The Navy's Moral Compass Askew


Verified Military
Apr 15, 2011

The preceding article is from a Navy Captain and discusses the culture, history, and decisions of Naval officers that have led to the recent spate of COs being relieved, largely for misconduct. It provides very accurate insight in comparison to some of the things I saw while I was in the Navy. I think the article provides some good lessons that have applicability to enlisted and officers alike.

ETA: This is in the article as well, but here's a short bio on Captain Light.

Captain Light is a member of the faculty in the Department of Command, Leadership and Management at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. After graduating from the University of Southern California with a bachelor of science in electrical engineering, he joined the Navy and attended Aviation Officer Candidate School. He is a career naval aviator, primarily flying the C-2A Greyhound on logistics missions in support of aircraft carriers worldwide, and was commanding officer of Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 40 in Norfolk, Virginia. He is a graduate of the U.S. Navy Test Pilot School, the Naval War College (Command and Staff), and the U.S. Army War College.
This sentence in particular jumped out at me: None of the flag officers interviewed for this study supported wholesale changes to the fitness report system, and all believed that the reporting senior is the correct person—not peers or subordinates—to evaluate the suitability of officers for promotion and selection.

While many may agree with this sentiment, the reasoning behind it is severely flawed. There is a thinly veiled attitude of contempt from many Naval officers towards those of a lesser rank. The commonly held belief seems to be that enlisted people are only there to do the jobs the Os don't feel like doing, and junior officers are only there to do the jobs the more senior officers don't feel like doing. Now, there is obvious need for delegation and an officer shouldn't be expected to do the same things as enlisted man all the time. Officers have a lot more paperwork to deal with and don't have time to come field day twice a day. However, when an officer can't be bothered to learn ANYTHING about the systems he is supposedly in charge of, and instead relies on the enlisted personnel to always bail him out with the CO, something is seriously wrong. Many junior officers have the attitude that learning how the 5" gun works, what the maintenance demands on the MK-41 VLS are, or how much of a pain in the ass it is to do almost anything in the engineering spaces. Nothing is done to correct this attitude by the more senior officers. They are concerned with hearing what they want to hear, not what they need to hear. And to be honest, the most obvious display of contempt for enlisted personnel I saw was from several ensigns in my BUD/S class. Not only that, but officers get away with a litany of offenses that would get enlisted personnel in serious trouble. In the four years I spent in the Navy, I saw an LDO get caught shoplifting from the NEX, an ensign miss the liberty boat due to being too drunk and we were forced to put the ship's RHIB in the water to make the two hour round trip to pick him up, multiple officers that failed weapons quals but we were forced to sign their paperwork anyways, officers skipping PT, quarters, and duty days from hangovers or simply not wanting to come in, and a multitude of other smaller offenses. Nothing happened to these officers. None of them lost command of their divisions or departments, there was never even public acknowledgment that they had fucked up. Contrast that with having multiple public Captain's Masts of enlisted people or having their transgressions and punishments announced to the crew. What it all adds up to is that the Navy has a serious issue on its hands, and one that no one wants to admit or talk about. The attitude of elitism and "I'm better than you" from the Officer Corps shows no signs of going away any time soon.
CDG, do you think this is part of a larger cultural problem with the Navy? For example, the Officers on ship eat in their own separate mess away from the enlisted correct?
CDG, do you think this is part of a larger cultural problem with the Navy? For example, the Officers on ship eat in their own separate mess away from the enlisted correct?

I definitely think that. Yes, the officers have their own mess. The differences go well beyond it just being a separate dining area as well. When I was doing KP duty, they did a one time meal where those of us on KP ate in the wardroom and were served by the officers. All well and good and the night off was appreciated. However, it really showed us just how much different it was. Much more comfortable seating, tablecloths, a no-shit espresso machine, menus, etc. That kind of thing may seem trivial, but it breeds discontent among the enlisted, and I believe that it breeds feelings of elitism in the officers. The attitude about it is not, "Wow, we're really lucky to have this stuff", it's "Of course we have this stuff. We're officers and we're entitled". Obviously there has to be separation between officers and enlisted and I am certainly not saying officers are never allowed to have better quarters, messes, whatever. But when it is a symptom of a systemic belief that one group holds superiority over another, it needs to stop. I get it. Officers earned a degree and have a lot of responsibility. There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes that enlisted guys like myself can't, and don't need to, understand. But when the entire culture is perceived as being predicated upon a belief that wearing bars, oak leaves, or stars on your collar makes you an inherently better human being than one with stripes or chevrons you are going to have large problems. When there is a widespread perception of the things I have touched on in this thread it ceases to be relevant whether or not the slights are real or imagined. A good officer, and a good Officer Corps, should have the ability to see the situation developing, understand what is causing it, and take steps to fix it.
Officer's pay for their mess IIRC.

The Admirals not wanting change is par for the course. Remember, these guys got promoted by the current system. They think they are studs, and the system proves it.
Change the system, and their status is changed.

AF has the same problem with Sr NCO's (E8/9) who won't change a broke system.