Go see Dune, and see it in the theater

Since the “2 weeks to stop the spread” back in March of 2020, I haven’t been inside a theater. Hollywood hasn’t exactly made me excited to go back either. Ooo, I can watch a mediocre Marvel film aimed at Chinese audiences? Or a homosexual adaptation of some previously great character? Or a film that will repeat “The Narrative?” My view on new Hollywood movies was pretty aligned with one of my favorite YouTube film critics, The Critical Drinker.

But then, the Dune trailer came out. And man, it looked cool. I had heard a lot about Dune, and I knew that it was probably one of the most influential science fiction novel series of all times, but I had never watched the movie (or TV mini-series). Since I had an extra Audible credit, I grabbed the predecessor book “The Butlerian Jihad,” a book written by Frank Herbet’s son Brian and Kevin J Anderson, who has written tons of science fiction books, including some in the Star Wars expanding universe (back before Star Wars was acquired by Disney).

Excited by the trailer, and even more so as I read through the books, I saw Dune last night with a group of friends in our local theater.

And it was awesome!

First, it was a movie that took itself seriously. The acting is great. The scenes are beautifully shot. The editing is really good, and there aren’t long moments of dead space for you to be bored.

Second, no woke BS. We have a diverse array of actors because that’s what the books had! The desert people of the planet Arrakis look, feel and act like people living in a desert. I immediately had Iraq/Afghanistan insurgency vibes when I saw them, and as people trying to fight off the control of the Emperor, that’s exactly what we’re supposed to feel. Female characters feel the same way. They aren’t made out to be super strong, take on everything without emotion monstrosities like Captain Marvel. Instead, we get an outstanding performance from Rebecca Ferguson (who plays Lady Jessica Atreides) that doesn’t look like she’s trying to outperform Timothee Chalamet (who plays Paul Atreides).

The movie is genuinely enjoyable to watch. Watching it in the theater was great because of the sound. The movie places big demands on low bass sound, especially when the giant sandworms of Arrakis make an entrance. The low rumblings as the sandworms approach genuinely fills you with dread, and the rest of the musical score is well composed.

The one issue with Dune is without understanding the lore, its hard to follow. Before you see it in theater, I’d recommend watching the Looper trailer that gives you much of the backstory of the main characters.

In a world full of dumb, woke, cringy movies, Dune is a bright spot of good story and good acting. It’s not the next Iron Man or Lord of the Rings, but if you have to pick a movie to watch, you can’t do wrong with Dune.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Well, I was wrong on Scheller

I won’t say catastrophically wrong, but wrong nonetheless. In case you forgot, I predicted Scheller’s court martial would get drawn into obscurity by his defense counsel, who would want some time to pass before anyone passed judgement on Scheller. Any good defense lawyer is going to want distance between alleged crimes and judgement so that emotions can die down and, hopefully, cooler heads prevail. I also figured after getting a light sentence of some kind, which would not include jail time, Scheller would be allowed to retire.

Besides the light sentence part, I was wrong. Lt. Col. Scheller plead guilty to all six charges against him. The judge punished him with a sentence of one month forfeiture of $5,000 and a reprimand. His next stop is a Board of Inquiry, which will likely recommend dismissal from service.

Now, this doesn’t mean he loses all benefits. The Veteran’s Affairs will still assess if he can get disability pay, which could be in the thousands per month depending on his level of disability. Given that he fought in Afghanistan, and the Marine Corps has pounded his body over the past 17 years, he’s almost assured to get some disability pay.

At first I was in disbelief that things went completely different from my prediction. I took some time to read his court martial statement, which made things much more clear. Lt. Col. Scheller couldn’t NOT plead guilty. If he had fought the charges, it would have made him look like a crazy person who suddenly realizes he made a mistake and is trying to quickly sweep it under the rug. Scheller isn’t crazy. He might be depressed, but its understandable, given that both his wife and the Marine Corps are abandoning him. But he’s not crazy. It becomes very apparent near the end of his statement:

…Going forward, I am still demanding accountability from my senior General officers.  Since this endeavor began, not a single General officer has accepted accountability.  Not a single General officer has contacted me directly in any forum to deescalate the situation.  Since this endeavor began, I have acknowledged that I should be held accountable for my actions.  I am standing here today pleading guilty.  This is me accepting accountability.  But it deeply pains me that my senior leaders are incapable of being as courageous.  

