluation debrief process was like throwing gasoline on fire.  Explosive.

Regardless, Loper had an hour to get through six evals.  His next flight was briefing at noon.  He’d procrastinated on the debriefs because they made him uncomfortable.  It was now the last possible day to get them signed.

Chief Vincenio was in the middle of chewing his fingernails when Loper asked, “Well Chief, got any ideas?”

The Chief spit out a bit of fingernail and replied with a heavy sigh, “These things are always kinda hard, sir.  Best to just keep plowing through ‘em.”

If you read the preceding vignette and recognized a few details from your own experiences with eval debriefs, then this paper is designed for you.  Like most Junior Officers (JO), Loper was probably given the task of conducting his performance appraisals without instruction on how best to conduct them and how they fit into the larger context of performance management and the enlisted advancement process.  It is far too common that JOs in the Navy today conduct performance appraisals in a similar fashion and under similar circumstances.  

Certainly, Loper is a worst-case scenario.  He was unprepared, uncomfortable and, ultimately, unsuccessful.  However, many supervisors share his apprehension.  Studies of senior executives in developed countries have found that the performance review, and its mandatory open and honest dialogue, is one of the least favorite job tasks.  It is often not done at all as a result.  Those same studies found that a full one third of the participants reported that their superiors had not provided any advice on improving their performance and had never had a formal discussion about their overall performance (Pickett, 2003).  

            That is not allowed in the Navy.  The instruction for the Navy Performance Evaluation and Counseling System dictates that all personnel will be evaluated at least twice a year.  This paper and its appendixes is designed to help the average JO understand how to get the most out of “one of the most effective management tools in the entire executive toolkit” (Ibid, p. 237).

            The paper will briefly discuss the ideas behind performance management and then go into more detail on performance appraisals in research, business and the Navy.  The paper will then discuss the Enlisted Advancement Manual (appendix A) and the Performance Evaluation and Counseling Instruction (appendix B) as they apply to the JO trying to conduct performance management and appraisals.  

Performance Management

            The first thing to understand about performance appraisals is that they are not stand-alone events.  They are part of a larger system designed to provide the training, feedback, and controls needed to improve employee performance.  Civilian researchers describe this larger system of performance management in many ways.  Gosselin, et al, and Pickett summarize it well in the following quotes:

Proponents of this perspective suggest that performance management goes beyond the ratings and formats that have been the focus of so much research attention and, instead, see performance management as a tool to execute organizational strategy by signaling to employees what is really important in the organization, fixing accountability for behavior and results, and helping to improve performance.  They view performance management as not so much an event (that is, an annual performance rating) as a continuous and action-oriented process that emphasizes setting expectations in advance, coaching, and continuous performance improvement. 

(Gosselin, Werner & Halle, 1997, p. 321)

In its broadest context, performance management is a managerial process that links corporate objectives, strategic planning, performance standards, individual objectives, performance evaluation, training and individual development. At a minimum it should:

  • link organizational and individual objectives;
  • provide action plans with agreed targets;
  • demand a real dialogue between managers and their people;
  • focus on the future in context of the past;
  • provide some input into the remuneration and rewards process; and
  • integrate into the organization’s training and development program.  

(Pickett, p. 238)

            Given the definitions above, it is obvious the Navy does not have a performance management system.  It has dozens of individual programs which provide instructions on every aspect of performance management, but they are not coordinated.  The Navy Human Capital Strategy effort was begun to address this shortcoming.  Once that strategy is implemented the JO will still have the critical function of performance appraisal for his sailors.  Doing it well is vital.

            In working with his sailors, the JO must understand that feedback must happen more than biannually.  There are several benefits of continuous feedback and interaction with employees.  (This seems self-evident, but few JOs realize the wisdom as they typically join the squadron and immediately focus on tactical tasks.)  When people receive feedback more frequently, they perceive it to be more precise and timely and to be delivered in a more acceptable manner (Gosselin et al, 1997).  Also, the sailors have more time to correct and improve their performance if they know sooner what the leadership wants.  This results in fewer surprises at formal review time (Pratt, 1991).  Finally, this continuous dialogue with those you lead is the critical part of ‘management by walking around.’  This leadership tool is vital for JOs to learn early in his career for two reasons.  First, the JO must learn what motivations and difficulties are inherent in the enlisted ranks.  Second, it will allow the enlisted to give feedback to the JO on how he is doing as a manager and leader.  If he listens, he’ll be better for it.

            Having placed performance appraisals within the larger context of performance management, let’s look at how appraisals are best done.

Preferred Performance Appraisal Techniques

“The bottom line of an effective performance appraisal system is to improve performance, in line with mission needs, not simply to measure how employees are completing tasks” (Ibid, p. 29)


 “The more ratee preferences fit or match the performance management practices [including performance appraisal] in use, the greater will be their acceptance, perceptions of fairness, and overall satisfaction with the performance management system.” 

“Evidence suggests that not simply the outcome of the appraisal but also the procedures used to conduct the appraisal are important determinates of satisfaction and perceived fairness.”

“Ratee acceptance of the appraisal system is crucial to its long-term effectiveness” 

(Gosselin et al, 1997, p. 317).

Matching ratee preferences requires knowing what those preferences are.  Researchers and business consultants have looked at these preferences for years and come up with a wide variety of facts, lists and pithy phrases.  All of this advice can seem confusing and contradictory at times, but it needn’t be that way.  If the JO exercises ‘management by walking around’ at least once a workday it is easier to put himself in their shoes, both individually and as a group, and give his sailors what they want and what they need from a performance appraisal.

            But, in the beginning, research, lists, and pithy phrases are a good place to start.  Gosselin, Werner, and Halle’s studies looked at what employees preferred in a performance appraisal and what they thought was fair (1997).  Fortunately there is strong correlation between these two criteria. 

            Employees trusted their immediate supervisors to provide an accurate appraisal by a slim majority, 51 percent, and strongly preferred (75 percent) to receive the appraisal from them (Ibid).  This has implications for the average JO as he is typically two levels removed from the ratee.  Ensuring the immediate supervisor (the Leading Petty Officer and/or the Chief) is involved in the development and delivery of the performance appraisal can mitigate this.

            When employees described their view of the fairest appraisal system most (55 percent) thought it would be based on activities performed on the job, then quality of output (28 percent) and then quantity of output (17 percent) (Ibid).  Given the technology used in Navy units, appraising performance along these lines works well – provided the supervisors are aware of their sailors’ daily activities.  

            Next, employees were asked what performance criteria they would prefer to be appraised upon.  ‘Goals attained at work’ was first (42 percent), ‘behaviors’ was second (30 percent), and ‘general personality traits’ was last (28 percent) (Ibid).  When the Evaluation Report & Counseling Record (Appendix C) is viewed with these statistics in mind, it is easy to see there might be a problem.  Five out of seven appraisal criteria (Equal Opportunity, Military Bearing, Initiative, Teamwork, and Leadership) are derived from the sailor’s behaviors and personality traits.  If the JO is unfamiliar with what a sailor does on a daily basis, this disconnect is exacerbated.  Because this JO doesn’t know the real work done by his sailors, he falls back on what he does know – his own impressions of the sailors from the brief interactions he has had.  This is when performance appraisals get into dangerous topics such as ‘your attitude.’  Three things can prevent this; one, ‘management by walking around’; two, a detailed Division Officer Book used to record the good, the bad, and the ugly on a regular basis; three, a performance appraisal that ties an individual sailor’s behaviors and personality traits back to the goals he attains at work.   

            Korsgaard and Roberson (1995) have found evidence that self-appraisal, a common way to increase subordinate ‘voice’ in the performance appraisal process, has a stronger impact on perceived fairness if the appraisal is elicited prior to the evaluation rather than concurrent with it.  Putting this idea into practice, discuss the sailor’s eval input and his impressions of his strong and weak points before going over the official evaluation.  If there is a large disparity between his perceptions and the perceptions of the chain of command then the debrief can be problematic, to say the least.  However, this is because there is much work to be done and not because the debrief was done poorly.    

            Not surprisingly, studies point out that different techniques work with different personalities.  This is something that most know at some level.  However, JOs, like most people, often apply a cookie cutter approach to situations they are unfamiliar with.  Below are just two examples of an infinite variety of situations which change the techniques most effective at getting the main points of the performance appraisal across to the sailor.

The researchers learned that individuals who placed a high value on individual achievement expressed greater preferences for individually based appraisals and were less likely to prefer team-based appraisals.  Conversely, individuals scoring high on the value of helping were more likely to prefer team-based appraisals and less likely to prefer the individually oriented appraisal system then in use in the organization.                                                           

 (Gosselin et al, 1997, p. 317)

They studied 55 appraiser-apraisee dyads and found, amongst other things, that (1) criticism had a positive effect where the person appraised had a good relationship with their line manager and (2) that goal setting had a greater impact on poor performers who reported a poor relationship with their supervisors.  They concluded there is ‘no one best way’ to conduct an appraisal interview – it depends on the situation, the relationship of the parties involved and their individual makeup. 

(Fletcher, 2001, p. 477)

            Struggling to find the perfect technique for every sailor can become too much for anyone.  Eventually each JO must distill all the advice, gouge, and research into an executable plan.  Again the researchers and pundits have ideas about which philosophies work best.  Pickett states, “People want to know: what to do and how to do it, what is expected of them, how they are progressing, where they fit in, what their manager thinks of their performance” (2003, p. 238).  Pratt believes feedback must be clear, descriptive, objective, and constructive (1991).  Goesslin et al, believe a large part of performance appraisal is telling employees how they are doing and what lies ahead.  The power to improve productivity depends in great part on the JO’s effectiveness in managing this feedback (1997).

Conducting an effective performance appraisal, like leadership, is not easily done.  Doing it well requires considerable empathy, strong emotional intelligence, and allot of hard work.  There is no one best way but more often than not the sailors will meet you halfway.  If they see you often and they believe that you care about them and their performance (as you should), they will respect what you have to say to them in their performance appraisal.  At that point, the battle is half won.

The Navy Way

            The instruction detailing the Navy Performance Evaluation and Counseling System (Appendix B) is 127 pages long.  Three of those pages contain advice for Navy personnel actually conducting performance counseling.  (Enclosure (1) page 2 and Enclosure (2) Annex C pages 2 and 3.)  Not surprisingly the guidance is aligned with the much that is written above.  It includes suggestions for the preparation, execution and follow up of performance appraisals.  The instruction clearly delineates the purpose of the counseling or performance appraisal:

  • Identify the member’s important strengths and shortcomings. A fair, accurate, and realistic assessment of the member’s performance is crucial to the counseling process.
  • Address specific performance problems, concentrating on ways to develop growth in these areas. Also address the member’s strengths, and encourage their further development. Point out ways to improve, but do not dwell on unimportant faults in the belief that criticism is essential to counseling.
  • Present a performance growth plan, if appropriate. Be sure that goals are challenging but realistic and attainable for the member.
  • Ensure the member has a clear understanding and acknowledges his/her performance during the review period.
  • Review what is expected of the member before the next counseling session or evaluation report. Ensure the member understands the supervisor’s expectations.

