Posted: September 20, 2017 5:00 PM

Spencer: Navy Culture ‘Biased to Action’

By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy’s can-do culture puts enormous pressure on commanding officers to accept any task at anytime and anywhere, but the new secretary of the Navy is looking for ways to meet the nation’s requirements while allowing commanders to say “no” when their units are not ready for the task.

“We truly have an organization that is biased to action, and the word ‘no’ is just not in the lexicon,” Richard V. Spencer, said Sept. 20 while speaking to reporters at the Pentagon on a variety of topics. “We have to find a balance, because the pure, blind answer ‘yes’ without assessing the risk is non-sustainable.

“We’re going to have to come to some sort of harmonic, some sort of balance, between supply and demand,” Spencer said. “The COCOM [combatant commander] is going to have to understand it, and the Hill [Congress] is going to have to understand it. We have been giving false math by supplying the resources we have that we couldn’t afford.

“In the air community, you always debrief and everyone has a thick skin,” said Spencer, a former Marine Corps helicopter pilot. “No one has a thin skin. That’s always been the culture. Debriefs, and right to the bone … straightforward, no nonsense debriefing. We can see lots of benefits, not only from the aviation community but the nuke [nuclear submarine] side of the house. They are also very pressurized for safety.”

Spencer said that in talking with the chief executive officers of Maersk and Crowley Marine — two of the companies being consulted in Spencer’s Strategic Readiness Review in wake of U.S. Seventh Fleet’s multiple mishaps this year — both noted “‘You have to be prepared, that safety starts at the top.’

“The first topic at the Maersk board meeting level is the health and safety in the organization,” Spencer said. “So, this is going to be a little cultural reset, and it’s going to be across all assets — nuke, air, surface and Marines.”

Spencer reiterated support for the forward-deployed naval force concept, saying that “presence really does make a difference.”

He also said the issues working hours and sleep deprivation in the surface warfare community will be looked at, noting that the aviation community long has had safety rules regarding crew rest. But he cautioned that the issue would be looked at with a common understanding of the breakdown of the 100-hour-week notion, as to whether it includes mealtime and other non-work time, so that there is an agreed-upon baseline to study.

The secretary said his Strategic Readiness Review panel, chaired by Mike Bayer, chairman of the Defense Business Board, and former Chief of Naval Operations retired Adm. Gary Roughead, will look broadly over the Navy Department’s portfolio, such as: how the five fleets are organized; whether the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act pulls too many skilled warfighters away from their expertise in favor of broadening assignments; how personnel should be reintegrated into the force after a period away without being penalized; and how cyber warfare and medical forces can be optimized.

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