Without accountability from our senior leaders, the system cannot evolve, and the military will ultimately keep repeating the same mistakes in the future.  It doesn’t matter if a SSgt squad leader is highly efficient in distributed operations if the General officers have relegated themselves to ‘yes sir’ responses.  We need senior leaders who possess the morale courage to push back when something doesn’t make sense. 

– Lt. Col. Scheller

If Lt. Col. Scheller wanted to cast light on the problem, he certainly did so. But where does it go from here? Tackling the military industrial behemoth is a daunting task. Even Mad-dog Mattis, who finally won the war in Iraq, still struggled to make the Department of Defense refocus and change. The revolving door for senior officers still exists, not dissimilar from the revolving door for politicians and lobbyists. Also, given Lt. Col. Scheller’s negative response to help from Donald Trump, I’m not sure where he’s going to start to affect the change he wants to make.

I will say this: this episode is only going to make the 2024 personnel cliff even worse for the military. In less than a month the military threw everything at Scheller over social media posts. Every military member is taking notice. Any that agreed with him will be quietly quitting, and the slow drip of lost manpower is going to accumulate into a river.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency. If you liked what you read, why not buy my book on Amazon and help me out!

Has the military become a cult?

Answering that question depends what you think a cult is.

The magazine Wired has produced a number of fascinatingly good articles and videos with interesting stories, and one of this weeks YouTube videos hit the mark yet again. Dr. Janja Lalich is a survivor of a political cult, the Democratic Workers Party, and she answers a number of cult-related questions in her video. Her responses are both focused and enlightening.

Dr. Lalich defines a cult as having 4 characteristics

  1. A charismatic leader that is typically a narcissist
  2. A transcendent belief system that has the answers to all questions
  3. A System of Control that controls behavior
  4. A System of Influence that plays on emotions to encourage conformity

Dr. Lalich also separates cults from religion in that religions encourage freedom and independent thought while having guidelines to live by, whereas cults enforce their guidelines.

Given her definition, let’s see how today’s military stacks up:

  • The charismatic leader part is a mixed bag. On one hand, the glitz and glamor that many of the flag and general officers decorate themselves in definitely contributes to a feeling of awe for these people. However, many of them aren’t very charismatic or engaging. The narcissist trait is definitely present in the military’s worst leaders.
  • The transcendent belief system is spot on. The military has a set of rules for everything. Haircuts? Check. Restrictions on your first amendment rights? Check. Poke-mon Go? Check.
  • Control is achieved through the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which can still punish offenses like adultery and conduct unbecoming of a gentlemen that aren’t considered offenses in most civilian systems.
  • Influence is achieved through awards, assignments, and promotions. If you conform with the rules and stay out of trouble, you tend to promote.

3.5 out of 4 is pretty close. The only questionable point is leadership, and that doesn’t surprise me. Every time I’ve had a bad military leader, military life felt oppressive. Dr. Lalich talks about how all people have doubts when they are in a cult, but they get put on a shelf. If too much builds on the shelf, it collapses.

I think shelves are now starting to collapse in bigger numbers than before. The military has the setup to become a cult, and it is only good leadership that prevents this from happening. But military leaders continue to get put in hard circumstances. How do you explain the Afghanistan withdrawal to your soldiers? Or the poor maintenance our ships receive at a shipyard to your Sailors? Or how almost nobody was fired for massive scandals like the mismanagement of Arlington National Cemetery? You simply can’t, and young people asking hard, pointed questions won’t be satisfied by the bland responses from a Pentagon press secretary.

At some point, the good people get tired and leave, making way for those all too happy to defend the status quo. We’re seeing that happening now. The vocal ones, like Lt. Col. Scheller, make the news, but quietly, we’re going to see more and more people simply walk. The military is designed to replace people. The Marines will find another person to fill Lt. Col. Scheller’s spot. The person will at least be adequate, but anyone taking that roll is going to think twice about speaking out or showing too much independence.

That lack of independent thought will make the military stick to what it knows. We shouldn’t be surprised that the military is slow to embrace ideas like autonomous vessels, AI and robotic fighters. When you’re the best, or at least you think you are, you keep doing what was done in the past. Thus, it shouldn’t surprise people that the Navy still uses an antiquated program designed in 1998 to administer personnel reports, instead of moving to a secure cloud based system, or at least something resembling Microsoft Word.