            What the instruction does not describe, however, is the relationship between a good score on that performance appraisal and the sailor’s prospects for promotion.  Understanding the Navy’s rather Byzantine enlisted advancement system is vital for a JO to truly appreciate the importance of the scores and the quality of his writing in the official evaluation report.  The Advancement Manual for the Advancement of Enlisted Personnel of U.S. Navy and U.S. Naval Reserve (Appendix A) lists all the perquisites a service member must have to become eligible for promotion: 

  • Be recommended by the Commanding Officer
  • Have minimum time-in-rate
  • Be in the proper path of advancement
  • Meet special requirements (citizenship, security, medical, ASVAB) for certain ratings
  • Successfully complete Service Schools; if required
  • Evaluation completed within computation period for advancement cycle
  • Eligibility documented by service record entry
  • Performance tests
  • Complete leadership continuum
  • Enlisted Warfare Qualifications
  • Pass Navy-wide advancement-in-rate examination
  • Physical Readiness per OPNAVINST 6110.1F

            Once the sailors achieve eligibility for advancement they take competitive examinations that are used as part of a final multiple score (FMS). The FMS system is based on knowledge, performance, and experience factors, and considers the “whole person” in its selection criteria. The FMS factors are shown in table 1-1.  For E-4 through E-6, the factors consider a candidate’s advancement-in-rate examination score, performance evaluations, service in paygrade, awards, and previous examination performances.

            When all is said and done, the scores (and the performance which earned them) make up 36 to 41 percent of a sailor’s FMS.  Additionally, every selection board the sailor will go before during his career carefully considers the comments on performance found in the Evaluation Report and Counseling Record.  This report is important to them, just as their work is important to you.  They deserve your best effort.  Appendixes D and E are included to help the new JO find the right words for evaluations and awards.  

              When a JO understands all that enlisted sailors must go through to advance then he can better help them in that process.  Working with the command’s administrative personnel and the Chief can go a long way towards ensuring deadlines and requirements are met and training is scheduled to help sailors get ahead.  Just like performance appraisal and leadership, this is hard work.  But it is the duty of every Junior Officer to do all he can for his sailors.  


            Performance appraisal is just one piece of the broad continuum of training, dialogue and leadership that makes up performance management.  But this one piece is the Achilles’ heel of the entire program due to its importance to the sailors.  Done well it can help align the individual’s motivations with an organization’s goals, motivate the individual to better performance and assist in the development of a tailored training and growth program.  Done poorly it can demoralize the sailor and alienate the JO from his division.  The attendant loss of credibility will be tough to overcome and further hamstring the JO’s efforts at leadership.  This paper and appendixes are designed to give JOs the information necessary to ensure their sailors’ performance appraisals are done well. 

            Now, what things did Loper do wrong?


Fletcher, C. (2001). Performance appraisal and management: the developing research. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology74(4), 473-488.

Gosselin, A., Werner, J., & Halle N. (1997). Ratee preferences concerning performance management and appraisal. Human Resource Development Quarterly8(4), 315-333.

Korsgaard, A., & Roberson, L. (1995). Procedural justice in performance evaluation: the role of instrumental and non-instrumental voice in performance appraisal discussions. Journal of Management35(2), 278-290.

Pickett, L. (2003). Transforming the annual fiasco. Industrial and Commercial Training35(6/7), 237-240.

Pratt, H. (1991). Principles of effective performance management. ARMA Records Management Quarterly25(1), 28-30.


A.  BUPERSINST 1430.16e.  25 Jul 01.  Advancement Manual for the Advancement of Enlisted Personnel of U.S. Navy and U.S. Naval Reserve 

B.  BUPERSINST 1610.10.  02 Aug 1995.  Navy Performance Evaluation and Counseling System

C.  NAVPERS 1616/26 (Rev. 3-02).  Evaluation Report & Counseling Record (E1-E6)

D.  Naval Eval & Fitrep Writing

E.  Awards Writing Gouge 101 & Awards Writing 102

“I’m Flying a Convertible!” Anthony Wayne Wright

23-24 January 2002 (Two-part email to my Sister)

In case anyone asks, flying around in an F18 without a canopy is hell on the complexion.  Air’s real dry up there; causes the skin to dry out.  And don’t get me started about the windchill. Twenty thousand feet over Afghanistan in an open air McDonnell Douglas Cabriolet is just a bad bad place.  Long story short, a KC10 take-up reel on the refueling hose didn’t do its job.  Didn’t ‘take-up’.  Our hero took a fall as a result.

After some wailing and flailing The KC10 and I disconnected but I still had part of theKC10 stuck on my jet with me: the basket and seven feet of hose.  The hose had a ten-pound fitting on the end it that was quickly revealed when the wind stripped off the rubber sheath from the hose.  Once revealed, that fiting proceeded to beating the living shit out of my airplane.  

The view, before stuff got sideways…

“This is gonna be bad, this is gonna be real bad,” I thought.  I was right.  

After twenty sufficiently violent whacks, the canopy gave up the ghost.  I never thought about what a shattering canopy would sound like.  Up until then of course.  I figured since it’s made of plastic it shouldn’t sound like glass.  Wrong.  Sounded just like when you go flying through a plate glass window (another story – funnier).  Of course all the glass went out vice in.  

Cockpit pressure went from eight grand to ambient in about a heartbeat.  Which was a pretty small unit of time right then.   Don’t know exactly where the KC10 went.  Last I saw him he was turning for the southwest, spewing gas in the air and spewing words over the radio.

“Bossman” (the AWACS running the show over Afghanistan) had no time for little ‘ole me.  One of his Air Force brethren was experience discomfort.  Had to yell at him to get his attention. 

I had a borderline out-of-body experience while the canopy was still intact.  I distinctly remember thinking, “Man, that guy is screwed” and seeing myself from outside looking in.  I was doing all the right things.  Aviating, navigating, communicating, but I was thinking the whole time, “This isn’t really happening to me…I must have dozed off or something.  This has gotta be a dream.”     

At first (before the metal fitting put my top down) I thought I could make it home.  “Okay, it’s 650 away, I got 13.5 in gas…. probably have to go pretty slow and kinda low.  And that fucking hunk o’ shit on my nose can’t be doing much for my gas mileage.  This should warrant a ready deck.  Yeah one or two passes before they have to barricade me.  And I ain’t boltered yet so…”  

Then the glass shattered.

“Okay, Jacobabad it is.  My boarding rate at a 10,000 foot airstrip is even better.”   

Navigation system told me it was 260 NM away.  My body told me it was pretty damn cold up there (-15 Fahrenheit).  The KC10 remains were still trying to get at my head, beating on the ejection seat, so I started descending and decelerating (opposing states so I’m not sure I did either one that efficiently).  I leveled off at twelve thousand.  I stopped getting beat up, the fitting just hung in the airstream beside canopy bow, at 230 knots.  So there I was…Eight thousand feet above Afghanistan at 230 knots.  “You know, if a guy really wanted to get shot by a MANPAD he’d fly a profile allot like what I’m doing right now.”  Oh well.  It’s at times like this when you just make a decision and go with it.  If you pull it off then it was, “…outstanding airmanship and in keeping with the highest traditions

of the United States Naval Service…”  If you don’t pull it off, if you get bagged, well…maybe they’ll name a safety award or the new base gymnasium after you.

The debris flying around in the cockpit was…problematic.  I had a full relief bag (euphemism for a full bag of pee), which froze solid instantly and started flying around the cockpit.  So at first I had one hand on the stick, trying to get away from the tanker, and the other hand was trying to grab things as they went swirling around the cockpit.  “Damn bag of pee, oh shit, there goes all the code words over the side.”  In the end the bag went out the sunroof as well and, I think, left a four-inch gash in one of my rudders.  Precious.

Obviously I lived.  But I have to go to sleep right now.  

High Points.

I’m perfectly fine.  Not so much as a scratch.

The jet is fine.  Got it back today, twenty four hours late.

I think since we haven’t been dropping bombs and this boat needs a hero so they nominated me.  It’s total bullshit.  Hell, I thought this might be another Class Bravo mishap.  Instead the CO was waiting for me when I landed, in a good way.  I didn’t do anything anyone else couldn’t have done.  This is actually kind of embarrassing.


My wingman was still with me through all this.  Because of some late tankers and shuffling to get guys that were using our tanker to go further north he only had 10K in gas so he definitely wasn’t gonna make it back.  Well, not definitely, he could still tank after all.  But because of how I had to sit in the cockpit to minimize the windblast I needed him to watch over me.  I was pretty much hunkered down for the ride at this point.  Seat lowered, visor down, cockpit heat up full and hunched over, two inches away from one of the TV screens in the cockpit.  It’s weird the thoughts that come to you during times like this.  “You know sitting this close to the screen is bad for my eyes.”  Had to snicker over that one.  I could look right and left and see the scenery of Afghanistan and then the Pakistan slowly drift by.  Too slowly.  

On the descent from 20 to 12 thousand the airplane’s computer was displaying how long it would take me to get to the divert given my decelerating airspeed.  “Okay, 20 minutes not bad I can do that no pro…oh thirty minutes now. Okay piece of cake…  Forty!?  Shit.”  Settled out at forty eight.  In the end I didn’t really look outside much.  Just peeked over the dashboard every couple of minutes to make sure I was going to skim over the top of the upcoming ridgelines.      

This part of the world is not pretty by the way.

Once everyone realized the seriousness of the situation they started to talk to me.  The AWACS switched me over to the E2 in charge of the south.  They started relaying stuff I needed to tell the boat.  The parts the jet would need in order to make a flight back out again.  The fact that my wingman was going to make the 0900 recovery vice the 0730, stuff like that.  “The boat wants to know how badly the canopy is cracked.”  I couldn’t believe that one.  I thought he would have heard all the wind in the cockpit and known.

