We are Failing at Failing at SAPR

When you run out of good PR ideas, what’s the next step (according to Navy brass)?

Apparently, it’s self-immolation.

This is from Secretary Mabus last week, in response to an alleged sexual assault case at USNA:

“We have failed at the Naval Academy, in terms of preventing this.”

There are two competing, conflicted clauses in the Secretary’s Eeyore-esque statement here: 1) The difference between success and failure for Navy SAPR, and 2) The difference between prevention and pragmatism in sex crimes.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SUCCESS AND FAILURE. The problem many years ago was simply paraphrased: “Too many instances of sexual assault go unreported.” We were told nearly a decade ago that “only 1 in 6 sexual assaults is ever reported.”

Fast forward. The Navy implements an aggressive Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program, consisting of SARCs, medical personnel, chaplains and Victim Advocates in every command, comprising an approximately estimated 10% of the naval workforce. Multiple trainings are given year-round, and SAPR personnel mirror their civilian counterparts in organizations such as RAINN and

What was the inevitable byproduct of a SAPR program that encouraged people to report sexual assaults? An increase in reports of sexual assault, of course! As sailors and Marines became more aware of their rights and the healthier culture that SAPR fostered, they came forward to make either restricted or unrestricted reports. This is a golden example of soldiers taking care of soldiers.

And now, without amending their view on “only 1 in 6 sexual assaults is ever reported,” DoD and Navy leadership sees this increase in reporting–which was the whole point of the process–as a failure on the part of Navy leaders and followers at every step of the way.

To be sure, leadership has had to answer to Congress and the media as to what’s behind certain high-profile cases of sexual assault. (See below for a discussion of prevention versus pragmatism) But the real failure here has not been with the SAPR program or sailors doing the right thing. The failure has been with leadership’s inability to explain to the American public exactly what the Navy is doing and what it means.

For all the ridiculous increases in SAPR training to lower-level personnel, it seems that perhaps the upper-tier leadership could use more mandatory briefs on just what the SAPR program is actually doing?

CREATING A CULTURE WHERE SEXUAL ASSAULT IS UNACCEPTABLE IS OUR BUSINESS. When sailors use drugs or get DUIs, that does not mean we have “failed” in our efforts to curb those vices. The Naval Academy–nor the Navy–has not failed in their efforts.

THE DIFFEREENCE BETWEEN PREVENTION AND PRAGMATISM. Can we completely and totally eradicate sexual assault in the human race? I’m an optimist, and I believe that the power of good people doing good is the driving force behind human progress. But as with poverty, murder and other things we wish to “eradicate,” evolving standards of acceptability and measures of performance will dictate that preventing sexual assaults from ever happening is akin to a pipe dream. It would be like trying to eliminate deaths in the Navy by prohibiting ships launching from aircraft carriers or maintenance to be done in Engineering.

So, then, can we completely eradicate sexual assault in the Navy? The answer is no. What we can do is just as important: we can reduce the instances of sexual assault, promote a healthy culture and provide the best, most unbiased support structure to victims possible. All of these things–ALL OF THEM–the Navy has been doing over at least the past five years as part of the SAPR program.

The Secretary is right on the syntax–we have “failed in preventing this,” but so too has humankind in preventing sexual assault and rape since time immemorial. But still, we elect to bludgeon ourselves with our own fists rather than show what progress we’ve actually made.

Clinging to old statistics which are not backed up by any scholarly data (see the issue I have with the “1 in 6 sexual assaults go unreported” stat), and then excorciating people who respectfully disagree with you is the sign that we are not understanding the problem and our role in curbing it. How many sexual assaults really go unreported in the Navy after the aggressive, whole-hearted implementation of the SAPR program by motivated sailors and Marines? That is really a “guess” statistic, but I’d be willing to bet the entire Pacific Fleet that it is much less than one-in-six.

Blindly pursuing “prevention”–while providing a catchy tagline for television and Congressional testimony–stymies our efforts both on base and with the general public. It stifles the good being done in the program already but so many hard working officers and enlisted. And it is not grounded in any kind of reality whatsoever.

Bottom line: We should always live our lives in service to others, providing an example to those around us. This culture–while it will not magically erase every sexual assault that might happen in the Navy–will contribute to the continuing reduction of sexual assaults service-wide.