We will eventually pay dearly for these mistakes, even if it isn’t so obvious now.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency. If you want an epic story to read in the meantime, please check out my book on Amazon.

The military still doesn’t understand social media

The debate concerning Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller, the Marine Corps officer that openly criticized the Joint Chiefs of Staff over the Afghanistan withdrawal, continues to prove my title point. For those of you not following it, here are the basic details:

  • Lt. Col. Scheller produced a video where he expressed outrage over the suicide bombing in Afghanistan that killed 13 service members, as well as the withdrawal from Afghanistan in general
  • He was relieved of command (he was in charge of the Infantry Training Battalion in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina) pretty soon after. He tendered his resignation after that.
  • The details here get murky, but at some point he was ordered to go to mental health screening. He then continued to post videos and content, despite being ordered not to.
  • The military placed him in pre-trial confinement, and he is scheduled for an Article 32 hearing next week.

For those that don’t know, and Article 32 hearing is where a military prosecutors argues before a judge about what charges a service member will face. The defense will argue against those charges, and the judge will send the prosecutor a letter saying what charges he thinks there is enough evidence to meet probable cause. Pre-trial confinement simply means the defendant sits in a jail cell until the Article 32 hearing, at which point the judge will recommend whether they remain there or not before trial.

Because of how the military chose to handle this case, its going to stay in the news for a long time. Plenty of other officers have resigned in protest, but they have pretty much all dropped out of the news. Unfortunately, the military services will take a black eye on the Scheller case, even if they win. People have already pulled this into the political arena, and once something is political, it tends to stick around. That’s a no-win situation for either side, because already people are making connections to Lt. Col. Vindman (remember him!?!) and his very different treatment.

Nobody wins here…except Lt. Col. Scheller. I’ll make my prediction here: Lt. Col. Scheller comes out of this with a military retirement and a nonsense charge on his record, and a subsequent request removes even that.

First, everyone is going to be glued to the news about his Article 32 hearing. The prosecutor has a pretty easy job here, since Scheller posted everything online. Open and shut right? Wrong. Any good defense attorney is going to fight tooth and nail to pick apart the arguments. Was Scheller really ordered to stop posting online, or was it a suggestion? Was the order in writing? Was it official? Was it done via official methods? It’s the defense attorney’s job to cast doubt into the charges.

Ultimately, some charges are going to get preferred, meaning Scheller will get charged with something. Likely, it’ll be Article 92 (failure to obey a lawful order) that will be the main and hardest charge to fight. The defense attorney’s next job is to drag this case out. Everyone that would sit on a court martial for Scheller right now is senior to him and likely angry over how he posted on social media. The defense is going to want time to pass, and lots of it. So we’ll see a lot of discovery requests and a lot of motions. We won’t have a court martial until summer of 2022. A good defense attorney will work hard to have it drop out of the news.

By that point, even if Scheller is found guilty of something, it’s unlikely he’ll be dismissed from service. Instead, he’ll then go to a Board of Inquiry (BOI) to determine if he should stay in the Marine Corps. That process might wrap up by the end of 2022. He should be at 18 years in the Marine Corps, and thus so close to retirement the BOI will likely recommend retention until 20 years. The Marine Corps certainly won’t promote him, but if he wants, he can finish serving and then leave. Granted, this assumes he wants to stay, since he could simply resign and walk out. But by pushing for a court martial, we almost guarantee that Scheller will get a chance to retire.

Now, what could the military have done differently? Simple: accept his resignation immediately, put him on terminal leave, issue him a Letter of Instruction and call it a day. Then, when Scheller makes statements about Afghanistan, let him talk. If you’re smart and issue detailed, written orders, Scheller will probably incriminate himself multiple times, and as any police officer will tell you, once someone starts talking, it’s only a matter of time before that person says something incriminating. Once you have a massive body of evidence, then you can release a statement that says something like this:

“Lt. Col. Scheller announced his resignation from the Marine Corps, and the Marine Corps accepted it and issued him a timeline so that he could quickly turnover and transition to civilian life. The Marine Corps supported him, like we support all our Marines, and tried to ensure Lt. Col. Scheller could transition without issue or delay. Unfortunately, instead of following these instructions to prepare himself for civilian life, Lt. Col. Scheller continued to engage in activity that violates the UCMJ, despite repeated written orders to the contrary. Because of his actions, we are now pursuing charges via the Court Martial system.”