“It’s not cracked, it’s gone.  I’m flying a convertible.”  Apparently that line made it through all the radio nets loud and clear.  The next day I was talking with the CSAR guys in Pakistan and they said they got the helos spun up when the read that on the CSAR chat room.  (It’s all real time chat nowadays.)  What did not get through was the driver of the convertible.  I know the E2 guy knew who I was. (the conversation by the end had degenerated to callsigns.  Gretzky and Duck.  Not professional but somewhat comforting.) But somehow the ship was waiting for me to return at 0900 vice my wingman.  All this technology…

As far as the cockpit was concerned there were two different and distinct regions.  From my knees down I was toasty and warm.  “This little piggy” was getting quite sweaty in fact.  Then there was the much more chilly zone above that.  After twenty minutes I started getting the shakes; after thirty they were fully developed.  I tried to stuff my whole body down by the rudder pedals with limited success.  Kept my hands warm though. Thank God for autopilot.

About this time my wingman came up and said, “Hey can you reach out and grab that thing, pull it in?”  I looked over at him (not that he could see me) with a look of shock.  Stick my arm out into that wind, get my arm blasted back and thrashed on the glass shards sticking up everywhere?  “Have you lost your mind?!”  “Oh yeah, guess it’s kinda windy over there.  Sorry.”  

Like I said, it’s strange the thoughts people have at times like this.

My wingman and I talked about the airfield.  Frequencies, layout, the fact that the locals shoot at planes landing there. You know, just normal airport talk.  We talked about landing on a runway; something neither of us had done for three months.  And we dumped fuel to lighten the load. We both were carrying two thousand pounds of unexpended ordnance so the Air Force guys were gonna just love us.  Lastly we dropped the landing gear in close formation and compared airspeed and AOA to make sure the KC10 hadn’t damaged my AOA and airspeed probes as well.  I had him land first because I thought the hose might drag on the ground and get rolled up on by the nose wheel.  After that I had no idea what would happen; but I was, shall we say, an interested party in how that was going to turn out.

The plane flew fine with all that junk on it, the canopy gone, and all the dinged up flight controls.  Just had to use the rudder pedals, which is kind of an emergency procedure for a Hornet pilot.  When I slowed to on speed I got the “sunroof effect” pretty bad.  You know when you’re zorching down the road and you open the sunroof but leave all the other windows up?  That vibration you get until you crack another window? Well, I got kind of an advanced case of that during my Space Shuttle descent to final.  (The space shuttle descent was designed to foil the local sportsman as they took poshots at the American air pirates.)  We both rolled out fine.  Well maybe not fine.  We had to use all ten thousand feet and both had smoking brakes.  (Our brakes hadn’t been used like that in awhile.  On the boat the wire brings you to a gentle stop without them, of course.)  The emergency crews were waiting for us.  And they were pointing and gawking as would be appropriate for a situation such

as this.  Couple locals looked on in a disinterested manner.

Of course I had to do a flight physical after all this.  Had to make sure I wasn’t on drugs before I launched on my seven-hour mission into Afghanistan.

The facilities in Jacobabad ain’t that bad.  I’m here to tell you we are number one in tent technology.  Our tents kick ass.  They got AC and everything.  Since it’s an Air Force base they got all the best entertainment.  Drew Carry and Joan Jett had been there already.  Shania Twain was supposedly coming too (broke my heart, if only I’d had better timing…).  And of course the Toga Party on Saturday.  Can’t forget that. 

Yeah, it’s kinda like the boat.  Except for the booze and the Toga Parties. Other than that it’s just like the boat. 

Other random observations:

  • Air Force got all the good buildings.  Marines are on the outskirts in huts and tents, again.
  • The boys from the 101st are spoiling for a fight.  Hate coming in behind the Marines all the time.
  • Dust over everything.
  • Lots of people there that don’t look like they are in the normal military.  
  • I don’t care what any psychology major would say about it, it’s just cool carrying a gun around everywhere.
  • MREs are not too bad.  Could see how people would get sick of them though.
  • Tent city was a little slice of American suburbia right in rural Pakistan.  
  • Only Air Force base I’ve ever been on that didn’t have any [redacted].  Of course I was only there for 24 hours.
  • The place is a FOD nightmare.
I found this on the internet about twelve years later.

The maintainers showed up about four hours after I did.  After the appropriate amount of gawking they got to work and fixed it well enough for the RTB in under four hours.  Absolutely stunning job by the guys (“Where do we get such men?”).  By the end the basket and hose were removed, the canopy had been replaced and the LEX repaired with 300 mile an hour tape (No, I am not kidding).  Three of the guys showed up and immediately disappeared with two big boxes of geedunk.  They were on a booze hunt and they succeeded.  The Air Force settled them into two spare tents and they had a grand ‘ole time.  

The next morning I took off low and fast at sunrise.  Low and fast was due to the locals and the guns, of course.  Not because it was fun.  I checked in and the E2 said, “It’s good to hear your voice again, Gretzky.”  I actually got a little chocked up at that.  If you tell anyone I said that, I’ll deny it.

The RTB was uneventful right up until the end.  One of my hydraulic pumps disintegrated when I dropped the gear.  I got a couple of spurious flight control cautions but didn’t really give it much thought as I was working the landing.  As I started the approach turn the nose started to wander and I got another caution tone.  I lost one aileron, one rudder and half a horizontal stab.  I hit the reset button and I think everything cleared.

Then I saw the Hydraulic Cautions come up (as the pressure on one of my systems went to zero).  Hitting the reset button suddenly went from normal response on short final to a HUGE mistake.  When the aileron failed again I realized I sorta needed to get aboard the first time, ‘cause the hydraulic system was probably bleeding out – rapidly.  “Man, first I miss Shania and now this.  This is just not my day.” I got it aboard because the Hornet is a fantastic jet.  I got a Fair grade for the pass because I’m not very smooth when I’m rattled, and I was rattled.

I pretty much assumed I was in trouble throughout all this.  A canopy has got to cost 70 or 80 grand.  Depending on how much repairing the windscreen and the airframe ran, it could cost over 200 grand.  Which would mean a Class B mishap.  Which would mean I was screwed.  Again.  Thinking all this and then seeing the CO waiting for me when I landed made my heart sink.  But that was not the reason he was there.  The decision was made somewhere to make a big deal about this in a good way.  Just like that…dirtbag to hero.  Funny.  

This isn’t the first thing that’s happened to me out here you know.  We’re flying the shit out of these jets and it’s starting to show.  I had to come back from the box with an engine shut down a week or two before.  I’m starting to feel like that LT that keeps getting hosed in “The Bridges of Toko Ri.”  I got my resignation letter in after all.  I’m getting too short for this shit.  

Oh well, statistically speaking the rest of cruise should be smooth sailing.

Because, after all, what are the odds something like this will happen again?  

(I love planting the seeds of irony.)

A Pretty Good Day, Anthony Wayne Wright

A Pretty Good Day

I’ve had some people ask me what a typical day is like at sea, how does the catapult feel, etc.  This should answer some of those questions.  Hope it’s not too dull.

When does a day begin?  Is it when you get out of bed or is it when all possibility of additional REM sleep is exhausted?  If it’s the latter, I’d guess my day started around 0430 when an elevator fell 38 floors and slammed to a stop in my room.  I reacted like anyone would who had something like that happen, or at least someone who sleeps at the bottom of a defective elevator shaft.  I rolled over and cursed the bastard(s) that had made the noise.  It wasn’t an elevator, of course, but one of the catapults amidships (or the ‘waist cats’, as they’re called).  And from the sounds of it, things were not running smoothly.  As the catapult was pulled back again, as it was being cocked actually, some mechanism was clicking badly.  When I say ‘clicking’ it’s important to recognize the cat was physically 70 feet away from me and I was hearing all of this through a dozen walls of half-inch steel.  So the ‘clicking’ was a major malfunction, I suspected.  (That’s the way it is on the boat – you don’t notice huge booming noises you only notice the huge booming noises which aren’t normal.  The normal ones don’t even cause you to blink an eye, unless you’re trying to sleep.)  I was right.  Apparently the maintenance manual said, “For odd clicking noises continue to fire catapult at odd intervals until flight ops commence.”  And that’s what theydid.  And that’s when my day started.

Around five thirty I got up and ducked under the AC vent eighteen inches above my pillow.  (All ceilings on ships look like a hardware store exploded and all the pieces stuck to the ceiling.  At least ships of war look like this.)  Grabbed the light and swung myself out and down to the floor (bunk bed, don’t know why I thought this was so cool when I was a kid).  Landed right on the bean bag and almost spilled onto the floor.  “Man it’s dark!”  

Did the three S’s and headed for the ready room.  (For you old timers in the audience we got ‘Hollywood Showers’, Nukes Rule!)  I live on the O3 level.

This means I live three floors above the Hangar Bay and one floor below the

Flight Deck.  The ready room is on this same floor which means I don’t have any stairs to navigate during morning rush hour.  I was pretty thankful for this given my dismount from bed.  

The O3 has two long hallways running the length of the ship and every six paces or so are five-foot tall steel ovals that only one person at a time can fit through.  (These ovals are called kneeknockers because of a steel lip about eight inches up from the floor. You gotta be walking kinda funny to knock a knee on these things but I’m not one to argue with tradition.)  With people walking both ways there is a constant scan required to keep things flowing.  There are certain rules covering who goes first through the hole.  People running get priority.  First because if they’re running they must have something important to do when they get where they’re going and second you want to take a step back and get a good view because if they trip it’s gonna be bloody.  (The only soft landing possible on an aircraft carrier is when you fall out of the hangar bay.)  Next comes a balance between rank and range to the gap.  Women get no priority whatsoever.  I noticed quickly that if you let women go through first it messes up the rhythm and people look at you funny, like it’s a pick up line or something. 

Morning Brief for a BFM Flight (Basic Fighter Maneuvers otherwise known as Dogfighting).  This is what makes it worthwhile.  Well, not the brief but the flight.  If anyone has considered men to be noncommunicative they should see this little evolution.  I was flying with “Dusty” Rhodes who was working towards his section lead (a qualification to lead two jets in combat).  This was a syllabus hop so Dusty had studied hard and put up a briefing board up that was just an object de arte.  (Square block writing, flight arcs and weapons envelopes; appropriate use of color, highlighting things that needed it but not distracting.)  Then came the brief.  The funny thing about BFM briefs is they are typically longer then the flights/fights themselves.  (I just now realized this and I’m conflicted about it.)  He was talking and I was listening and taking notes.  It was a good brief but I still came up with a page of misspeaks I could debrief with him (I’m an anal son of a bitch since leaving TOPGUN).  This went on for an hour and fifteen minutes.  Think about that.  When was the last time you sat down one on one with someone and listened to them talk for over an hour?  Men can’t communicate?  Ha!  This is communication!  

Argonaut Ready Room, 2000

We broke and I grabbed my standard morning coke.  Grinds my stomach up sometimes but I need the kick, since I don’t eat anything in the morning.  

