A Rust-Busting Renaissance?
I think the boss sent a signal
After an absolutely dreadful decade long record failure of the most basic of all naval requirements - corrosion control - could our long navalist nightmare (at least this one) be coming to an end?
As in most things, ignore the excuses and emotional responses (some of the worst, by serving naval officers of all things was, "It is just a sign of how hard we are working." - as if no navy ever worked harder than the <checks news feed> US Navy at peace) - watch what naval leadership is saying, and look with your own eyes at what you see.
An interesting story from Mike Glenn over at The Washington Times this weekend is worth your time to read. It quotes some of our favorite people and opens with a quote from April that seemed to run under my radar.
The Navy’s top admiral has acknowledged how crucial the anti-rust campaign is for the service, militarily and aesthetically.
“Appearance is important. You’ve got to look sharp,” Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations, said in April at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. “We’re the world’s premier navy, [and] we’ve got to look like it.”
I think the boss sent a signal.
Well, a different story for a different day I guess ... but the pressure perhaps in some way helped move the needle. You can't change things overnight in such areas, but the April comment by the CNO (a careful man not prone too often - Kendi aside - of getting over his skis) starts to fold in to two other things I've noticed this summer.
First was reports from people whose opinion I respect like Alessio Patalano (whose photos are used in this post with his permission) on the condition of our DDG during RIMPAC this summer. As you can find documented in the links earlier, we have not always done our best in high profile appearances. Nice change.
Second was the fun article on the 26-year old USS Benfold's (DDG 65) new enthusiasm - and success - it putting her in to proper shape. There was some carping from the cheap seats about, "Why are you asking for a BZ for doing what you are supposed to do anyway ... " but not from me. Yes, it shouldn't be news, but it is - and that means it is helping to set a "new" "old" standard ... as such it should be praised and encouraged.
However, it is one ship and we can't overuse its example. We have a few hundred ships ... we should have more than one to point to. That is why I cringed a bit in the article here;
The Navy denies neglecting shipboard preservation. Cmdr. Arlo Abrahamson, a spokesman for the commander of naval surface forces in the Pacific, said the command’s crews devote “considerable time and energy” to balancing operational requirements and maintenance needs of their warships.
“We take a methodical approach to preserving our ships, synchronizing efforts with other maintenance requirements to ensure ships are ready and fully mission-capable,” Cmdr. Abrahamson said in a statement to The Washington Times. “We address these preservation challenges quickly at sea, after ships return to port, and during maintenance phases.”
Cmdr. Abrahamson pointed to the example of the USS Benfold, a guided-missile destroyer whose captain created a full-time maintenance group focused on preventing external shipboard corrosion, even while at sea.
“The team is hands-on busting rust, priming or painting every day except Sunday,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Alexander Polk, who is part of the Benfold restoration team. “Every week, we conduct a job review board and discuss upcoming jobs.”
No show ponies.
This was a lost opportunity. The record is clear that, yes, for well over a decade our Navy did neglect the material condition of our fleet. Do I need to point again to how we showed our stern to Kiel? That was only three years ago. We really need to stop spinning. There is nothing wrong with saying we are fixing a - pun intended - soft spot in our approach to preservation.
I don't know who is setting the standards for our PAO's, but we do not help the reputation of those in uniform by sounding like the worst White House press briefing spin.
Yes, everything Abrahamson says is true ... but in context - no offense intended Arlo - it comes out slimy.
There is a reason this is an important topic. It matters. In the article, Jerry Hendrix summarizes nicely;
“It’s having an impact on our standing in the world. That’s something the Navy really needs to come to grips with,” he said. “Influence is greatly tied to perception. If the perception is that your ships look terrible, that’s the perception of the country: ‘Our fleet is old and it’s tired and that we as a nation are old and tired and appear run down.’”
That is rock-solid correct.
Another CAPT., USN (Ret.), Carl Schuster of HPU, speaks a simple truth that needs to be repeated - it seems - every day until people are sick of hearing it;
“If you’re not willing to maintain the ship and preserve the hull and superstructure, what else are you ignoring in terms of maintenance?” he asked. “What else are they not taking care of?”
This is backed up by CMDCM Thomasson of the Benfold who states what used to be a universal, but sadly to many ears, seems "new." Master Chief knows ... and always knew;
Navy Command Master Chief Andrew Thomasson, the senior enlisted sailor aboard the USS Benfold, said his sailors take great pride in the condition of their ship.
“When a ship looks pristine, new and looking her best, our enemies hesitate to mess with us because when we’re looking our best, we obviously must be performing at our best,” he said. “And just the opposite when we look dirty and rusty. When a ship is looking her best, just look at it as saving lives.”
As we have called for over the last decade, we need to prioritize material condition. We need a reset. We need to deploy less, increase at sea manning, and allocate resources until we get a better balance. For two decades we have refused to say no, and the fleet has suffered.
Could we already be in the early phases of a renaissance in the neglected areas of material condition?
Perhaps. I hope so.