Now, people will still cry foul, and anyone that wanted to use Scheller as a political weapon against the Biden administration is still going to do that. But the people in the middle, the ones that normally want folks to follow the law and don’t like politics in general, those people will read the above statement and think “Sheesh, what was Scheller thinking?” It’s a simple way of shifting blame. You don’t have to argue his points, and you won’t win by doing that. People don’t trust our generals and admirals (doesn’t help when they have hostile work environments), and trying to argue about the finer points of Afghanistan isn’t a winning plan. Instead, you deal with people like Scheller by giving them exactly what they want. From a prosecution point of view, Scheller is golden material, because he will literally write your case for you.

Now, I’m not saying the Marine Corps, or Scheller, are wrong. Maybe the Marine’s have a good reason to push charges and put him in pre-trial confinement. They have more information than I do. But pre-trial confinement over social media posts will get conflated with “punishment over mean tweets,” and you couldn’t have written a more political talking point if you tried. I’m also not saying Scheller is wrong. Many of his points are valid, which is why the greater danger is all the service members that will leave over the next 4 years as fallout from this and other decisions.

Watch Scheller’s case over the next year and let’s see how my prediction plays out. And remember, nothing I say should be construed as official positions or policy of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency. I’m just a poor author writing about my personal opinions, so you should buy my book from Amazon to help me out.

Caring about what you actually control

Apparently its a thing to not have kids due to climate change.

https://www.popsci.com/environment/having-children-climate-change/

‘It’s a human right to decide whether or not you want a child. It’s not a human right to drive an SUV or fly in planes.’

-Sara Watson

The article references a survey of 10,000 young people (16-25), with 59% “very or extremely” worried about climate change, and 45% “said their feelings negatively affect their daily life.”

After actually reading the survey, my biggest critique is that there is no control group. The survey asked questions like “Do you think the previous generations did not take care of the planet?” Are you surprised that 81% said yes? I would take it more seriously if we had a control group to measure how much young people at that age normally hate authority figures because, fun fact, that’s typical for that age group. I thought my parents were morons when I was 18, and it wasn’t until my late 20s that I realized “Gee, maybe Mom and Dad were pretty smart about the choices they made.” That age group is also naturally anxious about…well, everything, yet we don’t have a control to compare the normal anxiety to climate anxiety.

Control groups are really important in studies. We’ve seen this in COVID-19 vaccine discussions. I’ll see a headline “Woman dies of (insert crazy condition here) a day after receiving the (insert vaccine here)!” OK, that’s sad, but that’s all we know. Did this woman have underlying health conditions? What else was going on at the time? And what’s the normal rate of dying from these conditions? It’s similar to the “bacon causes colon cancer” discussion. Once you realize that it takes eating a pound of bacon a day to raise the less than 1% chance of colon cancer to…less than one percent, you quickly realize the study is nonsense.

Actual solutions to problems aren’t typically sexy. There’s an apocryphal story about an elevator mechanic called in to to fix elevator timing in a large skyscraper. He tested all elevators and spent a day investigating where things could be wrong. Finding nothing wrong with the elevators, but still being told that people are “waiting too long,” he installed mirrors near all the elevator doors. Soon people were fixing their hair and adjusting suit coats, and the complaints disappeared.

In terms of climate change, there are a lot of things we can change now, on our own, without government telling us to. Driving and flying less is inside our control. Composting and having a small garden are inside our control (at one time, Victory Gardens accounted for over half of US agricultural output). Better insulating homes to reduce electricity costs is inside our control. Spending less time on social media, which relies on big server farms consuming fossil-fueled electricity, is inside our control.

Will not having kids help? Is that something inside our control? Would that actually help climate change?

Doubtful. Even Vox (Vox!) has doubts. And from looking at the sort of people running movements like BirthStrike, I have to wonder if its simply a continuation of how they were already inclined to think vs. a movement inspired by climate change. Wouldn’t a control group be nice to compare this to?

Which makes me ask, is the movement to not have kids really just an extension of pre-existing beliefs? If so, do you subscribe to those beliefs? I find the belief that humans are bad for the planet and need to be eradicated (the only logical end of not having kids) pretty sickening. I’ll place my faith in us getting smart about the planet and cleaning it up. I’ll happily do my small part, knowing that long term, its only through thousands of small actions that we’ll actually help the planet in any long term scenario. And I don’t need the government to do anything to get started.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency. If you want to support me, please purchase my book, To Build A House, on Amazon.