Next I ran out and talk to the guys that fix the jets.  It was early so night duty section was still awake.  Bleary-eyed old senior chief with a bathtub full of coffee at his elbow handed me the book.  He then reminded me not to break the jet, really giving me some shit.  This was the standard between us, if he didn’t give me shit I’d feel like my mojo was messed up.  (Flying behind the boat is a superstitious evolution.)   Threw on my flight gear and headed to the roof.  (The roof of the O3 level is the flight deck.)

Morning man ups.  God help me, I do love these.  It is quiet and cool, two unusual adjectives to describe the flight deck.  Typically it is pretty hectic up here.  Twenty planes moving around blowing jet exhaust, helicopter blades swinging, props spinning and moving, catapults firing, huge walls coming up out of the ground (Jet Blast Deflectors used to keep jets about to be launched from blowing everything behind them off the ship), horns blasting and people yelling, alot.  Kinda tense – probably the most dangerous job site I’ve ever seen.  But not in the morning, not for the first launch. 

I walked to my jet (at least this morning it was mine) and talked with the

Plane Captain (PC) for a minute.  The PCs are new to the squadron, typically less than a year and are responsible for the daily care and feeding of the jets.  Good guys, but real young so you gotta watch out for them sometimes.  I was prone to doing stupid stuff without warning when I was younger (still am, depends on the current martini count) but I wasn’t on the flightdeck when I was young.  So the consequences were not nearly so severe.  (The Eisenhower lost a PC ten days ago when he walked into an E-2’s turning prop.)  

I was doing the preflight and getting into my habit patterns, all on automatic.  The Flight Deck Chief came up and had me sign something.  I walked over the cat (catapult) track, 5 feet wide and two hundred feet long, all steel and grease, and almost fell.  This is normal; the cat track is always slick.  The PCs like to run across the flight deck and skid down them when they think no one is watching.  Kind of like skim boarding on the beach except instead of sand it’s steel and nonskid when they fall, and they do fall.  

Hauled myself up the ladder and into the cockpit.  Three TV screens (with twenty buttons each) and about 30 switches and knobs.  This is the office and I’m pretty much at home here.  The start went quickly, I’m flying my ass off out here and all the administrative stuff is becoming more and more rote with each day.  It now takes me about five minutes to start everything and ten before the INS is aligned.  (Inertial Navigation System, the heart of the way the pilot flies the Hornet, so it’s kinda important.  Landing without it is a lot of work.  I can hear the old guys now, “Young punk, why when I was flying…”  Yeah, yeah – I know.)  

The plane guard helo launched and went right over me at about 15 feet.  The

Boss (senior guy in the tower who runs the flight deck, the landing pattern and who is responsible for yelling at people) yelled at him, which I expected.  The Helo guy apologized, which I didn’t.  Never apologize on the radio, makes you sound like a weenie.  I was parked all the way up forward on cat 2 so I watched the S-3 and E-2 take off right in front of me on cat 1.  It’s at times like these that I am reminded just how violent the launch is.  The E-2 was 200′ away from me at a dead stop and max power; the wings, tail and dome all shaking and twisting in different directions.  Black exhaust was going straight up after “deflecting” off the JBD.  The cat fired and two seconds later the airplane (and the five people in it) were right next to me at 120 knots leaping from  the flight deck.  I could see the two pilots, one had his head pinned back, the other was fighting it – head strained forward, right hand on the dashboard pulling.  Good knows what the people in the back of that thing (tiny windows) were thinking/doing. 

They pulled all the chains off my jet and then taxied me out of the bow.  The ‘yellow shirts’ tightly control every foot a jet moves because the flightdeck is so jammed with airplanes and people.  They do this by waving their arms over their heads in different ways, giving different signals.  The yellow shirts are pretty salty enlisted guys with some savvy.  Each one has his own style and mannerisms.  Having flown and therefore taxied a fair amount around here I can recognize each one on sight even though I’ve never seen these guys without all the flightdeck gear on.  If I saw them in a bar I wouldn’t know them until they started waving their hands over their heads.  During most of the taxi my nosewheel was on the cat track so when they steered me left and right to avoid other jets the experience was like using a rudder, not a steering wheel.  A lot of the flight deck was getting slick.  Four months of leaking jets and continuous flight ops has made the taxiing experience a lot like driving on an icy road.  

I ended up over at cat 3.  This was the cat that made the loud clicking noises just three hours before.  “Sure hope they fixed this thing.”  I reached down to make sure the ejection seat handle was where it should be and touched the emergency jettison button.  If they hadn’t fixed it (and at the time I was seriously hoping they had) I would have needed both of these, but not necessarily in that order.  

Planes were shooting off three different cats now, the pace of the launch had really picked up.  Weather was beautiful so no words were spoken, except the Boss (the man in the tower looking down on the flight deck – in charge of everything).  One guy didn’t turn quick enough on takeoff; another guy didn’t climb high enough for the departure.  Yak, Yak, Yak.  The closer I get to the cat the more my adrenaline picked up.  As my adrenaline picked up, my threshold for annoyance lowered.  The Boss was really pushing some of my buttons.  Not that it mattered.  I wasn’t going to say anything and I was going to turn and climb just fine.  But still, pilots hate unnecessary comm (communication) and he was spewing it over the airwaves and into my helmet and therefore into my head.  All those moments ripe for smart-ass comments floating across the ether made it tough to compartmentalize.  

Cat Stroke.  They taxied me up to the cat and I lowered my launch bar.  (A big piece of metal that connects the airplane to the catapult.)  “Wings spread and locked, flaps half, trim set, no cautions, dispenser off, radalt set, no cautions, engines are good.”  Yellow shirt gave me the signal and I ran ’em up.  Throttles went to military power (max without afterburner) and the jet screamed but didn’t move.  The cat locked in place with a thump and the jet squatted down.  “7s, 8s and 9s, engines good, no cautions, flight controls good.  Wait…what was that extra thump?”  I got this about once every other day, an extra thump when I’m on the cat.  I’ve seen too many film clips of bad things happening on the catapult to not have these thoughts running about in my head at times like these.  Launch bar could pop out, leaving me stranded.  The cat could be cold, on and on and on.  You’d figure I’d get used to this, but I don’t.  Down side of an active imagination I guess.  “Well the cat’s not my job.  The jet’s my job and she wants to go.”  Looked up, threw a quick salute to the cat Officer and waited.  

The best part…

This part always sucks, frankly.  The catapult Officer looked forward and then aft to see if there was any reason to stop the launch before he touched the deck.  Now, if the cat fired right then and there it’d be fine.  But touching the deck is just the signal for another guy to look forward and aft for any reasons to stop the launch before he punches what, I can only assume, must be a very big button.  Then the cat fires.  Problem is I can’t always see the second guy (depends on what cat I’m on).  So sitting and waiting for it is kind of like being at the doctor’s office with your sleeve rolled up, waiting for the poke.  Typically I hold my breath for all of this.  Right about the time I figure the launch has been stopped for some reason (because it’s obviously taking too long) and exhale, it happens. 

When the cat fires the seat drops down about three inches and starts blasting forward.  This sets up a quick iteration of about three vigorous bounces which are almost unnoticeable because of the acceleration.  My feet come up off the floor and my head slams back.  It doesn’t knock the breath out of me but I’m not sucking any air in at this point, that’s for sure.  I try to look at the airspeed to make sure I’ll have enough at the end.

That’s what I’m supposed to do.  To be honest though, all I’m doing is thinking either, “WEEEEE,” during the day or, “SSHHHIIIITTTTT,” at night.  I don’t notice much except the deck edge rushing up at me.  Right before the ship disappears under the nose I’m slammed forward at the end of the stroke.  It feels like I hit something.  Actually I’m still accelerating but the rate goes down to nothing compared to the cat shot.  I look for a second to make sure I’m still flying and recage my brain.  Typically I’m still flying.  

The other half of the best part…

Gear handle came up and I put in a shallow turn to avoid the guy that had just come off the bow cat.  Raced out to 7 miles at 500′ or so and started climbing overhead the ship.  I found my wingman at 18,000′ and joined up.  We headed out to the north of mother (as the ship is called) and set up for the fights.  It was a good deal for me as Dusty was practicing defensive BFM.  Which, by process of elimination, made me offensive.  Which is a good thing.  Essentially it’s an unfair fight.  I start out back near his extended four o’clock shooting at him.  I like these kind of unfair fights, it’s when I’m on the receiving end of this punishment that it’s an “injustice.”

He broke back hard at me, I countered.  He ran out of options so he changed the flight flow, down.  I countered.  He reversed back into me again, I countered.  We were pulling 6 or 7 g’s for a lot of this and he had to look over his shoulder during all of it.  Felt bad for him, just a tiny little bit.  He was doing well but the setup made it hard to do much beyond break even.  We ended up 5000′ above the Gulf weaving back and forth, huffing and puffing and starting to sweat.  After the fight I raised my seat up an extra inch and got the oxygen mask up off my chin.  (High G is like instant aging, everything sags.)  As we climbed I tried to jot down some notes about what had just happened.  The notes pretty much looked like I tried real hard to draw a fur ball.  

Got the shot, but he had about 280 knots at this point. The ensuing roller was awkward for me.

Two more sets and it was time for us to return to the boat.  Everyone from the launch was heading back to the “stack.” The stack is a holding pattern overhead the ship where everyone waits for the launch to finish.  Fighters down low (typically have less fuel and need to get aboard first), with the bigger airplanes up high.  The goal is to get the first plane down within two minutes of the last plane taking off and recovery a jet every forty-five seconds after that.  That and not say anything on the radio.  So we came in at three thousand feet and started circling.  We saw the Marines come in and got across the circle from them.  Tomcats and two more Hornets below us all were waiting for the deck to clear.  

As is typical when I’m low on gas, and I was LOW on gas, something “interesting” happened.  When I’m in tight spots I really hate it when interesting things happen.  I’d prefer it if things stayed dull but that wasn’t to be the case.  I still don’t know what it was.

I just know the Boss came up on the radio and half shouted, “Ninety-Nine, delta easy!”  (Poor technique, never panic the potential victims.)  Translation:  “Everybody stop wasting gas, it’s gonna be awhile.”  Since I wasn’t wasting any gas at the time that left me absolutely nothing to do.  So that left me time to think.  What I was thinking was, “Do I own up to being low on gas now and cause a whole big mess or do I just hope things clear before it gets real ugly?”  I went with the later and it worked out.  Life’s good sometimes.

