Sea Power and the Greatest of Traveling Wilburys

Singer, songwriter, global strategist

Singer, songwriter, global strategist

With apologies to Roy Orbison, the idea popped into my head and could not be stopped. If you are not familiar enough with Orbison’s work to call yourself a real American, please view the below video first.

Reveille, reveille, every one of you
We got a lotta, lotta, lotta, lotta work to do
Pick up your sextant and your ammo can
Today you’re working for Mahan

We’re on the briny main
Got a force to sustain
We’re gonna make the unrep on time
Don’t relax
Now get out of your racks
As we approach the tanker from behind

’Cause you’re workin’ for Mahan
Workin’ for Mahan
In a combatant command
When you’re workin’ for Mahan

Maritime presence here, toward any trouble we steer
I believe we’ve been at sea for half of the year
And so commerce flows, but as everyone knows
We’d love some credit but we never make the shows

’Cause you’re workin’ for Mahan
Workin’ for Mahan
And alcohol’s banned
When you’re workin’ for Mahan

Well, the enemy’s fleeing from my fleet in being
Every time they see my battle line
With their fear of defeat, they choose to compete
Indirectly and Sun Tzu says that’s fine
So I dream with glee about crossin’ their T
’Cause I’m just abidin’ my time
For if there’s word from shore that we’re in a war
The seas are gonna be all mine

Yeah, I’m workin’ for Mahan
Workin’ for Mahan
While the Army pounds sand
I’m here workin’ for Mahan

I’m workin’ for Mahan
Workin’ for Mahan
Only partially manned
But still workin’ for Mahan

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History in Pigment

A friend sent a link to the very generically-named www.sailingwarship.com. It has apparently not been updated in several years, but if paintings of historic events and scenes in the maritime domain are your thing – well, this is the place for you. Catch it while someone’s still paying for the server space!

One of many battles of Algiers

One of many battles of Algiers (a joint Anglo-Dutch bombardment in 1816)

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And That Was That

Our benevolent overlords

Our benevolent overlords

Remarkably, mobilization is complete. I am now taking 21 days of terminal leave, and will complete this whole thing after a grand total of 11 months and one day on active duty.

Weird.

So, a few thoughts on demob – for any Reservist who may come across this post.

  • Individual Augmentees on active duty are released after just a few hours. They have gear turn-in and a few other things, but nothing too much. Reservists, on the other hand, stick around at ECRC for three days, minimum.
  • The first two days are for medical/dental/PSD appointments. The third day is mandatory death-by-PowerPoint. Some of it is actually important, though, like a discussion of how your Tricare transition works.
  • Overall, the ECRC process was actually easier than I expected. I did as much medical and dental as I could in Bahrain (like getting an audiogram done). That helped keep things simple.
  • I handed back the CBR gear I was issued but they didn’t ask for anything else.
  • Remember to bring an extra copy of all prior DD-214s and proof (NSIPS records or other primary documents) of all your awards so your new DD-214 can be written. They don’t advertise that in advance, and it results in a rush to the printers to put your stuff on paper, which is a waste of time.
  • My demobilization orders specifically directed the member (me) to call NGIS and book my own room, or, failing that, get a Certificate of Non-Availability. So that’s what I did, using my government credit card. Upon on arrival at the airport, you can imagine my surprise as I exited the baggage claim to see ECRC personnel ready to put us on a bus to lodging they had booked for us. I’m not sure if anyone bothered to tell the returnees that was their plan. Anyway, I went to own self-arranged things and fully expect that travel claim to linger for months.
  • I rented a car at my own expense. Totally worth it.
  • Random question: Is the VA for Reservists a scam? You can claim service-related disabilities and even get small monthly checks from the VA even as you remain a drilling Reservist with a full expectation of again mobilizing to active duty someday. Essentially, you can be disabled and yet still eligible to serve. There’s a leap in logic somewhere in there that I am missing. And, no, it’s not a scam in any legal sense, but it seems some moral hazard is certainly present.
  • I will miss my per diem.
  • Check-in at the NOSC was really just a few signatures and a brief visit with the CO. Most of the admin stuff that has to happen can’t actually be done until terminal leave is complete and I am officially off active duty. Upshot: the NOSC will punch in my info on the appointed day in September. Coincidentally, a drill weekend follows the very next day, but my EDM profile will almost certainly not be updated yet and my drill pay will have to be processed retroactively. Just something to be aware of if this happens to you…

So, those are my initial observations, which won’t make sense or matter much to anyone not in the Navy or, specifically, the Reserve. I may add other stuff on the phenomenon of demobilization, but for now here are the nuts and bolts that are fresh in my mind. Although I’m not working full-time for a couple months, there’s plenty going on here with family so posts will certainly be less frequent. But I’m back in the States, so now life is too boring to blog about anyway, right?