The Navy is trending towards Battleship

…and not in a good way

We’re seeing more news on people leaving the military, even when within one or two years of retirement. First it was Marine Corps Lt Col Stuart Scheller. Next it was Army Lt Col Paul Hague. I’m sure over the next two months we’ll get about one of these every two weeks before it dies down. They’ll make the news, people will comment needlessly on Twitter, and then life will go on.

That’s not the real story. The real story is that for every one of these very public resignations, there are thousands that are quietly leaving. These people aren’t willing to throw away a pension if they are close to it. For the ones that are ending their first five year commitment, they are simply preparing now to walk away. They won’t make a big stink about it. They won’t leave five page resignation letters talking about Marxism, transgender policy and imbedded racism. Nope. These people will simply leave. They won’t make a ruckus or create waves, they’ll simply vote with their feet.

The military will cover this up. Not like X-Files “I want to believe” sort of cover up. It’ll just not make headlines. You’ll hear things like “We’re short on fighter pilots” now and again, but nothing earth shattering will make the news. The media that cover military stories focus almost exclusively on operations, because operations is sexy. It’s sexy and cool to interview the Blue Angels and look at drones landing on an aircraft carrier. It’s boring to look at numbers. That stuff is for nerds.

But nerds rule, and the numbers already look bad on the Navy side. The best indicator of what is called “community health” is how well you’re filling control grade officers, specifically the O-4 (LCDR), O-5 (CDR) and O-6 (CAPT) ranks. These are important for a few reasons.

  • Almost all of your commanding officers and executive officers come from these ranks. These officers control the day-to-day operations and they have by far the biggest impact on Sailor morale. If morale is suffering and things are getting done, this is the first place to check.
  • These people are lifers. They’ve stayed past 10 years, so they are “in it” for the long haul. They either love what they do, or at least don’t hate it enough to quit.
  • These ranks have the not-fun jobs. These ranks run the show from the background. The sexy jobs flying fast planes, driving boats and shooting at bad people are now past. That makes these jobs harder to fill.

So how is the Navy doing in this area? Easiest way to check is selection rates. The Navy’s officer manning is a pyramid. There are lots of O-1, O-2 and O-3 young officers at the bottom. The ideal selection rate to O-4 is 70%, meaning that 30% of otherwise qualified people are not selected. That seems brutal, but it allows you to pick the best. It also takes into account people that leave anyway, since O-3s that are eligible for promotion would also be finishing their first 5-year committment.

As we go up the pyramid, it gets harder. Ideal selection to O-5 is only 60% of eligible people, and selection to O-6 is about 50%. You only want the best people in positions of command and responsibility, and there aren’t as many jobs that high up, so you’re naturally going to shed more people. Also, these ranks allow people to stay until retirement, so you’ll have more non-selected officers that fill slots until they retire.

So how are selection rates now? LCDR selection rate is roughly 90%, CDR is 80% and CAPT is around 65%. This varies a lot by community, with some communities significantly higher.

That’s bad. High selection rates mean not enough people are staying in until they are eligible for promotion. In a business environment, you can simply hire people from outside or promote younger people, but the military is only allowed to pick 10% from what they call “below zone” officers, who are typically 1-2 years younger than officers that are “in zone” for selection. Now, you can pick officers that were previously passed over for promotion, and in many cases, these officers are otherwise great selections. But officers that are passed over once are likely planning their exit already. Once they see opportunity elsewhere, many are going to walk away.

Worse still, look at the communities with the highest selection rates. For CAPT, these are Cryptologic Warfare (85%) and Information Professional (70%). For CDR, these are…the same group, and the same for LCDR. Cryptologic Warfare officers make and break codes, specializing in cyber warfare, signals intelligence and electronic warfare. Information Professionals connect and maintain Navy communications. Both groups require significant engineering backgrounds, and yet both groups are leaving in droves. If the people that conduct the most advanced warfare areas are leaving, it means we aren’t providing enough incentives for them to stay around compared to what they can achieve in industry.

This is the canary in the coal mine. The numbers are trending worse, not better. This has been happening for the past three fiscal years. Now, combine this with a job market that is begging people to work, and one that is rapidly adopting the use of advanced technology to replace low-skilled jobs. The first people to leave the Navy, much like the first people to leave the fictional company in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, are the engineers and people with technical skills. Others in the chain will take notice, and short of significant business setbacks, people with good skills will bail. Once they have “Gone Galt,” the Navy is going to struggle to find competent leaders.