When our turn to recover came we descended down to 800′ and came in for the break.  A level turn to set up for the landing.  I gotta be honest here, the day landings are pretty fun and a little tricky.  The rush I get is like when you go blowing through a yellow light with a cop watching.  Feels like it should be illegal but it’s not.  The landing is about half as violent as the cat and I’m in control, double the fun.  (Though I’ve had landings that were twice as violent and I felt fully out of control.  The kind of landings that has people standing around the flight deck shaking their heads, because everyone’s a critic in this business.)  I caught the fourth wire of four which resulted in me running out almost all the way to the deck edge.  This used to bother me more.  Frankly the first couple of times it scared the crap out of me.  The only thing I knew the first time I hit a four wire was I was not fast enough to go around again and it sure didn’t look like I was going to stop in time.  But typically these things work okay and I did stop.  

Taxied out and parked, all the way forward again.  Getting down out of the jet the Chief thanked me for not breaking the jet.  Apparently, things were going poorly and this was only the first recovery.  Two major hydraulic leaks on the previous launch.  Two down jets.   The maintenance guys spotted one of the leaks as the jet was going into tension on the catapult.  They do good work and this time they probably saved the pilot a lot of heartache, preventing him from having to deal with an airborne emergency.  The plane captain came out from under the jet and asked me how the flight went.  He could tell it was good because of the ear to ear grin I was wearing.  We shot the shit for a little bit and I headed back aft to get to the ready room.  

The flight deck was in its normal state now.  All noise, heat and motion.  The recovery was still going on so every 45 seconds another jet would roll out in full power, the pilots thrown forward in their seats.  An E2 landed last and I hurried to get off the flight deck.  Those props give me the willies.  As I was walking behind the island, I noticed the bomb farm was starting to fill up.  All the ordnance for the afternoon strike was coming

up from the bowels of the ship.  Rows and rows of Laser Guided Bombs IGBs), Air to Air missiles and various other smart weapons.  A not so subtle reminder that in seven or eight hours I was going to be paying the United States Government back for the privilege of the mornings flight.  

I left the flight deck and started walking back to the ready room.  Sweaty guys just back from a flight have priority over all others at the kneeknockers.  I shucked all my gear off and hung them up.  I was thinking they probably wouldn’t dry before I manned up for the strike.  Kind of like putting on a wet and cold wetsuit.  Yuck.  It took about fifteen minutes to fill out the paperwork on the flight.  Forms, forms, forms, I do work for the Government after all.  

Next came the debrief.  Another episode of men communicating.  We try to

rehash what went well and what went wrong in debriefs.  First Dusty drew up what he thought happened, using the furball he’d written in the jet after each fight.  After that we’d watch the tapes.  We have a little camera on the dashboard of the jet.  It looks straight out through the Heads Up Display so we can see at any time how high, fast, hard (G’s) we’re flying.  It also has all the symbology (not a real word but it works best) for the various weapons we shoot at each other, in a simulation mode.  Though, actually Dusty didn’t get a chance to shoot this hop.  (Like I said before, I love these kinds of unfair fights.)  Most fights have one or two points in them were someone makes a mistake and gets punished for it shortly afterwards.  On the tapes it’s pretty obvious where these points are.  They are usually coincident with the guy saying, “Aww Shit.”  Dusty had four or five Aww Shits and I had a couple myself.  We figured what we could have done better and then we broke for lunch.  

After lunch I had a couple of hours to kill before the next brief.  I went to the intelligence center and checked in with the Strike Lead.  It’s a good thing I did because there was a change to the plan and I was now leading a division (four jets) of strikers looking at an SA-3 site up near the 32nd parallel.  While the good of this was I wasn’t going to have to fly form off someone else (at night with no lights, translation: not fun), the bad was I now had to put together a plan and a brief for the flight.  At times like these the simplest plan is probably going to be the right answer and I set to work on what I thought would be the simplest plan.  The Strike Lead (“Chunks” a Tomcat RIO) was great, “I need you here at this time and you own the Prowler for 15 minutes from this time to that time.  Everything else is up to you.  I need your route in one hour.”  I love dealing in absolutes.

Was I ever this young?

What was driving the whole flex was the Iraqis.  They’ve found out (the hard way) that if they leave any Surface to Air missiles or AAA Guns in one place south of the 33rd for much more than a day, we’ll erase it from the face of the planet.  (At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work, when and if we actually drop is up to the General in Saudi Arabia.  And after looking at guns shooting at us in the same spot for a week I don’t know what his criteria is for dropping.  Sometimes I think he’s using Tarot cards.)  So the Iraqis move stuff pretty regular.  Someone happened to spot a SA-3 and they sent out some urgent e-mail (it’s all e-mail nowadays) telling us to run at it.  It’s important to stress they just wanted us to run at it, not strike it.  We may or may not actually get to drop on it.  It was likely that we wouldn’t know what we would really do until we were over Kuwait north bound.  Either way we were going into SA-3’s envelope if only for a little bit of the run.  If we got to actually strike then we’d be living in his envelope.  That’s what the Prowler was for.  That jet would jam the SA-3’s radars so they couldn’t shoot at us, hopefully.  

And that’s about as complicated as the plan got.  Next I had to put together some materials to help with target acquisition.  We would be using LGBs on the target so we had to find the pieces of machinery out in the desert before we could release.  More than that we had to be damn sure it was the right spot before we could drop.  An F-16 driver in Kuwait got sent home two weeks ago because he dropped in the wrong spot.  Now one wanted to go home that way so the three guys I’d be leading and myself studied the target area very hard.  Of course that wasn’t the only target we had to study.  We had to look at five or six because the General could call for a strike in any of the target areas.  The SA-3 was the percentage bet for us to strike but if the F-16s or the British Tornados missed we’d be rolled over to cover their targets as well.  So we’re pulled in two different directions at times like these.  The responsibility of what we’re doing demands we study the targets extremely well.  This was especially true since this was a night strike and we weren’t going to be able to study a new target airborne in a blacked out cockpit while trying to not hit each other.  On the other hand, we never want to miss a chance to execute and anytime we can show up the Air Force we’re all over it.  This means we end up studying for, I think, too many targets.  

The fact that all of this was probably going to be for nothing was also eating at the back of my mind.  The likelihood that the proper Tarot card was going to be pulled was small since the Iraqis hadn’t shot at us much lately.  And what they do drives what we do.  They shoot a missile, we’ll crush ’em.  They fly south of the 33rd, we’ll crush ’em.  They shoot AAA at us; well that’s a crapshoot.  This is not a war, it’s ‘containment’ and we’ve told them (with ordnance) that shooting missiles and flying south is unacceptable.  We’ve also told them that shooting guns at us is not good but not as bad as the first two.  The politicians don’t want Iraq as a reelection topic so if we can minimize the number of page six news stories about US airplanes killing civilians (which is total bullshit but a different story) that is a good thing.  So we do.  The guns are not a tremendous threat but it goes against my grain to accept that these guys can shoot at me and I can’t return the favor most days.  

After awhile we all headed down to the Tomcat ready room for the strike brief.  Thirty or thirty-five people crammed in watching the power point slides.  Chunks was going over the coordination portion; frequencies, who goes where for gas, what altitude for every one to be at etc., etc., etc.  Funny part is this brief, which involves far more people than this morning, is much shorter than the BFM brief.  A lot of things at this point are standard.  Doesn’t make them any less interesting to execute but it doesn’t need to be rehashed in the brief either.  Chunks was taking jets to Tallil to look at some S-60 AAA guns.  I was going to Al Najaf, the Tornados to Basra (poor bastards, there’s guns all over the place there), and the F-16s had As Sammawah.  

We had the only SAM site so everyone was thinking the right card was going to be pulled and my division would execute.  I wasn’t so sure.  It just didn’t make any sense to me.  This was Chunks’ strike, “why did he given me the juicy target?”  I suspected the Navy representative in Saudi (sitting next to the General) had emailed chunks and given him some tipper information.  You can drive yourself nuts by getting psyched up with every rumor that comes out of the computer.  I knew this too well at this point.  But I didn’t want to let this come across in my portion of the brief.  The guys in my division were going to be working hard tonight and a lead that briefs without conviction is bad for morale.  

We finished and still had about forty-five minutes before we had to walk so I headed back to Intel to see what had changed.  Nothing.  That was good so I headed to the wardroom to grab something to eat before the flight.  After all the plans and decisions I’d made that afternoon I found myself vaporlocked at the coke machine.  For the life of me I couldn’t decide between coke and sprit.  I needed the caffeine but if I drank too much I’d end up having to take a piss somewhere west of the target.  Three and a half hour flights force you to make some tough choices about your diet as the repercussions of a poor decision are traumatic.  I went with the coke and hopped for the best.

Next problem – the night man up.  Put on the wet flightgear (yuck), 9mm pistol, extra GPS, extra water, extra ammunition (like I’m going to shoot my way out) and headed up to the roof.  The flightdeck was still in full swing except now it was dark.  Jets were parked so that I had to walk behind them to get up to the bow.  Problem was I couldn’t tell which one was running and which one wasn’t.  Everything was loud so I couldn’t use the noise to judge.  I had to stick my hand out and see if it got blown back by exhaust.  The Hornet’s weren’t turning but the Tomcats were.  Shit.  The problem with the Tomcats are they are pretty low on the back end, so crouching down to get underneath the jet blast required more effort than I wanted to expend.  Walking around the front wasn’t going to work because that would put me in the landing area.  So I waddled underneath four Tomcat TF30 engines enroute to my Night Strike Fighter.  Not exactly looking like the proud giant killer I wanted to be.  The E-2 fired up just as I was walking past and I thought to myself, “Fuck, I hate the flight deck at night.”              

I found my jet and started the preflight.  It was a very different jet from this morning.  Two LGBs, three air-to-air missiles and a full belt of ammo were all on it / in it now.  This was a jet going to work.  She looked good, but I always think the Hornet looks good.  Smooth curves blended with sharp angles.  Form followed function here and the form is beautiful.  I hurried the preflight as I had a lot of things to do in the cockpit to get ready for the flight.  Plus the sooner I got in the sooner I’d be off the flight deck.  Fired everything up and started typing in coordinates, resetting radios, testing sensors and playing the flight out in my head.  Again and again.

Time to earn your money.

They taxied me out and back to the waist.  Same slippery ice feel except I noticed it a lot more because I had less visual cues to what was going on.  The lights were down for the launch and the only thing plainly visible were the light wands of the plane directors.  Things were behind schedule, I could tell that by the wands.  They were clearly impatient with the pace everyone was moving. Tempers were growing short as the long hot day started to wear on everyone.  As I got closer to the cat I totally forgot about the mission and went through my prelaunch mantra.  The blood was pumping as I remembered how much I hated the night cat shot.  

