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Naval Personnel Since 1945 

Areas for Historical Research 

Men matter most.

—Wayne Hughes, Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, 1999

A nineteenth century sailor would be bewildered in a modern warship, but regardless of the appearance of ships, there is one element, the most important of all, that remains unchanged—the man himself. Human nature in all the changing years has altered but little. It is the human element in warfare which may, if understood by the commander, prove to be the only way of converting an impossibility into a reality.

War Instructions (F.T.P. 143 A), Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations, 1 November 1944

Is there any law that says a Yeoman must be a man?

—Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, 1916

1.         The Human Element in Naval Warfare

Nearly three years into World War II, Admiral Ernest J. King published his War Instructions, a central means by which he communicated his general guidance and intent to a vastly grown wartime Navy. It followed on two previous iterations, published in 1924 and 1934 by his predecessors, Edward Eberle and William Standley. By this point in the war, King and his principal subordinates had figured out, at the cost of considerable blood and treasure in actual combat, what mattered most among the several ingredients that, when combined, were likely to produce successful outcomes at sea. They got “it.” Thus, in stark contrast with the earlier publications, King’s version began not with naval organization, tactics, or technologies, but by discussing “the Human Element in Naval Strength.”1 As Representative Fred Britten, Chair of the House Naval Affairs Committee, stated before the war, “Cold steel isn’t worth a damn in an emergency. You need men to direct it.”2

In Admiral King’s view, implicitly, the whole of the Navy’s personnel system existed to support the commander, who embodied the several military virtues:

  • Responsible courage, both moral and physical—the moral courage to do the right thing and the physical courage to face any personal danger.

  • Decision of character—ability to select the essentials, weed out the nonessentials, and fix the mind on the objective to be reached. This implies foresight and an imagination that can see all the advantages, all the chances, all the obstacles, in their true proportion and can decide firmly what is to be done.

  • Sound judgment—which in its application may be called common sense, though it is not a common but rare quality, and is based on possession of all available facts.

  • Initiative—the ability to understand and take advantage of new situations.3


1 The 1924 War Instructions started with organization, mission, and tactical command, while the 1934 version began with a discussion of the Navy’s function in war and limned out its war organization. Neither provided a dedicated discussion of the human element in warfare.

2 Comments, on the floor of the House of Representatives, 15 May 1934, during a debate over selection up for junior line officers (O-2 to O-3 and O-3 to O-4).

3 War Instructions, 1 November 1944, 1. King neither discounted nor emphasized mastery of technical knowledge. However, he pointed out that technologies change and assumed that technical mastery was attainable and would be attained, but certain personnel characteristics essential to effective command remain immutable, more important, and more difficult to achieve.

King’s desiderata are no less relevant today. They form the very foundation of naval efficiency.4

At the same time, it must be emphasized that organizations are not intended to rely upon the fortuitous presence of either geniuses or heroes, or some combination thereof, for effectiveness, but rather on a cadre of competent professionals. Herman Wouk’s description of his fictional Victor “Pug” Henry makes this point:

He is not a brilliant strategist like Raymond Spruance. He’s not a celebrated, flamboyant leader like William Halsey. What he is, is a backbone officer, and it is the Victor Henry’s who create the victories for the Spruances and Halseys.5

If an organization finds itself dependent upon geniuses and heroes for success, this suggests its larger system of personnel has not been effective in its purpose and task. How does/should/can the Navy produce the Pug Henry’s (and his enlisted counterparts) it needs for success? The answers to this question underlie the development, maintenance, and adaptation of the Navy’s personnel function.

That personnel constitute the core assets of any large-scale formal organization, such as a navy, may seem obvious, but aside from biographies of great and heroic naval leaders, naval historians have shown a disinclination to systematically address aspects of naval organization that produce the competent officers and enlisted personnel who support and embody the characteristics of effective commanders and subordinates.6 In any given period of the Navy’s history, ample room


4 Hughes sets “Men matter most” as the first of his six principles of naval warfare in his classic work. See Wayne P. Hughes, Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, 2nd Edition (Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 1999).

5 Herman Wouk, “Herman Wouk’s Navy,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 121(1995): 29. Henry is the central protagonist of Wouk’s sweeping historical novels of World War II, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. Wouk’s concept of Pug Henry and his real-world counterparts is another signal contribution to our understanding of the Navy through his fiction. Arguably, organizations that find themselves in the position of having to rely on heroes and geniuses are those that have failed to produce a sufficient number of competent professionals suited to executing the organizations’ missions.