Let us all hope so.

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An Ode to NavFit 98A

Released when Seinfeld went off the air, and still going strong

Released when Seinfeld went off the air, and still going strong

‘Twas Nineteen Hundred and Ninety-Eight
On what we call an auspicious date,
For what transpired on that day
Was the birth of NavFit 98A.

Built on an Access database
With a point-and-click user interface,
NavFit was a fine design,
Ultra-modern and top of the line.

For writing evals and Fitness Reports
It could take inputs of all sorts
To ensure products’ consistency and sameness…
But this could not prevent eventual lameness.

One must make a new database if starting anew
And within it create a new FitRep, too.
The architecture, I think, maybe was rational
But was shown to be folly when it went national,
For it makes sense if it’s run by one central admin
But at what command, ever, has that ever been?

Everyone wants a chop, from divo to captain
But how is it sent in the format it’s wrapped in?
PII keeps the database from being sent to others,
So what do we do when we have our druthers?
Disaggregate! Yes! It’s the only solution
That permits proper chain of command distribution.
So sorry we’ve mooted the database construct
But we wouldn’t have done it if it hadn’t sucked.

But
An .mdb file cannot be e-mailed
On NMCI – it always e-failed.
But it lets you change the file extension
Though beware! The receiver must pay attention
Lest he reveal his lack of knowledge
As an Academy grad, not an actual college.
If he doesn’t change the extension back
The file won’t open, it won’t unpack.

But if he succeeds and gets on a roll
Now we must watch out for version control
Since after all these .mdb e-mail exchanges
Someone now has to merge all the changes!

It’s about at this point we get to thinking
That somewhere there’s a Sailor too young for drinking
Who, when he enlisted, provided a birth date
That fell in that year of Ninety-Eight.
And we glance over longingly at Marine Online
And think “I’d at least take something from Ninety-Nine.”
There’s a programmed successor, but we cannot touch it,
For it’s behind schedule and over budget.
Oh, when, oh, when will we finally say
We’ve kicked the habit of NavFit 98A?
Really, quite anything will do,
A fillable PDF, a whiteboard, a tattoo.
Someone has a better way for personnel rating
Than an archaic system that leaves everyone hating.

Wait – what’s this? Could it be? Is that a… a transfer FitRep?

All is forgiven!

That document ejects me from this place that I live in!

I’m free! I’m free! I’m free! I say!
However you made this FitRep today,
A couple signatures on it, and I get away!
Thank you, thank you, NavFit 98A!

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Barely Satire

The world according to the Joint Staff

The world according to the Joint Staff

Contrary to what you may have thought, the Navy hasn’t fought a war since World War II.

But don’t get too smug, all you soldiers out there: neither has the Army. Nor the Marine Corps. And the Air Force has never fought one at all.

It’s been subject to various revisions since 1947, but the common thread is that “unified” commanders, generally forward-deployed, are the ones who fight the good fight on the front lines. Today this takes the shape of the regional “combatant commanders” spread around the globe (plus some functional ones, as opposed to regional, like SOCOM). The services – that is, the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force – simply provide forces to the commanders, who use them to meet national tasking. The commander is personally a member of just one service, but he or she is in charge of all the U.S. military forces within the Area of Responsibility (AOR).

The services operate under the authority of Title 10 of the U.S. Code, which assigns them the duty of manning, training and equipping their respective forces. Title 10 also authorizes the President to assign the unified commanders who operate those forces. The end result is a perverse bit of nomenclature in which the Chief of Naval Operations is, in fact, in charge of absolutely zero naval operations.

If this sounds complicated, it really isn’t. As usual, it can be interpreted through the satire of the indispensable Duffel Blog:

Hello, Combatant Commander! How are you this morning?

Wonderful. Wonderful.

I’m calling today to ask you if you’re one hundred percent satisfied with your current force provider. Are they treating you right? Are you getting the properly equipped, trained and sustained troops you need for the various conflicts in your Area Of Responsibility?

Really, where would we be without Duffel Blog? Like all the best satire, it illuminates while inducing a giggle. Even I don’t know all the acronyms they use in this discussion of GFM (Global Force Management) but who cares? It still gets to the question every combatant commander should be asking – are the services sending me the right forces to accomplish the missions that I am tasked with?

So imagine the services as Q to the COCOM’s James Bond. No, too glamourous. Or the pit crew to the COCOM’s Jimmie Johnson. Eh, maybe not exactly, but you get the point. The services provide a force – and the Presidentially-appointed commanders use it.

And now you know.

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The Reign in Bahrain Aims to Sustain

ba-lgflagAmerica may resemble an island, but Bahrain really is one.