The night cat shot feels exactly the same physically.  It is completely different mentally.  The half-second when the acceleration stops and my brain is still on the flight deck causes profound disorientation.  There’s nothing to look at except the HUD.  Everything else is completely black.  Scary or not, I made sure I sounded cool when I keyed the radio.  Goes back to not wanting to sound like a weenie in public.  “Jason 400, Airborne.”

Everyone was coming off the flight deck streaming up north.  Two KC-135s were sixty miles south of the Iran-Iraq border and the strike package was headed right for them.  They were flying a 40 mile race track pattern at two hundred and eighty knots.  I was launched somewhere in the middle of the strike so 10 or 12 guys were already working their rendezvous on the KCs.  The night was completely black but I knew there were a bunch of people out there based on what my radar was telling me.  I was painting guys everywhere.  I put on my night vision goggles and was relieved to find the weather was going to be good for us.  The Goggles enabled my to see lights up to a hundred miles away.  (The other neat thing is the sky.  I can see about four times the normal amount of stars and I see shooting stars every couple of minutes.)  Just then they helped me see the rendezvous up ahead.  Not pretty.  Little white lights, like angry fireflies, everywhere.  

There are only a couple of rules when joining on the tankers because it’s not that hard to do as a single.  It’s when twelve of your best friends are trying to get the exact same piece of the sky that things get interesting.  Also with the goggles you can’t be sure of the range of what you’re seeing.  That dot of light could be twenty miles away or a half-mile and closing fast.  You also can’t judge aspect, you can’t see where the light is going until you stare at it for a bit.  If it doesn’t move it’s either very far away or on a constant bearing with decreasing range.  Consequently you can see there’s lots of stuff out there that might hurt you, you just don’t know which one’s first.  Tonight I had a Tomcat cut me off as I was around two miles from the tanker.  

I wanted to say something on the radio to let him know I was there but the radios were busy.  Dust storms in Saudi Arabia had clobbered the F-15 Eagles’ home base.  They were supposed to have eight fighters in the box but only two got airborne.  There was talk about canceling the strike because of the lack of fighter cover.  These thoughts were coming from the Eagle guys themselves.  I suspected two main reasons for this.  One was ego.  If the strike went in even though three quarters of them were still on deck it’d be tantamount to admitting we didn’t need them.  (We didn’t, and still don’t.)  The second was the storms.  They wanted to go back and try to get home right then.  Later on was going to be a fuel issue for them.  The AWACS (airplane that was controlling the whole effort) talked to Jerimiah (the General with the Tarot cards in Saudi) and Jerimiah said go.  God bless him.  I was about to find out why.

After the tanker I headed up to the strike rendezvous point.  All the strikers and support elements had different altitudes to get their elements together.  While this was going on Jerimiah came on the radio.  This is a pretty big deal.  Typically there’s only two things that bring “The Man” to the mike.  First one is a mission abort and the weather made that look unlikely.  Second reason is to give an execute order, and that’s what he did.  In the same breath he told Chunks to execute versus the Tallil guns and that my target was gone.  The Iraqis had moved it already.  Chunks’ targeting decisions made a lot more sense to me now but that didn’t make it any less frustrating.  I was going into southern Iraqi but I wasn’t going to do anything.  My wingman muttered some kind of expletive on the back up radio.  At about the same time (I’m sure) Chunks and his boys were whooping it up on their own back up frequencies.

Regardless of what was about to happen I still had to take my three guys in and out of “The Box” (southern Iraq’s nickname) on time.  So I focused on that.  The various elements of the strike package stopped circling at the rendezvous point and flew northeast into Iraq.  I followed Chunks at about eight miles and broke off to the west when the Tigris and Euphrates split.  Out to the east the lights of Basra were burning bright.  It made it tough to see the little twinkling lights that meant guns were firing.  But I knew they were there because every couple of seconds three tracer rounds from the 100mm guns would come up and arc to the west.  (It looks a lot like it does on CNN.)  The Brits’ time on target was just a couple minutes after we passed Basra and I knew they were coming from the west.  So I figured the guns must have been shooting at them.  

Chunks was going to attack from the north and since I was currently south of their target I could see the whole thing.  Tallill airfield was plainly visible on the goggles.  (The moon was coming up now and it made things on the ground much more visible.)  I was looking over my right shoulder at the twinkling lights on the southeast corner of the airfield (I’d studied his targets too.) and I was thinking, “What would those guys do if they knew?”  Chunks and his boys were coming for real this time.  It wasn’t going to be a flyby where the Gunners get to shoot and then break for dinner.  People were going to die down there unless they started running.  I could see the two lights of Chunks division (only two guys had their lights on, the two wingman were totally blacked out) and they weren’t moving.  That meant the jets were pointed at me.  That meant they were headed south for the guns.  

The first explosion caught me off guard.  My goggles totally whited out for a second because of the sudden bright light.  The next three, in quick succession, I watched with my unaided eyeballs.  Chunks reported to the AWACS that the division had four good hits.  The excitement in his voice was pretty high.  On the ground, the lights weren’t twinkling anymore.

My wingman said something unnecessary and we pressed up to Al Najaf.  Right on cue I realized I had to take a piss.  The run up to Al Najaf was pretty uneventful.  We got within a couple of miles of where the SA-3 used to be and turned around down south.  Just before we left we could see Baghdad on the Goggles.  On the way out of country I didn’t really see anything.  Just standard Iraq with widely spaced clusters of dirty yellow lights.  More lights in the east as we got towards the rivers.  Basra is the biggest city down here and even it’s lights aren’t that impressive.  Tallill airfield looked quiet – licking its wounds.

On the way back to the ship we had to stop back at the KC-135s for some more gas.  This rendezvous wasn’t as hard because I had three guys with me and Chunks’ division was already gone.  My wingman was lower on gas then any of us so I let him get behind the tanker and get the gas first.  He was having a pretty hard time with it.  (We get gas by extending a 4 foot probe from the side of our nose and pushing it into a basket that is hanging from the tanker.  Because the tanker is moving so fast the open end of the basket is pointed behind the tanker, at us.  When the connection is made gas is pumped through the basket and probe and into our gas tanks.  On the smoothest of days it’s a little like throwing darts.  If the basket is not completely round it will wave around in seemingly random patterns.  Turbulence can also affect the basket making it very hard to get in.  The difficulty you have getting in is directly proportional to how bad you need to get in.)

His jet was really jerking around, making big plays to get in the basket.  He was tense and having three other guys watch him flail around wasn’t helping.  “Wiggle your toes…”  I have no idea why this works but I’ve found that at times likes these if I wiggle my toes it helps calm me down and I can concentrate.  It’s an old trick and I think it helped him out as he got in shortly afterwards.

Iraq and the tanker were now behind me.  Only a night trap was left between me and a solid nights sleep.  Night traps are done differently then day ones.  First it’s an instrument approach instead of the swirling overhead pattern.  Next it’s a straight in landing instead of the turning one.  This should make it easier, and mechanically it is.  But it’s not as much fun and the tension level is a bit higher.  Tonight wasn’t too bad, the moon was up.  At three quarters of a mile I could actually see some of the ship.  On a typical night approach I can only see a dozen lights in the shape of a rectangle and the ball.  The rectangle is where I’m supposed to land, the ball is what I use to get me there.  Not a lot of distractions.  I really hate night landings, they’re bad for my blood pressure.

If only every ‘night’ trap were like this.

I managed to get the right wire this time, the three.  I taxied out and pointed the jet over the side while the ordies dearmed my missiles and gun.  Then I got to move my jet up to the bow.  All the way up.  The nose wheel of the Hornet is a little behind where the pilot sits.  So when they taxied me all the way up to the bow to turn around I felt like I was hanging out over the water.  I felt this way because I was hanging out over the water.  Hate that feeling.  Having to do this right after the night trap makes it feel like strange and unusual punishment.

I got off the flight deck quickly and headed back to intelligence center.  Chunks and his division were rolling the tapes on their strike.  They really schwacked the guns.  I was watching one of the FLIR tapes over everyone’s shoulders.  I could see the berms around the various gun emplacements but not the guns themselves.  The pilot wasn’t sure he had the right place and the recording had a far number of choice expletives.  Then the gun started firing.  Little burst of light on the tape right in the middle the berm.  Made him easy to spot.  The gun kept firing for another thirty seconds or so.  Then the bomb hit, right on top of it.  (This also looks a lot like CNN.)  All the tapes pretty much looked like that.  

They wanted to look at my tape too.  Just to confirm what they already knew.

The SA-3 was gone. 

I went back to the ready room and took off all the gear, put the gun away and plopped down in a chair.  It was about eleven and I was exhausted.  I didn’t realize it until I stopped moving.  But the SDO told me I wasn’t done yet.  The corpsman wanted me to come down and get my Anthrax shot.  It just keeps getting funnier.  

After the strike debrief and the shot I finally got back to bed about twelve thirty.  Tomorrow’s (or today’s actually) flight schedule looked like more of the same.  I had a brief in about seven hours.  Giddyup.  Then the cat fired.  More maintenance.                   

Headed Home

Hello Everyone,

            Sorry for the huge gap between updates.  Life’s been busy here on

the boat as is typical.  Between that and a general blah attitude for about

the last month it’s made exciting updates a bit more than I could muster.

The boat is doing thirty plus knots headed north east out of Australia so I

guess we’re really headed home, finally.  So this is as good a time as any

to write one more email and thank all of you for your notes.  A little

something everyday helped the days go by quicker.

            I guess I should take it in order.  That would be the most organized

thing to do.  Not the easiest however because all the events are swirling

around in my head.  Five days in Hobart scrambled my brains pretty good.

            The last flight in the box was more of the same.  Day started with

typical rumors of strikes which would be approved later in the day.  No one

paid much heed at first.  “Same Shit Different Day” attitude was rampant

throughout the Airwing.  As the day went on it became apparent that this was

for real.  Nothing had changed south of 32, the General just wanted warheads

on foreheads.  I guess to keep them guessing.  That meant both of us were

guessing at that point.  Last minute back channel BS took me off the Striker

package and onto the Escort group.  (Hang around with a support airplane –

don’t do much.)  They wanted a different weapon, one my old jet didn’t have

the hardware for.  That was an emotional ass kicker.  When I’d heard around

noon I was going to drop I got pumped.  Hadn’t had an adrenaline rush like

that since February when I did my first night trap in two and a half years.