6 To be sure, naval biographies and memoirs can and have shed important, but typically indirect, anecdotal, or incidental light on matters of personnel. Heartburn over failure of promotion or selection to command has found its way into memoirs, and, aside from making real the personal consequences of organizational personnel systems, it sometimes points to personnel laws and regulations worthy of investigation. See, for example, Yates Stirling Jr. Sea Duty: Memoirs of a Fighting Admiral (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1939).

exists for thoughtful study of naval personnel, but especially so from the conclusion of World War II to the present.

Two characteristics of blue water navies, such as the U.S. Navy, add special urgency to effectively addressing these  matters. Once the Navy acquired the defining characteristics of a profession, for officers at least, this translated to a personnel system that admitted its members, with few exceptions, only at the most junior level. As a result, after 1916, through a progressive winnowing process of selection up, combined with graded retirement, the Navy has produced its senior leadership from those who were initially commissioned decades previous.7 It has also been accorded substantial autonomy in regulation of its officer corps and enlisted personnel. Notwithstanding various mechanisms since the American Civil War to rapidly and temporarily expand the officer corps during wartime, its leadership has been drawn almost exclusively from its existing regular officer corps.

At the same time, like other blue water navies, although the U.S. Navy deploys and operates at sea during peacetime much as it does during war, major actions involving the clash of fleets occur only every few generations.8 Thus, the Navy develops and maintains personnel against the requirement for performance in actions that may never come during the service lifetime of any given member. When such actions do come, they may not closely resemble known historic actions that have typically provided the foundation for predictions about future actions. The decisive battles of World War II in the Pacific were not fought by the much anticipated battle lines in relatively close quarters, but by carrier-based aircraft at such distances that the ships of the opposing fleets never visually sighted each other.9 It was a new, more mobile naval warfare occasioned by technological changes that set in motion great perturbations within the Navy’s


7 A profession generally is characterized by (1) status as a full-time occupation, (2) a relative monopoly on a specialized body of expertise, (3) dedicated educational and training bodies, (4) a professional ethos to govern its members, (5) attainment of a certain social and political standing that facilitates relative independence and the delegated authority to self-regulate its members. The U.S. Navy, arguably, was among the second wave of professions in the United States, marked in the mid-19th century by steam engineering and the birth of the Naval Academy.

8 The British Royal Navy, for example, went more than a century between the fleet actions of the Napoleonic wars and World War I’s Battle of Jutland. Aside from its actions during the Spanish-American War, the U.S. Navy had never engaged in bona fide major fleet actions until 1942 at Coral Sea and Midway. Since World War II’s October 1944 Battle of Leyte Gulf, there have been no fleet actions anywhere (I exclude Okinawa here). The last two U.S. Navy warships actually sunk by enemy action were Pirate (AM-275), mined and hit by enemy shore batteries, and Pledge (AM-277), mined, both at Wonsan in October 1950.

9 Ironically, the most significant single surface-only action of the Pacific Theater, October 1944’s Battle of Surigao Strait, from the U.S. side was fought by the six Old Battleships, as they were called in Campaign Plan Granite, which were there to provide naval gunfire support for the Leyte landings, instead of the modern fast battleships, which, as part of the Interceptor Force were to steam eastward at the time. Similarly, the smaller, usually night, actions during the 1942--43 Solomons Campaign were fought primarily by U.S. cruisers and destroyers, as was the March 1943 Battle of the Komandorski Islands. However conceptualized, in the event the fast battleships served primarily as escorts, most importantly as anti-aircraft platforms, for the fast carriers, and as oilers for the screening destroyers.

formal structure and culture, during the interwar period, during the war itself, and afterwards. This suggests that flexibility and adaptability to unforeseen circumstances is required of the Navy’s officers and enlisted personnel.

Compounding the problem, throughout its history the Navy has developed and maintained an image of the war at sea—since the 1890s, the Mahanian decisive fleet battle—it wants to fight. It has organized, trained, manned, and equipped itself to fight this war, even though it will with high probability actually have to do other things for which it has not prepared. As with its Army counterpart, the assumption has evidently been that preparation for “big war” will allow the Navy to be effective in its conduct of other, “lesser” operations.10

Arguably, decisive fleet actions have obtained in only two of its conflicts—during the Spanish-American War in the Philippines and Cuba, and during World War II in the Pacific. In the latter, protection of sea lines of communication and projection of power ashore via amphibious operations in both Atlantic and Pacific theaters, along with a guerre de course against Japanese shipping a la Corbett and Callwell, occupied a major portion of its attention and resources. Amphibious operations, in particular, required the design and construction of specialized shipping and development of amphibious tactics, techniques, and organization during the war, notwithstanding the seizure of forward operating bases in the Pacific as an early cornerstone of War Plan Orange’s operational idea, and considerable thought given to the matter by the Marine Corps in the 1920s and 1930s. Following World War II, along with the rest of the military, the Navy’s ships, aircraft, and personnel were greatly reduced in force, but the amphibious forces most dramatically of all its components. Although some, including, famously, General Omar Bradley, were persuaded that atomic weapons had rendered amphibious operations impossible, the  United States found itself conducting four major such operations in the second-half of 1950.