The Coming Prohibition

“Deterring irresponsible use of alcohol is essential to the readiness of our fleet and ensuring the health and safety of our service members and units.”

With those words, Vice Admiral Gortney has ushered in a new era in the US Navy behind one unspoken slogan:

Drinking is unacceptable.

At any time, in any environment, in any setting, for any reason.

The slogan, of course, is not official Navy policy (not yet, anyway). But it is just another link in a long, growing chain of mistrust of unit commanders.

And who can blame COs? The silent threat has become “if you don’t let us regulate your troops, you’ll be relieved.” When those are the stakes, is your career worth bucking Big Brother?

Sailors of every rank will salute smartly and obey orders. This is what we do. But when the order micromanaging what you do inside your home or with your free time comes not from your unit, but from an office far away and an officer unseen, what are we telling our troopers?

The answer, increasingly perceived by so many on ships, submarines and aircraft, is haunting: “We don’t trust you.”

And that will have a dangerously negative impact on mission success across the board in this century.

Freedom Friday–Homes For Our Troops

Hey, penny pinchers–you want a good cause? How about building specially adapted homes for severely injured veterans?homesforourtroops

Consider giving to one of the top military-affiliated charities in the country, Homes For Our Troops. Per their website:

“It is our duty and our honor to assist severely injured Veterans and their immediate families by raising donations of money, building materials and professional labor and to coordinate the process of building a home that provides maximum freedom of movement and the ability to live more independently.

The homes provided by Homes for Our Troops are given at NO COST to the Veterans we serve.”

It is difficult to imagine a more traumatic, life-changing event than sustaining a serious injury in combat. Those who would sacrifice all to protect our freedom and stand up for America deserve every effort of our devotion when they come home–and especially those who have sustained a traumatic injury that will affect their daily routines and basic skills forever.

Homes for our Troops has completed over 100 specially-adapted homes for injured veterans in 37 states since their founding in 2004. That’s an impressive record of more than one home completed per month since that time. Incredible work.

Chariman of the Board General Richard A. Cody (USA, ret)–a USMA grad (which we forgive him for)–and President/Board Director SMA Kenneth O. Preston (USA, ret)–the longest serving Sergeant Major of the Army in history–together make a highly motivated, experienced, selfless team. The over 60 years of military experience between the two of them in leadership and support roles tell you one thing: there’s no messing around in this organization.

Charity Navigator rates Homes for our Troops a “4-star charity”–their most prestigious rating–with 69.15 out of a possible 70 points.

Donate what you can, even if all you do is pass this along to your wealthier shipmates. Tips from the bar this week will go to Homes for our Troops.

Women in Combat Roles Aren’t Taking “Male Jobs”

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I understand the sentiments I’ve been hearing. There are plenty of reasons (some would say excuses) for continuing to ban women from combat roles. Many of you are shouting them from talk radio shows, FOX News and angry little blogs. Everyone is entitled to an opinion that it is apparent everyone has.

But let’s get one thing straight: if the twentieth century should have taught us anything, it is this: there is no such thing as a “male job” or a “[insert race here] job.” There are only American jobs.

Regardless of whether the prospective soldier is female or male, if he or she can make the grade, they have the right to fight. Regardless of your thoughts on the “psychological and emotional impact” of female soldiers in combat roles–much like the supposed impact of African-American or other minority soldiers in combat roles–the unit will pick up the pack and achieve mission success.

The only issue remaining here is that of eroding standards. It is a disservice to females of any stripe to be judged on an “easier” curve than their male counterparts. Many justify this based on “physiological differences,” but I maintain that this is only reinforcing the problem. If prospective female soldiers don’t have equal standards to train to, then we will always have this issue of inadequacy.

I am fully prepared to say that, given an equal physical standard for inclusion in combat roles, many more men would pass the grade than women. I’d like to say that this is due to more societal norms–milennia of women being told their place is the kitchen, for instance–than real inadequacy. I fully believe that, given time and generations to meet an equal standard, the number of women serving in combat roles will markedly increase.