I used to laugh at movies like “Battleship,” where the only tactics the military seems to use are bum-rush the bad guy with big guns, resembling the often suicidal battle charges from the Civil War. Sadly, that’s what we’re going to get when its not worth it for smart people to stay around.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency. All data was publicly available at https://www.mynavyhr.navy.mil/Career-Management/Boards/Active-Duty-Officer/.

Since you read this far, you should buy my book, “To Build A House,” available here on Amazon.

Voting? Who has time for that?

This year, rather than sitting on the sidelines, I decided to volunteer to help on a local conservative’s campaign. This particular candidate had a small campaign going, running against someone that hadn’t been challenged in two election cycles. I’m two months into helping him, and I’ve both knocked on quite a few doors to campaign and hosted a small fundraiser at my house.

What I’ve experienced in just this small amount of time has really surprised me.

When I started going door to door with a survey and some candidate literature, I expected to get yelled at. Given everything we hear on the news, walking around and campaigning for a conservative candidate seems like a quick way to get attacked by some nut-job left-wing whacko. But that hasn’t been my experience. Most people are pretty decent. A few have actually invited me into their homes. Nobody has swore at me, or told me I was trying to put people in chains, or anything else awful.

The second surprise is that most people I polled aren’t registered to vote. In fact, most people weren’t really following the election at all. Maybe its a Virginia-politics thing, since the governor elections are off-cycle from federal elections. When asked who people would vote for, most answered as “unsure.” Now, that might be because I’m polling them in person, and among their friends they have stronger beliefs. But I thought it was telling that there were so many people seemingly out of the loop of an election that directly affects them.

Hosting a fundraiser was a surprise disappointment. Despite having a really good candidate, I found that most conservatives are lazy. My church is significantly more traditional, yet nobody, repeat, nobody (save one family that is a close friend to mine) from my church showed up, despite our pastor encouraging it. Getting other conservatives to show up was incredibly difficult. Keep in mind this wasn’t a “300 dollar a plate” event. We had pulled pork, macaroni and steamed vegetables. More importantly, people had plenty of time to interact with the candidate and speak to him personally about what concerned them. You couldn’t find an easier way to interact with a potential politician, yet it felt like a Joe Biden press conference. Personally, it was really disappointing, and it makes me think that most conservatives are an awful lot of talk without any action.

I highly encourage people to get involved now with your local party. Talk to your city about becoming an election official, since you have to do some training and get registered. Volunteer to go door to door now, because its far less scary than you might imagine. Check that your friends are registered to vote, and not just in the federal elections. And for crying out loud, be willing to donate to candidates that have your values, especially the local candidates that control things like school boards, redistricting and local tax rates, and who are far closer to your concerns than your federal representative. Because if you don’t, the other side is going to out-compete you, and we’ll get more years of the same stupid policies.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency. Please take a minute to stop by Amazon and buy my book, “To Build A House,” available on Kindle or in paperback.

The military personnel crisis in 2023

If you thought Afghanistan was bad, wait for the military personnel cliff in 2023.

Since Afghanistan fell, there have been plenty of discussions in the military ranks of “How did we get here?” Many military members are unhappy with how the withdraw was conducted. While there are only a few that make this public, there are many more that are quietly questioning the decision making that went into this disaster.

Afghanistan though is masking a much bigger, looming threat. I’ll go out on a limb and predict it now: the military is going to face a manpower crisis in 2023 when an “unexpected” number of people leave the service.

Don’t believe me? I’ve got three darn-good reasons its going to happen.

First, it’ll be the first year that members under the blended retirement system are up for re-enlistment. If you’re not familiar with it, the old military retirement system required 20 years of service before you could draw a pension. The pension was pretty good, equal to 50% of your base pay, and it followed you for life. Yes, if you were cagey on playing the stock market or invented the next best widget to sell on Amazon, you could do better, but if that was true, you probably weren’t in the military in the first place.