It’s a tiny little country in a rough neighborhood, ancient enough to be referenced in Gilgamesh, colonized by the Portuguese, taken by the Persians, liberated by locals, handed to and decolonized by the British, and ruled today by a Sunni monarchy established the same year that concluded the American Revolution.

So they know how to stick around.

Keep that in mind as you read this article (which you really must) about recent happenings in Bahrain by a former U.S. Ambassador to this fair country. Namely, a prominent Shi’a political party, Al Wefaq, was banned. This has caused some unrest.

Why Bahrain is acting in this way has mystified most observers. Western media reporting on Bahrain has been superficial. It tends to portray the situation in black-and-white terms: people versus government or democracy versus repression. In fact, the politics are more complicated than this because of a deep communal split on the island. The Shi‘a are a majority of the population, but there is a large Sunni community that, with the exception of a radical fringe, strongly supports the monarchy and even more strongly opposes Shi‘a domination. Both Sunni and Shi‘a in have their own internal divisions. The Sunni community also includes a radical, anti-monarchical fringe that has sent fighters to join the Islamic State. Although it has been largely overlooked in the Western press, the Bahraini authorities do continue to crack down on Sunni extremists as well as Shi‘a. On June 23, 24 Sunnis received sentences for ties to the Islamic state and attacks on Shi‘a. Thirteen were stripped of their citizenship.

The government held elections in 2014, which Al Wefaq tried to boycott (without much success), as they saw elections as simply a way to legitimatize their marginalization. Turns out, the U.S. isn’t the only country that knows how to gerrymander. Fast forward to this summer:

Over the past year, demonstrations have continued in the smaller villages, but the overall level of violence has dropped (though there have still been some fatal incidents). Controversy flared again in June 2016. On June 14 the government closed the offices of Al Wefaq, and on June 20 human rights leader Nabeel Rajab was arrested for “spreading false news.” At the same time, the government revoked the citizenship of the leading Shi‘a cleric on the island, Shaikh Isa Qasim. Ali Salman’s prison term was extended from four years to nine. The confirmation of Al Wefaq’s dissolution by a Bahraini court took place on July 17, 2016.

There is, of course, a U.S. angle:

Some observers call on the United States to move its naval base in Bahrain as a way of pressuring the government to reform. The location of the naval base, however, is truly important for maintaining freedom of navigation, the free flow of oil, and support for the U.S. Navy inside the Persian Gulf. Moving the base isn’t possible—it would cost billions of dollars, which Congress is unlikely to provide. Nor would the gambit work even if it were. The other Arab Gulf states have banded together in solidarity with Bahrain, and there is no reason to believe that any of them would provide an alternative location in order to help the United States pressure the Bahraini government.

One could legitimately ask whether the United States should mortgage so many security interests in order to press a friendly if autocratic government to alter its internal policies. Even if the answer is “yes,” one would still have to ask whether such pressure would likely bring about the desired change. Since the Bahraini government believes that its survival is at stake, it is doubtful that even extreme U.S. pressure and criticism would accomplish much. The regime’s real dependence is on Saudi Arabia. And nothing suggests that the Saudis intend to use strong pressure in the interest of greater rights for the Bahraini Shi‘a.

Bahrainis will talk the ears off any Westerner they can find about the Jewish woman they appointed Ambassador to the U.S. But whatever their progressive credentials – and, for this region, those credentials are many and real – they still have to survive.

And that is a tall order.

A Westerner is never well-served by defending authoritarianism, but nor is he well-served by ignoring certain regional and cultural realities. An anonymous Sunni leader puts the situation succinctly:

“I would prefer democracy but I would take dictatorship over theocratic rule.”

Well… when you put it that way…

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Triumph

NWUtypeIIn a momentous show of sanity, Navy leadership has decided to ditch the Navy Working Uniform, Type I – affectionately known as “blueberries” by the current generation of Sailors. It is not worth rehashing the full story of this uniform (the Navy Times can do that for you) – suffice it to say, all the services developed so many battle dress-style uniforms over the past 15 years that a year or two ago Congress mandated (quite justifiably) that they cut back. Over the next three years, we in the Navy will transition from the Type I to the Type III. Or in other words, from blue to green:

Though black boots on the green uniform looks absolutely bizarre

Though black boots on the green uniform looks absolutely bizarre

Besides being appreciated by hundreds of thousands of Sailors, this change also has interesting ramifications for the San Diego Padres. Additionally, you should never read the Russian mouthpiece RT, but I did appreciate their interestingly-formulated headline on the topic.

This is at least a six-meme occasion. Huzzah!

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You know it's true

You know it’s true

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My personal story…

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