What should be avoided at all costs is a “quota” to fill–a certain number of women a combat unit must have in order to operate. This would–of necessity–lead to a lowering of standards as mentioned above, but will also create an unnecessary cynical backlash from soldiers already in units or training to become combat fighters. I know our troopers are capable of dealing with these changes; we must show them equal respect by not jamming our efforts politically down their throats.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice, small unit leadership and strong command triads exist to maintain good order and discipline. All the emotional/psychological complaints about women in combat roles are moot because we have these things in place, and they are rigid. They are blind, with equal treatment of all.

Medal of Honor Monday–LT Edouard Izac, USN

Attention to citation:izac

When the U.S.S. President Lincoln was attacked and sunk by the German submarine U-90, on May 21, 1918, Lt. Izac was captured and held as a prisoner on board the U-90 until the return of the submarine to Germany, when he was confined in the prison camp. During his stay on the U-90 he obtained information of the movements of German submarines which was so important that he was determined to escape, with a view to making this information available to the U.S. and Allied Naval authorities. In attempting to carry out this plan, he jumped through the window of a rapidly moving train at the imminent risk of death, not only from the nature of the act itself but from the fire of the armed German soldiers who were guarding him. Having been recaptured and reconfined, Lt. Izac made a second and successful attempt to escape, breaking his way through barbed-wire fences and deliberately drawing the fire of the armed guards in the hope of permitting others to escape during the confusion. He made his way through the mountains of southwestern Germany, having only raw vegetables for food, and at the end, swam the River Rhine during the night in the immediate vicinity of German sentries.

If this sounds like something you’d see in a movie, turn on the lights–this is a real-life example of incredible cunning and resourcefulness. Americans have been answering the call to duty for centuries. LCDR (then-LT) Izac is a heroic example of that willingness to serve and sacrifice to the utmost.

Oh, and–like your friend Bull–Izac was a Boat School grad, circa 1915. Take that with your “real college” experience.

Warning: Sailors May Spontaneously Combust

Back in my day, we sailors used to pride ourselves on looking simply stunning in uniform. Whether it was aviation greens, service dress khaki or–my favorite–(anything I wanted, I was a 5-star admiral, come on) working wash khakis, the naval profession looked professional, sharp and mouth-watering.

Fast forward to the umpteenth version of the “unifor review board” process, and here we are:

AS YOU ARE AWARE, THE NAVY HAS EMBARKED ON A PROACTIVE EFFORT TO REVIEW EXISTING UNIFORM REQUIREMENTS FOR ALL ASPECTS OF OUR DAILY DUTIES IN LIGHT OF THE CONCERNS WITH THE TYPE I NWU AND LACK OF FLAME RESISTANCE.  THIS MESSAGE REITERATES CURRENT POLICY AND COMPLIANCE WITH REQUIRED FIRE RETARDANT AND RESISTANT PERSONAL PROTECTIVE CLOTHING.

Roughly translated: We gave you these ridiculously ugly working uniforms (“blueberries”) that are the laughingstock of the entire world. Oops, we just realized they may not protect you in the not-too-unlikely event of a fire. Our bad.

NWUS ARE CURRENTLY AUTHORIZED FOR SHIPBOARD/DAILY DUTIES BUT ARE NOT DESIGNED FOR DAMAGE CONTROL REPAIR LOCKERS, FLIGHT DECK OPERATIONS, WELDING OR LIKE DUTIES.  HOWEVER, THIS DOES NOT PRECLUDE A SAILOR FROM TAKING INITIAL ACTIONS TO ATTACK OR CONTAIN A FIRE IN ANY UNIFORM.

Translated: Yup, these things are worthless. But don’t worry, we’re not planning on changing anything. We still expect you to run into the fire even though we have made you vulnerable to life-altering burns and injury. Our bad.

Captain, Air Boss, CAG, Commodore: beware of spontaneously combusting sailors on deck. Our bad.

The Dubious Return of French West Africa

Well, if this isn’t a blast from the past, I don’t know what is.

When I was out roaming the seven seas, defeating totalitarianism, the French owned West Africa, the British owned East Africa, and the Dutch owned the Congo. Colonialism was alive, but waning. The notion of “popular sovereignty” was still but a twinkle in the eye of intellectuals acround the world.