That system was replaced with the “Blended Retirement System,” which sounds like a drink you order at Tropical Smoothie, except this one blended cash and your tears into a lower grade slushy that was tough to swallow. BRS, as it is called, was a 401K program that the military would provide matching contributions. This sounds awesome, except:

  • The military only had a certain number of funds you could invest in
  • The military doesn’t start matching until 5 years
  • Most military members make well below average salary in their first five years

BRS was a way to save money. It was sold to the military as “more fair,” but it was all about saving money. More importantly, the military lost a big incentive for young service members to make the military a career. Most members sign on for an initial 5 year commitment. During this time, they receive a lot of initial training and typically deploy somewhere. For enlisted personnel walking in with only a high school degree, at five years they have schooling, the equivalent of an associates degree, and work experience. It’s enough to entice many to leave for greener pastures, and many do just that.

One of the big incentives to stay was the promise of a good career with a good retirement. So imagine a service member checking their BRS balance, and seeing a pretty paltry number because they didn’t make much money to contribute. Combined with new skills and a half-way decent job market, why would they stay?

BRS went into effect in 2018. Add five years, you get 2023.

Now, not everyone is in it for the money. Plenty of people join just to leave their crappy circumstances. I remember one of my Sailors telling me he could pick between working at a gas station his whole life or joining the Navy. In terms of non-financial reasons, this ranks as a high second reason. But that reason won’t stop the 2023 dropoff, and its pretty obvious why: once you have some mobility because you have skills, money and experience, you don’t have to return to where you came. Military members that left their small town, ghetto or whatever bad place they lived in previously have choices after 5 years of service, and they’re likely going to choose to live in a better place with more job prospects.

But wait! Don’t people serve out of a sense of honor and duty? They do, my dear reader, and that brings me to my third point. The military has been sold as an honorable profession, a meritocracy where one can serve their country. That image is being shattered. We just had a disastrous loss in Afghanistan and a significant refocus on “domestic extremism” (which was questioned by many service members). We keep repeating that the military is rife with sexual assault, despite the punishment rates being better than the civilian sector (due to non-judicial punishment and lower standards of proof than regular courts). When you keep hearing and seeing these messages, you have to ask, why bother? Why join, or if you are in, why stay?

It’s disheartening to say this, but the military is on track for a sharp decline in people willing to serve in 2023. I’m sure they’ll spin it in some positive way, but for all the reasons above, its going to happen. The members that signed up in 2018 will have less reasons to stay, and when you already have attrition rates near 30% in the first 3 years for some services, you need every reason possible to keep people around. Short of a significant correction in terms of pay, benefits, career satisfaction or popularity of mission, it’s going to be an ugly 2023.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Speaking of the authors views, you should buy his book “To Build A House: My Epic Saga in Custom Home Building,” available here on Amazon.

The coming extremist tsunami in the Navy

While everyone was focused on the dumpster fire that is Afghanistan, an innocuous NAVADMIN (a Naval message that relates to administrative issues) came out on the 23rd of August, subject line OPNAVINST 3100.6K. NAVADMINs are normally pretty boring. They cover policy like how you can use your GI Bill, when people get promoted, or various annual awards.

OPNAVINST 3100.6 is the instruction that covers situation reports (SITREPs). SITREPs are required reports that Navy units send when bad things happen. For example, if a Sailor is arrested for drunk driving, a unit would notify their immediate superior in command (the “ISIC”) by using a formatted message called a Navy Unit Sitrep. OPNAVINST 3100.6 gives you the exact format to send this message, which are also called OPREP-3 messages (short for Operational Report). The instruction covers more serious messages too. In those cases, units might send an OPREP-3 Navy Blue message. This message goes to the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) office, as well as the ISIC and others. Incidents that require a Navy Blue are more serious or carry negative media attention, hence the need to notify the CNO lest he be surprised. A good example was when COVID-19 was first discovered, any Navy person that contracted it required an OPREP-3 Navy Blue message.

The most recent change to OPNAVINST 3100.6 is now version K and added this section:

4. MAJOR PERSONNEL INCIDENT CHANGES INCLUDE: [SRB, EXTREMIST BEHAVIORS,
BULLYING, ETC.]
4.A. ADDED PERSONNEL INCIDENT REPORTING FOR SUPREMACIST OR EXTREMIST
BEHAVIORS.

Bullying? Supremacist Activity? Extremist Activity? Yup, these all require varying forms of Navy Sitrep messages. We don’t know what level (that’s not released), so we have to guess what becomes a Unit Sitrep and what becomes a Navy Blue. At a minimum, every time we have something resembling bullying, supremacist or extremist activity, a message must be sent out.

