Bancroft Echoes

The Visit

By Andy Wehrle '72 (CDOG<[email protected]>)
From a message to the usna-alumni mailing list, 19 Dec 1996 23:48:38 -0500

An online magazine of opinion and observations by United States Naval Academy Alumni

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It dawned a cold, slate-grey day with driving snow. It turned out to be a perfect day.

I had been invited to spend the day with CDR Pat Walsh '77, Head of the Leadership Department at our alma mater. I've been back to the Academy grounds several times since graduating in 1972 so there was nothing mystical about driving through the main gate and around Farragut Field to find a parking spot near Santee Basin. But entering Luce Hall sent a chill down my back as I passed mids hurrying to and fro between class. Memories came flooding back as I searched for the CDRs office on the third deck.

I found the office with the help of a young LT, Walsh's assistant it turned out, and was herded into an office where I was introduced to the good CDR. Good-looking officer, ramrod straight and squared away. Not bad for a swabbie. Coffee and a chair. He graciously tried to make me feel at ease. He had the Proceedings article about Combat Stress Control that Col Bruce Ogden, USMC (ret) '53 and I co-authored on his desk. Nice job. Now the ice is broken and we get down to business - his department and what's going on in the world of USNA Leadership education.

Walsh is prepared. I get a very professional lap brief about the curriculum and I like what I see. Seems to be good balance. He hands me one of the texts of readings and as I page through it I find one selection on telling the Boss he is wrong. 'Wish we'd talked about that when I was here,' thinks I. We talk about the way classes are taught, the mids do a lot of talking, the profs try to guide a discussion. That's a far cry from the 'sit down, shut up, and listen up,' approach I remember.

Walsh shows me the difference between the leadership faculties at each of the academies. USMA and USAFA emphasize academic credentials heavily with almost everyone of their faculty members holding a doctorate. USNA emphasizes deckplate credentials with almost no advanced degrees - and I say good on ya! This approach sends the unspoken message that leadership is not a black art, that it doesn't take an advanced degree to understand how to lead an 18 year old HS graduate well. Very important message - essential message. I encourage the CDR not to cave to the pressure he says he gets to upgrade the faculty academic credentials.

I also get a chance to make my pitch that the curriculum should contain a heavy emphasis on combat stress control - that I took a day off from work and drove from Stafford, VA (about 80 miles) in a snow storm, during rush hour to emphasize how important I think the subject is for the mids. That it will provide them with something of concrete value when they get to the fleet.

And then I'm invited to attend a class. I'm off with CDR Charlie Paddock, USNR '70. As the mids filter in the Commander instructs them to introduce themselves with name and hometown and I receive a series of firm handshakes and look into the eyes of young men and women no different than I was 25 years ago. Big lump in the throat time.

After the muster the mids take over - they lead the class through the readings for the day and they ask the questions. The commander speaks up occasionally to guide the discussion back to a key point. Then it's my turn so I talk for a few minutes about my experience with the subject at hand - introduction of the Navy's EEO policy by Zumwalt in 1970. I try and make it real based on my experiences as a butter bar in Okinawa. One guy's falling asleep and I have to restrain myself to keep from laughing. Another gets up to keep from falling asleep, and one young woman asks a question. The female presence is not as unsettling as I had imagined, probably because I married a woman Marine.

After class several of the mids thank me for my visit and I get another firm handshake. One young man mentions that he's a former Marine and the bond forms instantly. He smiles as I wish him, "Good luck Marine."

[Post visit note: Charlie Paddock gets visited on a regular basis it seems and had a camera with him. He took a picture of me with his class. Just received the picture with a nice note from him and Walsh and signed by everyone of the mids in the class. Class act - but who's the old guy with all those mids!?!]

Back to Walsh's office and off to lunch in Dahlgren Hall - that's right, there's a pretty nice gedunk in there now. Great sandwiches, and the biggest surprise was as we competed for time at the drink dispenser with mids. They don't have to go to noon meal in the mess hall? Go figure! In fact they only have to attend formations 10 times each week. (Draw your own conclusions).

[Post visit clarification from CDR Walsh: "A point of clarification. There is no evening meal formation during the week; evening meal (or supper) is open for (I think) two hours for an open style seating. When Admiral Larson returned to the academy, he found that there were only 10 formations a week; midshipmen had pizza and meetings at Dahlgren during lunch; youngsters were buying cars and, there was lots of liberty in civilian clothes during the week. Where did all that come from?? I do not know; call it "tradition creep." There has been a significant effort by the Commandant and Superintendent to reverse this trend even though the movement has created a sense of angst among certain members of the brigade. Now, there is less liberty during the week, civilian clothes privileges have been curtailed, and, with rare exceptions, the Commandant does NOT allow anyone to miss noon meal in King Hall. There will be exceptions to the rule, but it is not very often. Normally, we do not see midshipmen in Dahlgren at lunch time."]