Three hours later they put me in the back of the bus.  It became obvious I’d

spent three and a half months in the Gulf and I wasn’t going to do anything

but turn jet fuel into jet noise over Southern Iraq.  Useless, totally

useless.  The strike was at night and it was fairly clear.  The package  I

was in had an alternate mission to take an SA-2 north of 32.  Something to

study for but no way in hell we were going.  All the various strike packages

got their targets from Jerimiah and headed for their Initial Points.  The

spot on the map they would drive from to hit the targets.  It was actually

really quiet then, kind of eerie considering what was to come.  Everyone

waiting for the proper time to push.  The Iraqis never fired a shot.

Totally quiet from horizon to horizon.  The package we were covering pushed

and we did our thing to stay in position.  I knew the target and could see

the river intersection it was at on my Night Vision Goggles.  Nothing, not

so much as a flashlight at the spot.  The last two weeks the guns there had

been positively skittish.  They’d shoot as soon as we got within 30 miles of

them.  About when they could hear our jets coming on a quiet day.  The

package rolled over them.  Approaching Time On Target for the strikers I

turned off the goggles and watched the explosions.  More bombs than targets

so we doubled up out of pure spite (we call it a double tap.  Just trying to

keep it real.  ha).  My package went straight over them next, totally dumb.

Going into gun range with no intent to drop.  I was livid.  But I was also

dash four out of four guys so my job wasn’t guidance.  It was to be in

position and be quiet.  Four fires, no secondaries in the target area.

Looking out over the horizon I watched the Brits hit As Samawah and the

F16’s hit Tallil.  Bombs going off everywhere.  Nothing coming back up from

the ground.  Either the Iraqis knew we were coming or there was a Gunner’s

Convention in Bashra.  And Iraqis ain’t much like any Conventioneers I know.

Our job was to be the last one’s out of the box so we headed south out of

the Box at a leisurely pace.  Jerimiah came up and asked us if we had enough

gas to hit our original target.  Either he was trying to be funny or he’s a

moron.  We’d already been in the Box an hour, the target was 250 miles away

and the Box was supposed to shut down in 10 minutes.  I’m pretty sure he was

playing with us.  So we left.  I was the last one from the Airwing out ofthe Box.  Only noteworthy thing I did the whole damn time.  Useless

Liberty Question – Anthony Wayne Wright

1a. Consider Pfeffer’s overview of the management process (Pfeffer, p. 29), as well as the discussion from The Institute for Management Excellence. And then consider a situation in your work where you made a decision with respect to those whose orders you were following AND with respect to those who had to follow your orders, such that something was accomplished as a result.  Then use the overview of the management process (and the other readings for the week) to analyze that decision, that power structure and the result. Does Pfeffer’s overview or The Institute’s overview help in understanding what happened? Yes or no? If it does, how does it help? If it does not, why doesn’t it?

The answer is yes.

If the answer was no then either I was not in a power position (not true) or Pfeffer does not describe the management process from a power perspective in my organization.  That would greatly increase the probability the rest of the book, and perhaps the class, would have little to teach me about power in my organization.  Because the answer is yes, I can use Pfeffer’s overview of the process and language from The Institute for Management Excellence to create a mental model to both analyze past events and develop a possible course of action for future events.

The methodology is straightforward and almost completely described in the question.  I will open with a brief account of a situation I found myself in last spring and go on to describe my assumptions and actions using the framework provided by Pfeffer and the language from The Institute.  I will pinpoint the step I mishandled which resulted in the implementation of my plan only after I left the organization.  Finally, I will list the significant lessons derived from looking at the situation in this way. 


In the spring of 2003 I was a department head in a deployed Navy squadron.  The USS Carl Vinson (CV-70) had deployed seven months early to cover the western Pacific (read: North Korea) while the rest of the Navy was committed to Operation Iraqi Freedom.  We did not know when we were going to return though senior leadership was preparing us for the possibility of a ten-month deployment (in the end it was only nine).  A myriad of external factors (including SARS) had left us with a single viable port call for over six months, Guam.  

The Commanding Officer (CO) of the ship mandated the Exceptional Sailor Program for all commands embarked on his ship.  While in port, no personnel below the rank of E4 could stay ashore overnight unless officially recommended by their command.  The instruction was purposefully vague.  The criteria was simply that the sailor had to be considered exceptional by their command.  

As the senior department head in my squadron, I was in charge of the largest department – maintenance.  I had about 40 people affected by my squadron CO’s decision to not allow any E3 and below off the ship overnight.  I felt this was unfair and decided I would attempt to reverse that policy.  At the next department head meeting I made my first attempt.  I had spoken to no one before the meeting and thought little about the decision-making environment.  My plan was to succeed with the power of logic and appeal to his sense of what was “right.”  This was a mistake.

The positions of the various players became clearer throughout the discussion.  The new Executive Officer (XO) and the Command Master Chief (CMC) were against it.  The three other department heads were ambivalent.  They had few junior personnel and the XO would determine the future viability of their careers.  I had been in the squadron longer than anyone and I was only beholding to the CO for a good fitness report before leaving.  The CO listened to me and then agreed with the XO and CMC.  However, he was not adamant; there was hope.  

Over the next month I spoke with the department heads, CMC and the Assistant Maintenance Officer (AMO) in an effort to persuade them that things needed to change.  Once I had everyone onboard, I raised the issue again at a department head meeting.  As expected, the other department heads and the CMC were for it.  The XO remained opposed.  After much discussion the CO tabled it for further consideration.  This was his way of saying no without having to say no.  I had lost again.  I left the ship for Guam and the States four days later.

I went ashore with two senior officers that were returning home as well.  Both had worked directly for the CO of the ship.  Over several martinis at the airport bar I learned that most of the larger departments on the ship had decided that almost every one of the E3s in their department was exceptional.  Most were leaving the ship and staying out over night.  I relayed this to the new maintenance department head via email.  The CO reversed his policy immediately before the next port call.


            Step One.  Decide what your goals are, what you are trying to accomplish.  (Pfeffer, 2003)  I was seeking over night liberty for the E3s that worked for me. Changing the CO’s mind would achieve the desired end state.  

            Step Two.  Diagnose patterns of dependence and interdependence; what individuals are influential and important in your achieving your goal? (Ibid)  I assumed few outside of the command affected the CO as he repeatedly said he was retiring.  He counted on the CMC for all decisions regarding the enlisted.  He would never override an adamant objection from her.  Her critical fitness report was coming from the CO; the XO couldn’t touch her.  The AMO was an old friend he had “drafted” from another command.  The CO respected his opinion regarding most manning issues.  The AMO was also relatively free of coercive power from the XO given his special status with the CO.  The XO was the “bad cop” and the CO used him to implement the more unpopular decisions.  The CO felt it was very important that the command never see the CO and XO argue or disagree.  “A united front office and wardroom are important for morale.”  The department heads did most of the paper work in the command.  Previously they had pushed through changes over the XO’s objection, but only when unified.  All three of the other department heads would receive their important fitness report from the XO.  Needlessly antagonizing him would not be wise.  The CO respected me as a talented department head that had been working hard for the squadron for three and a half years.  However, I was leaving soon.    

            Step Three.  What are their points of view likely to be?  How will they feel about what you are trying to do?  (Ibid)  The first department head meeting enabled me to see the various agents’ motivations.  The CMC and the XO saw my proposal as a potential discipline problem.  Twenty year olds out overnight were far more likely to get into trouble and the CMC and XO would be most directly impacted by the disciplinary paperwork.  The department heads were largely quiet; though my replacement as the maintenance department head saw the positive effects this would have on morale.  The AMO, a former enlisted man, was onboard from the very beginning.

            Step Four.  What are their power bases?  Which of them is more influential in the decision?  (Ibid)  A lone department head was powerless and lacked any influence.  The first department head meeting proved that to me.  All four department heads speaking with one voice affected all other agents with presence power, as defined by The Institute for Management Excellence (1997).  The AMO and CMC both had presence and expert power in this situation as they specialized in human resource issues.  The XO had position power over all but the CO.  He also had reward and coercive power over all the department heads except me.  To this day I am unsure if he had any friendship power with the CO.  Regardless, the CO‘s desire for a united front office left the XO with presence power.  I assumed I would require the influence of every other agent to override the XO.  

            Step Five.  What are your bases of power and influence?  What bases of influence can you develop to gain more control over the situation?  

Step Six.  Which of the various strategies and tactics for exercising power seem most appropriate and are likely to be effective, given the situation you confront.  

Step Seven.  Based on the above, choose a course of action to get something done.  (Ibid)  I had friendship power with the next senior department head, though it required little effort to get him to support me.  I told him he could tell the enlisted members it was his idea.  He was going to reap the benefits of improved morale.  I had expert and presence power with the other two department heads.  In the end this was not enough, I had to mitigate the risk for them vis a vie the XO by proving I had the CMC, AMO and other department head onboard.  

I had position, reward, and coercive power with the AMO because he worked for me.  I had to use none of it.  He was a supporter from the beginning.

  Technically I had position power with the CMC due to rank.  In actuality, I had nothing on her and she did not like me very much.  It took several conversations and a great deal of negotiation to develop an agreement she could support.  I gave up on trying to get the very junior personnel (E1 and E2) out and agreed to recommend to the CO that she pick the Exceptional Sailors.  This gave her a great deal of reward power in the command and meet her needs.

The XO was an enigma to me as he was very new.  I had no power over him and therefore decided to not attempt to influence him directly.    

I had friendship and presence power with the CO.  At the time I felt I could not go around the XO directly to the CO.  Given the hierarchical nature of our organization that would have been seen as too overtly political.  Looking back on it, this may not have been true.

What I Got Wrong

            My understanding of the patterns of dependence and interdependence was incorrect.  My assumption that the CO was unaffected by outside agents, that the squadron was a closed system, was wrong.  He was still undecided about retiring.  However, if one of his junior personnel did something spectacularly inappropriate while ashore overnight, it would potentially result in a poor fitness report.  Then the retirement decision would have been made for him.  The news that senior officers were taking that risk was enough to change his mind. 

            I underestimated the power of the XO while overestimating my presence power with the CO.  I felt that the coalition I had built would be enough to counteract the XO.  All other things being equal, my description of the plight of the junior personnel would be enough to swing the CO.  I was wrong because I did not communicate directly with the CO.  The irony is that I did not go around the XO directly to the CO because of my distaste for political behavior and my assumption that I already knew the CO‘s motivations.  I was oblivious to just how political I was.       


            The mental model I developed from Pfeffer and this exercise will help me analyze past events and gain new insight into my successes and failures.  Those insights and the mental model will in turn help me in the future.  