10 On the more general problem of the inclinations of militaries to prepare for the war they want to fight versus the one they are actually fighting or will likely have to fight, Waghelstein comments, “There is a flaw in the American Military’s love affair with doctrine. The services develop doctrine that presents their view of how the next war will be fought. This view is often a replication of the last war, particularly if it was a success. After the Gulf War the Air Force developed the Air Power doctrine that is, in essence, Desert Storm and the way air power influenced the outcome. That doctrine is the cornerstone of the Air Force’s view of war in the 21st century. The Army’s doctrine, Force XXI and FM 100-5/1993, emphasizes technology, planning and low casualty rates-again a validation of the Gulf War. The Navy and Marine Corps are a bit of an exception and have developed a blueprint ‘Forward From the Sea’ that portrays the role of Sea Power in the littorals, a role limited in Desert Storm. Rather than a rehash of Desert Storm, the Naval Services validated their traditional warfare roles across the full spectrum of conflict. In sum all the services are, as is prudent, developing a set of doctrines that deal with worst case scenarios, those that present the greatest threat to national security. Not surprisingly these scenarios envisioned are those that will require the maximum use of our power from our weapons systems and the commensurate force structure. What should be of equal concern is how will we deal with a threat that is not amenable to this vast array of combat power and technology. Given the lessons of history, this focus is not enough. We should also be focusing on how we will deal with the ‘asymmetrical’ challenges, on those scenarios in which our array of power may have less applicability. We have a history in which our preoccupation with the ‘BIG WAR’ has led us to ignore the ‘little war’s’ requirements for minimal use of firepower, restraint in campaigning and patience over the protracted nature of the contest.” John D. Waghelstein, “Preparing the U. S. Army for the Wrong War, Educational and Doctrinal Failure, 1865–91.” Small Wars and Insurgencies Vol.10, No. 1 (Spring 1999): 1–33.

More recently, the submarine force found itself greatly reduced after the “end” of the Cold War and now must regenerate.

Moreover, the admittedly important mastery of a highly technical profession during peacetime has not necessarily translated into effective leadership in war. It is easier to teach and learn technology, tactics, techniques, and procedures than warfighting leadership and command—as Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles discovered during the Civil War, and he was compelled to rework, amid the conduct of operations, the personnel system in order to promote and assign to duty the officers who could and would command and fight. The same problem of personnel obtained during World War II—the senior officers in place at the outset were not always the ones who would ultimately carry the load for the fight. The probable compression of time in any future naval war suggests that the kind of sorting out process possible in earlier wars may be less feasible in the next go-around, creating more pressure to get it right before hostilities occur.

Although this essay has so far focused on the Navy’s function in protecting the national interest, and the instrumental role of personnel in this effort, based on an image of the administrative organization as a mechanism for achieving certain objectives, with specified resources, in a particular environment, the Navy also serves its civilian masters in the broader context of a democratic republic. Since at least the immediate post–Civil War era, the Navy has functioned along with its sister services as a vast training and educational system that has supplied the private economy with individuals possessing essential skills and experience while offering individual Americans, very often from disadvantaged sectors of society, paths for social and economic mobility.11

The Navy’s personnel system and personnel tend to reflect, however imperfectly, the values, including biases of various sorts, of that larger society within which they reside and from which they are drawn. Sometimes it has lagged changes in societal values; in other times it has led change. At certain points, serious rifts in the larger society have been reflected in the Navy’s internal dynamics, while at other times it has been somewhat insulated from them. The post–World War II period has seen both, as American society has struggled to come to terms with changing demographics and historic racial, ethnic, and gender bias, and more latterly, with sexual and gender identity. The Navy, as with its sister services, has also episodically faced the need to adapt to profound changes in values across generations in order to attract, retain, and employ effectively the young people it requires.