Lunch with Dave Davis '67 and Pat Stoop '69. Dave's working in the Athletic Department and Pat in the Institutional Research Department. Good guys and our conversation is relaxed and good-natured. Dave talks about the trip to Ireland, Pat about the latest Brigade survey he's involved in. We talk about our conversations on the alumni mailing list. It's good to put faces with names.

At one point things get a little testy as the conversation turns to alumni perceptions of what's going on inside the walls. Dave suggests that it appears that one other alumni and I are out to get ADM Larson. I make it clear that no one is out to get the Admiral, that what we are pushing for is clarification on how the Academy has responded to Professor Barry's report and what the Admiral plans on doing with a $150 million dollar endowment? I hold that it's an easy problem to solve - that any perceived ill-will is mainly the result of not understanding what's going on about the Barry report and the endowment. As we talk a consensus seems to grow that a point-by-point summary of the Academy's position vis a vis each of Barry's points in his report would be a good idea and Pat volunteers to go talk to Dave Church at Shipmate about the possibility of publishing something like this. There also seems to be a general sense of shared concern and confusion about the endowment fund question. As lunch breaks up we're all smiles and 'Beat Army.'

[Post visit question: What's up with the Shipmate clarification of the Barry issue Pat? And what's up with this endowment Admiral?]

Back to CDR Walsh's office to talk some more about the program. I meet retired Marine Col. Paul Roush, USMC (ret) '57 and Karel Montor, long time USNA leadership wonk in rapid succession. Our conversation focuses on the CDRs desire to emphasize 'deckplate leadership' and his frustration with trying to get his subject "from the classroom into Mother B." We talk about the proposed leadership chair and I find out that Pat is the driving force behind establishing this with a retired fourstar. He thinks a distinguished fourstar will add credibility and stability to the course, I reiterate that a retired anything sends a poor message to the Brigade, fleet/FMF about the qualifications of active duty types to fill such a chair. We agree to disagree.

[Post visit clarification from CDR Walsh concerning his reasons for pushing for a distinguished retired Flag/General Officer for the Leadership chair: "In my opinion, we meet only the absolute minimum requirements of academic standing, scholarship, fleet experience and savvy for the pragmatic approach to teaching naval leadership in a collegiate environment. The prospect of augmenting our department with a visiting professor that had distinguished himself with a successful military career at the four star flag level would be a timely method to support both the professional development of officers and midshipmen."]

The CDR introduces me to the Joint curriculum being developed between USNA and the Naval Post Graduate School that will serve as a transition between the fleet and the classroom in the future. Prospective candidates for the department will go to this Masters program in leadership before taking on classroom responsibilities. Looks like a good idea but I'm leary of credentials creep. I still say it is important to have heavy deckplate emphasis to teach leadership and ethics effectively in a military environment.

Along the way I'm given a book of leadership readings the Mids use as well as a copy of Vice Admiral Stockdale's most recent book, _Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot_. (This last gift turns out to be my most treasured momento of the visit - the book gives a deep and profound insight into the heart and soul of this great man. It's only available by calling the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.)

As my day at the academy drew to a close I left with the overriding impression I had many times when checking into a new unit. Good guys in the trenches doing the best they can with the resources at hand. Despite our differences of opinion, I am confident that CDR Walsh and company are doing a yeoman job of teaching the next generation the ins and outs of leadership at the deckplate level. This is not to say I think everything down on the farm is hunky dory - only that, in this part of that world things are in hand.

As I left, I drove out along the sea wall and looked out toward the bay. There was no horizon, the grey of the sky and the water blended in that ghostly fashion with which those of us who have been to sea are so familiar. It was still snowing and cold, and way out, headed out toward the bay, barely discernible, was a YP, with the Stars and Stripes standing at attention in the breeze. Made shivers run up and down my back. Now that's the kind of training that builds character.

Semper Fi---->>>Andy Wehrle '72 (CDOG<[email protected]>)
Copyright 1996 Andy Wehrle: used by permission

Postscript by Andy Wehrle as of 3/21/2002:
With the benefit of several years hindsight the primary concern from my original visit remains valid.

To the best of my knowledge, academy leadership proceeded with their plan to ensure all military instructors at the academy possess advanced degrees. Mistake. The mids don't need military instructors with advanced degrees - the mids need deckplate oriented leadership and ethics instruction and example from men and women who have just been there and done that. Advanced degrees do not, and never will, provide real world practical leadership and military ethics experience - and that is what mids MUST be exposed to if they are to get any inkling of what will be required of them when they enter the fleet and the FMF.

The insidious, unspoken message of advanced degrees is that, unless you have one, you're not qualified to impart solid leadership or ethics training. Nothing could be further removed from the truth - but that is the unspoken message every mid receives from the administration. It was a mistake lo these many years ago - it is no less a mistake today. The sad part is that, over the years, we have commissioned literally thousands of young officers who learned this unspoken, corrosive, elitist lesson.

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