This scenario unfolded over one month in a largely organic fashion.  It took me a week after the first meeting to decide I would try again.  It took another two weeks before I had consciously figured out whom I would and would not attempt to influence and how.  (Unconsciously I had been carrying the torch and working the angles all along.)  Finally it took a week of hard bargaining by the AMO and myself to put together a coalition.  

By understanding that politics is a natural part of any organization, and then approaching it in a mature and organized manner I could have easily shortened this process by half.  Also, by consciously articulating that talking with the CO directly was too political, I may have decided differently.  

While this mental model will be useful to quickly diagnose the environment and develop context and motivation for the agents, it will also constrain my understanding.  The sources of power and power strategies listed by The Institute are a decent start, but they are by no means complete.  I will use this class to develop additional models and expand my fluency in the language of organizational power.  


The Institute for Management Excellence, “October 1997 – Power and Corporate Politics”, Online Newsletter, October 27, 2002.  Downloaded from http://www.itstime.com/oct97a.htm on May 10, 2004.

Pfeffer, J.  (1992).  Managing with Power.  Politics and Influence in Organizations.  Boston:  Havard Business School Press.

Writing a squadron vision statement – Anthony Wayne Wright

“Is anyone gonna read this thing?”

In Strategy: Core Concepts, Analytical Tools and Readings (Thompson, Gamble, & Strickland, 2004) there are five steps listed in strategy formulation and execution:  


 Phase 1:  Developing a Strategic Vision           

 Phase 2:  Setting Objectives

            Phase 3:  Crafting a Strategy

            Phase 4:  Implementing and Executing the Strategy

            Phase 5: Evaluating Performance and Initiating Corrective Adjustments

I contend that the most important step in this process is Phase 1.  The strategic vision must fit the macro and immediate environments.  It must maximize the strengths of the organization while minimizing its weaknesses.  It must answer the requirements of its external stakeholders while resonating with the organizational members.  If the strategic vision fails to meet any or all of these requirements it will reduce the effectiveness of the organization, at a minimum.  At worst, a misaligned strategic vision will result in the demise of the organization.  Taken individually, each other phase can be executed poorly without such dire consequences.  Provided the other phases are adequately performed, there is a self-correcting element built into the process.  However, a dysfunctional strategic vision results in a dysfunctional process.

            The development of a strategic vision can appear daunting to a new squadron Commanding Officer (CO).  Best to take it one step at a time.  The first step is identifying where the organization exists within Big Navy (led by the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) and defined here as the entire organization of almost 400,000 people, 320 ships and a thousand airplanes).  Next, the CO should look closer to home and identify the relationships the squadron has with the Carrier Strike Group (CSG, led by an admiral and consists of eight or so ships and submarines as well as the aircraft carrier) and the Airwing (led by a captain (that signs the CO’s fitness reports) and consists of eight squadrons of varying types).  Finally, the CO should look within the organization itself.  The goal is alignment between what the CO preaches as the squadron’s strategic vision, what the squadron can do (as limited by the CSG, the Airwing and the organizational members) and what the squadron should do (as delineated by Big Navy).

Big Navy

            The CNO has written two documents to describe where he believes Big Navy is and where it needs to go.  Big Navy’s strategic vision is delineated by the CNO in “Sea Power 21.”  The CNO sets objectives for Big Navy with “CNO Guidance for 2004.”  At the squadron level, many of the concepts and goals seem vague at best and downright inapplicable at worst.  Still, finding what applies at the squadron level is easy and vital in order to ensure the CO doesn’t develop an unworkable strategic vision.  

So, where does the average strike fighter squadron fit into Sea Power 21?  

   Sea Strike: Projecting Precise and Persistent Offensive Power.  Projecting decisive combat power has been critical to every commander who ever went into battle, and this will remain true in decades ahead. Sea Strike operations are how the 21st-century Navy will exert direct, decisive, and sustained influence in joint campaigns. They will involve the dynamic application of persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; time-sensitive strikeship-to-objective maneuver; information operations; and covert strike to deliver devastating power and accuracy in future campaigns. 

Sea Strike Impact

  • Amplified, effects-based striking power 
  • Increased precision attack and information operations 
  • Enhanced warfighting contribution of Marines and Special Forces 
  • “24 / 7” offensive operations 
  • Seamless integration with joint strike packages 

Sea Strike Capabilities

  • Persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance 
  • Time-sensitive strike 
  • Electronic warfare / information operations 
  • Ship-to-objective maneuver 
  • Covert strike 

ADM Vern Clark

October 2002

            Additionally, some aspects of Sea Trial and Sea Warrior will impact the squadron and therefore should be considered.  These two initiatives attempt to foster change in order to improve efficiencies throughout the organization.  Few in Big Navy know what could and/or should be changed at the squadron level better than those actually at the squadron level.  The CO can align his goals with these initiatives in order to be a force for greater good, if he so desires. 

            CNO’s Guidance for 2004 is chock full of the objectives developed in Phase 2 of the strategic development and implementation process.  A few quotes:

We must get a better handle on our manpower requirements, including the requirements for accession, training and placement of the total workforce of active duty, reserves, civilians and contractors. (pg. 6)

We must be committed to building a Navy that can maximize the capability of our people and minimize the total number on the payroll. Sailors have chosen the lifestyle of service to make a difference. Our ability to provide them meaningful, challenging work and the kind of job content that lets them make that difference is part of our covenant with them as leaders. (pg. 7) 

Establish reenlistment goals for 2004 of 56% (Zone A), 70% (Zone B), and 85% (Zone C).  

Reduce attrition by 10% from FY03 levels. (pg. 7)

Current Readiness. We live in uncertain times. The nation needs a Navy that can provide homeland defense and be both forward and ready to surge forward with overwhelming and decisive combat power. It is our duty to ensure that the Navy the nation has paid for is truly ready to accomplish these missions. As leaders, we must create readiness from the resources given to us and recognize that readiness at any cost is not acceptable. [emphasis mine] (pg. 9)

To continue on the correct glide slope to meet the DoD goal of a 50% class “A” mishap reduction by the end of FY05, reduce class “A” mishaps by 25% in FY04. (pg. 11)

We must ensure that every billet enhances combat readiness and that every job makes maximum use of the technology and tools available. We will strengthen our partnership with Navy families. (pg. 15)

All IT capable commands transition mishap reporting to the Naval Safety Center’s Web Enabled Safety System by MAR 04 at https://simsweb.safetycenter.navy.mil/. (pg. 16). 

Reduce illegal drug usage Navy-wide by 25% in 2004. (pg. 16) 

At its most fundamental level, alignment ensures that we share a common understanding of the mission and objectives, and that we speak one message with many voices across the entire organization. We will continue to pursue organizational and operational alignment to ensure that our Navy is consistent and credible. (pg. 16)

The business of the Navy is combat. Our obligation to succeed in combat stretches beyond the here and now, we must help guarantee combat success to the Navy of the future. That’s why the decisions we all make on a day-to-day basis are so important. (pg. 20)

ADM Vern Clarkv January, 2004

            When these documents are read from the perspective of a squadron CO, some objectives are quantifiable and concrete while others are useful to provide a flavor of how the overarching strategic vision is to be pursued on a day-to-day basis.  The ambiguity and seeming vagueness prove to be an asset in this latter endeavor. 

The other things a CO should consider when looking at Big Navy is the larger organization’s culture and core values.  A CO runs counter to these two concepts at great risk.  A CO is far better served leveraging them to further the squadron’s strategic vision.  For example, with little effort, the CO can describe how honor, courage and commitment fit into the sustained superior performance of the squadron.  Doing so leverages the efforts of Big Navy to define and disseminate these core values throughout the Navy.  “Honor, Courage, Commitment” are everywhere on Navy bases and ships.  With the efforts of the CO, they can become more meaningful to the squadron members and constant reminders of what the squadron is trying to do and how it is trying to do it.

CSG and the Airwing

            The CSG commander and the Airwing commander should provide a strategic vision as well, though few do.  In the event of a lack of vision from these entities, a study of the power relationships can be useful in developing a strategic vision to satisfy these two critical stakeholders.  A discussion of this analysis, while fascinating, is beyond the scope of this paper.  The products of this analysis required for Phase 1 and 2 are an understanding of the power bases, dependencies and personalities of the significant players.  This will enable an understanding of where the CO‘s sphere of influence begins and ends as well as likely responses to the CO‘s actions.

The Organization

            Conducting an analysis of the organization can (and should) be accomplished in conjunction with the performance of leadership.  Leadership which, of course, will be required in nearly all phases of the strategy creation and implementation process.  So, there is a fortuitous synergy between these two acts.

            If you want to lead people, you need to know them.  What they think they are capable of; what they are actually capable of.  What motivates them?  What is important to them?

            If you want to lead the organization, you need to know what the members think of the organization.  What is going well?  What is not?  Where is the organization going?  Do they agree with the direction?  Do they know where they fit into the squadron?  The Airwing?  The CSG?  Big Navy?  What would they do if they were in charge?

            Clearly many of these questions are best asked and answered in informal one-on-one conversations.  These conversations are the very essence of “management by walking around.”  This management technique will enable the CO to identify problems, motivations, and possibilities and begin establishing a culture of communication within the squadron (vital for Phase 5 of the strategy creation and implementation process).  Additionally, if the strategic vision is presented subsequent to many of these conversations, and people can recognize their contribution to the vision, they are far more likely to support its implementation.  At this point, the battle is half won.


            Like any complex organization striving to perform in a complex environment, some tensions will exist.  Progress in one area comes at the cost of progress in another.  Making some people happy will invariably disappoint others, etc. Attempting to solve this tension without recognizing its existence is a recipe for frustration.  A new CO striving to construct a strategic vision should be aware of these issues.

            First, the most effective organizational structure for an organization at war is inefficient when that organization is operating in a peaceful environment.  A squadron is organized for war, as it must be, but spends most of its time in a peaceful environment.

            Second, Big Navy seeks current readiness, but not at any cost.  There is a requirement to preserve resources and prioritize the quality of life of our sailors.  Unfortunately the easiest metric to compare squadrons is flight time.  Big Navy rewards for more flight time.  Flight time comes at the expense of wear and tear on our equipment and additional man-hours from our sailors.  

            Finally, the more specific the strategic vision is, the more relevant it appears to the squadron’s members; the easier it is to understand and support.  However, this specificity lessons the maneuver room available to the squadron’s leaders and increases the likelihood that a scenario will arise which renders the vision inappropriate.


            It is impossible to know everything, and this paper is not advocating perfect knowledge before proceeding with the formulation of a strategic vision.  However, proceeding without considering the issues presented here, at a minimum, will likely result in a strategic vision which fails to help the squadron function well and becomes an albatross for the CO, continually hampering his efforts at leadership.