11 See, for example, Patricia Danette Light, Marching Upward: The Role of the Military in Social Stratification and Mobility in American Society. PhD Dissertation. Department of Sociology, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. 1 May 1998. During the post–Civil War period, the Navy seconded engineers to the newly established civilian land-grant colleges in order to jump start engineering education in support of the rapidly industrializing U.S. economy.

2.         A Dearth of Interest

It seems sensible that systematic reflection on this organizational function and its place in both naval efficiency and American society would be of regular interest to historians, if not for its slim intrinsic appeal then to put the Navy in good stead for the future. But this has not been the case. In this deficit, the Navy does not sail alone—the personnel functions of few organizations private or public, civilian or military, generate much excitement among historians.12 Personnel policies often include highly confidential organizational decisions—especially regarding promotion and selection for leadership positions. Officers’ memoirs either ignore the matter entirely or speak about it in elliptical, opaque terms.

However challenging it may be for any large-scale formal organization to engage regular academic interest in its personnel, the Navy has had additional competing factors to overcome. It has many bright, shiny objects in its ships, aircraft, and weaponry. Both visually and viscerally, its episodic operations and campaigns contain all those elements of human drama that contrive to draw one’s ready attention—chance, extreme violence, pathos, brilliant and failed decisions, courage and its opposite, and both cruelty and kindness. Studying personnel must pale by comparison to these matters, which historically have dominated both professional and popular perceptions of the Navy’s history.13 Even the staid programming and acquisitions processes seem to have more intrinsic draw. In this, personnel functions seem to occupy largely the same niche as naval organization and administration, which enjoyed a brief flirtation with the A-List for naval historians during World War II but has since attracted little systematic attention.14

12 The present author claims no special prescience or moral high ground. He was no less inclined to dismiss naval personnel as an uninteresting subject for serious study. He embarked on research for a book on how organizations adapt to environmental change, of which precisely one chapter was to consider the interwar battle between battleship sailors and aviators for the soul of the Navy. In the dim light of the old National Archives reading room, he stumbled across a series of 1934 memoranda that revealed starkly the near-violent conflict of Navy flag officers (then RADM Ernest J. King, Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics, and RADM William D. Leahy, Chief of the Bureau of Navigation) over language to be included in precepts to the soon to be constituted initial junior line selection boards. It was riveting! Who knew? Over a decade later, he had published an entirely different book, this one on naval personnel, and never did write the book he initially intended. See Donald Chisholm, Waiting for Dead Men’s Shoes: Origins and Development of the U.S. Navy’s Officer Personnel System, 17931941 (Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2001).

13 During its 1981–2016 existence, the Strategic Studies Group in Newport, chartered annually by the Chief of Naval Operations to investigate and report on matters of import to him (and representing a substantial investment in personnel and other resources), addressed naval personnel matters directly only in its penultimate year of existence, when it considered the challenges of “talent management” for then Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert.

14To World War I, for administrative history, there was only Charles Oscar Paullin’s series of Proceedings articles, ultimately published in 1968 as a compendium: Paullin’s History of Naval Administration, 17751911, by the U.S. Naval Institute. Alas, Paullin addresses personnel only incidentally. Early in World War II, the Navy commissioned a number of professional historians, under the direction of Robert C. Albion, to produce focused histories of various aspects of the Navy’s shore establishment. The effort was to parallel Morison’s highly anticipated and much reprinted histories of operations. Except for a number of incidental articles, the sole published volume resulting from this research was Julius Fuhrer, Administration of the Navy Department in World War II (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1959). The author stumbled over these bound typescript histories on the shelves of the Navy Department Library. For an overview of the administrative histories see: Thomas C. Hone’s Continuity and Change: The Administrative History of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 19461986 (Washington, DC: Naval Historical Center, 1989) is one of the rare administrative histories of the post–World War II Navy. Fortunately, as this paper was being written, under the aegis of the Navy’s Naval History and Heritage Command, Hone’s unique volume was in process of expansion and updating to cover the entire 100 years’ existence of the office of the Chief of Naval Operations.

Such describes the historiography of the Navy through the end of World War II. The same holds for the period, now more than seven decades long (!), since that war ended.