This becomes a tsunami of messages when we define extremist groups as:

– an organization that espouses supremacist causes;
– attempts to create illegal discrimination based on race, creed, color, ethnicity, national origin, sex (including gender identity), sexual orientation or religion;
– advocates using force or violence;
– or otherwise engages in efforts to deprive individuals of their civil rights.

Navy Discussion Guide on Extremism

So, if a Navy member participates in an Antifa protest, do we label him as an extremist? They certainly “advocate for the use of violence.”

What about Black Panthers?

A Black Panther Party member brings a shotgun into the state Capitol, May 2, 1967. He was one of two dozen armed Panthers who entered the building. (Photo: Walt Zeboski/Associated Press)

What if someone accuses Republicans of “depriving them of civil rights” (like we’re seeing with the voter registration issues)?

Vox headline

Is being a Catholic extremist because they won’t give Communion to someone that is openly living a homosexual lifestyle?

The problem with this broad definition is that it is broad and goal posts move all the time. People used to argue that homosexual unions would never impact Christians, until Christian bakers were sued for not making wedding cakes. Or the goal post moves the other way, and protests that burned down homes and businesses become “mostly peaceful,” and obviously didn’t incite any violence whatsoever. BTW, it’s been illegal to be in extremist groups since 1990, and people do get kicked out for racism (watch episode four of the PBS series Carrier for an example).

Besides, didn’t we make service members sit through training for this that covered:

Speech that incites violence or criminal activity that threatens to undermine our government and Constitution is not protected by the First Amendment.

and Vandalizing government property and storming a police barrier is not an exercise of First Amendment
rights.

Extremists don’t have a place in our Navy, but when we make the definition really broad, soon we’re all going to get painted as extremists. When that happens (and its a when now, not an if), why would you want to join the Navy? Remember that the Navy is constantly bringing in new people, to the tune of around 40,000 every year. People sign up for a variety of reasons, but one big assumption is the fairness and meritocratic environment that the Navy claims to have. When you remove that, or even appear to do so, it removes a large incentive to join. It’s already hard enough to get people to join, especially if you want people with high technical skills. I fear that this change is going to drive people to leave after a first enlistment and not bother staying around, if for no other reason then the worry they’ll be labeled as a bully or extremist.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Give all of our allies the bomb

The explosion from Operation Canopus, France’s first hydrogen bomb

There are only a handful of nations that possess the ability to manufacture and deliver a nuclear weapon. The US, Russia, China, UK and France are all members of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), which is designed to stop countries from developing nuclear weapons in exchange for using nuclear technology for peaceful ends. That hasn’t stopped countries like India, Pakistan and North Korea from developing their own weapons, and given this, its probably time to reconsider the NPT, because it might not be in the United States’ best interest to stay in this club.

The first obvious consideration is that no country that is pursuing nuclear weapons is friendly to the US. Iran continues to pursue nuclear technology despite having signed the NPT. Iran is probably receiving assistance from Russia and/or China, mainly as a way to undermine the U.S. in the Middle East. North Korea certainly hasn’t followed through on any nuclear promises. None of these are friendly to the US.

There are a number of countries that could develop nuclear as a real deterrent to real threats. Japan and Taiwan continue to be threatened by China. Both of these countries possess the people and resources to build nuclear weapons. What about South Korea? Rather than continuing to negotiate with North Korea, South Korea could easily build more nuclear weapons than North Korea ever could.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait could simply buy nuclear weapons as a defensive measure against Iran. Even better, the U.S. could develop a leasing option for weapons. Those countries could pay money for the U.S. to maintain weapons in a secure facility in the region for defensive purposes. The lease keeps the technology out of their hands while maintaining a legitimate threat of nuclear response.

Now, one might argue that this scenario is exactly what the NPT was trying to prevent. We don’t want to lower the threshold for nuclear weapon use to the point they become commonplace. But will this actually happen? India and Pakistan have still not yet exchanged nuclear weapons despite their hatred and both not having signed the NPT. I also find it hard to argue that countries like Japan and South Korea wouldn’t develop nuclear policy consistent with current U.S. policy.

The NPT worked when the countries of the world chose to follow it. Much like the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, when Russia and China continue to find ways to undermine the treaty, it doesn’t make continued sense to stay in, especially when it places our allies at risk of invasion. Dropping out of the NPT and arming our allies might be the simplest way to bring countries like Iran and North Korea to the negotiating table.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency. You can purchase my new book, To Build a House, through this link at Amazon.