You’ve heard me talk about Mali before–about the incredibly complex, fascinating interplay between largely secular Tuareg separatists, Islamic extremists aligned with Al Qaeda in the lands of the Islamic Maghreb, the Malian regular army, the Malian presidential guards and everyday Malian nationals.

Now, as the French storm into the country half-naked and stark-raving mad, the world is beginning to take closer notice.

And boy, are they botching this one.

Earlier this week, FOX News (bastion of accuracy they are) reported that “Al Qaeda carves out own country, prepares to defend it.” At one point, CNN had even claimed that al Qaeda was running the capitol city of Bamako.

I’ll refer you back to last month’s post to point out how ridiculous these statements are (and don’t worry, these aren’t even close to the only examples of a flagrant lack of understanding of the situation in Mali). Not only are they simplistic, but they dangerously confuse the situation in a way that could negatively impact the situation on the ground.

With all the media misinformation aside, at first glance I have to ask: what do the French think they’re doing? President Hollande, God bless your heart for taking a stand against terroist groups around the world–for whatever reasons, you have chosen to act. Really, it’s wonderful.

But what are your objectives? Your master plan? Your exit strategy? Can you even accurately define the borders of the nation you call “Mali?”

Of course not. Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Niger, et. al.: these countries came to being in the 1960s after the French high-tailed it out of West Africa. In many cases, the boundaries were defined by trees or prominent sand dunes, which have predictably vanished or drifted away.

Are the French prepared for a protracted conflict in West Africa, where the temperature reaches 115-plus degrees during the summer and invasive dust permeates every orifice? Are they prepared for decades of combatting guerrila-type opponents, who will seek to slowly bleed their opposition just as they have for centuries?

Before French involvement in Mali, the efficacy of AQIM was questionable–still is, in fact. How similar is this group to the core UBL-driven al Qaeda? Do they have the organization, the base, the funding, the staying power, the imagination? The terrain they operate in, while unforgiving, hardly provides many places to hide from troops or satellite imagery.

Yet what the brash involvement of France provides AQIM now is simple: the all-too-familiar call to jihad. This is a movement that has brought multi-national fighters to Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, among other places. Like a dark cancer, this radical jihad–a gross perversion of Islam–is spreading quite obviously and alarmingly east across the African continent and will soon touch the Atlantic Ocean.

France’s efforts are undoubtedly a move by them to introduce some sort of stability, yet it paradoxically destabilizes the region, as Algeria, Mauritania, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Niger will experience an influx of some combination of rebel fighters, AQIM or Malian refugees. And where there are disgruntled refugees, al Qaeda has shown an adept ability to shape a dark force for evil.

Not to mention that turmoil in French West Africa could spill over to coastal African nations that face less of a threat from Islamic extremists, but have had stability and infighting problems of their own: Sierra Leone. Ivory Coast. Ghana. Togo. Benin.

So, do the French have any idea what they’re doing?

My guess is: probably not. Unless they are prepared to spend hundreds of billions of dollars over the course of decades, become the major target for extremists in the region and lose hundreds or thousands of their own countrymen, France will be in country long enough to embarrassingly declare some vague sort of “success” before unceremoniously pulling out, or coaxing the US military into showing up and creating an even larger NATO military operation.

To be fair, there are no easy solutions to this problem. There is no panacea that will cure Mali and the rest of West Africa from strife caused by either unreasonable, poorly defined borders or harsh Islamic extremists.

Yet the French insistence on hard power to combat a shifting foe shows they have learned nothing of the counter-insurgency lessons this century. Minimizing your signature while maximizing your lethality is but one tenet of fighting al Qaeda. Though maybe the French are supposing that, in a desert environment, it will be easier to simply “kill them all?”

Whatever happens here, remember this: the enemy of my enemy is NOT my friend. AQIM has pushed out the Tuareg separatists who have fought this conflict for decades. In my crystal ball, I can see a scenario whereby arms, treasure and cooperation is given to these fighters–they already have a lot of this from another unfortunate leader, Muammar Ghaddafi–by the French and the Western world without consideration for history. This would solve nothing.

 So, France, you’ve got yourself a war. Once again, the world is watching. Show us your stuff.