Beyond these general factors, other, specific elements have influenced the focus of historians during this particular period. World War II loomed so large in the mind’s eye given its duration, scope, and complexity, not to mention that the Pacific war was the apotheosis of the Navy’s vision of naval warfare, that little room existed for other pursuits—especially for naval administration—of which personnel resides as a minor subspecies. Samuel Eliot Morison did not publish the last installment of his multivolume History of United States Naval Operations in World War II until 1962. The Naval War College, appropriately, devoted considerable treasure to study of the signal battles, operations, and campaigns of the Pacific War, in order to capture important lessons for future naval officers who might not be afforded the opportunity to learn those lessons through their own experience in war.15 Then came the Korean and Vietnam Wars punctuating the consistent drumbeat of the Cold War, followed by the first and second Gulf Wars, Afghanistan, and presently the matter of Daesh, not to mention China rising and the resurgent and troublesome Russian Bear.

However, we are not entirely bereft of contributions to our historical understanding of the Navy’s personnel since World War II. There are, foremost, articles in the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings, usually by serving officers, both junior and senior, typically about immediate problems of personnel; for example, stagnation in promotion, emerging requirements for expertise not at the time resident within the Navy’s personnel, or changes in Naval Academy curriculum. Consistent with their pre-war frequency, multiple such articles have appeared every year since World War II. They highlight internal perceptions of enduring and emerging personnel problems, sometimes indicate official attention, and thereby provide heuristics for those historians who might be paying attention.16 Similarly, policy papers commissioned by the Navy (also by the other military services and the Department of Defense) of private think-tanks, if not strictly histories, have often contained historical narrative and have, thereby, episodically and incidentally contributed to our historical understanding of the Navy’s personnel.17 At a minimum, taken as a collectivity, these publications indicate what issues concerned the Navy’s personnel at any given point in time and how they thought about them.


15 Commodore Robert Bates headed the post–World War II history effort for the Navy at the Naval War College, which produced magisterial volumes on the Battles of Coral Sea, Midway, Savo Island, first and second Philippines Sea, and Okinawa, all produced with the stated objective of educating future naval officers who had not served in combat, in order to jump start effectiveness in future naval conflicts. In the foreword to every volume, it was noted that: “The present senior officers of the Navy are well aware of the reasons for changes in established doctrines and in the development of new ones. But this cannot necessarily be said of the commanders of the future, who very probably will be inexperienced in command in war.”

16 Proceedings articles have performed the useful service of identifying and structuring personnel problems and often recommending courses of actions for their resolution. See, for example, James W. Sigler, “Repeating NASA’s Deadly Mistakes,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Vol 133, No. 9 (September 2007): 48 ff. Sigler provided an analysis of F/A-18 Hornet-squadron manning and the capacity to support war plans that materially affected Navy policy.

17 Since its establishment following World War II, the RAND Corporation has accrued an extensive corpus of studies of military personnel, some of which specifically focus on naval personnel. The Center for Naval Analyses has a similar, though not quite as extensive, record on same. The more recently established Center for a New American Security has jumped into ongoing debates over military personnel, generally. Federal legislative organizations, such as the Congressional Budget Office, Congressional Research Service, and General Accounting Accountability Office have also produced policy papers that include historical background material useful to historians.

3.         What Is to Be Studied?

So, the bad news is that we have little systematic study of the Navy’s personnel by historians; the good news is that the field of study is entirely open. On agreeing to undertake this historiography, the author supposed a well-bounded, relatively narrow domain, but that simple notion was soon revealed as naïve, and well . . .  simple. Not uncommon to historical research, the onion presented itself, and the practical challenge became one of setting reasonable limits rather than a struggle to find enough to address. The matter of personnel touches virtually every aspect of the organization. In this paper, the author proposes to limn out the field and boundaries of naval personnel for the purposes of the historian, with the larger objective of suggesting fruitful areas for future research.

For the purposes of this paper, the general subject area for histories of naval personnel includes the following:

  1. Legal and administrative rules and procedures governing accession, training, education, promotion, assignment to duty, relief for cause, pay and benefits, retention and retirement of officers and enlisted personnel, and management of episodic requirements for personnel expansion and reduction as dictated by economy and world events.

  2. Conceptualization of professional careers of officers and enlisted personnel; the flow through the several grades for officers and through the ranks for their enlisted counterparts; the preferred paths and associated milestones, both formal and informal, and their effects on who accedes to senior leadership positions, along with the relationship, formal and informal, between commissioned officers and enlisted.

  3. Organization of naval personnel into line and staff corps: essentially the formal division of labor and specialization for the Navy. Also, the formal and informal delineation of the role and function of the naval reserves and their relationship to the regular Navy.18

  4. Conceptualization and reconceptualization of what defines the line officer and the relation of the line with the staff corps; ditto for what defines the differences between commissioned officers and the enlisted personnel.

  5. Form, organization, and place within the Navy of the administrative function for personnel.

  6. Changing societal valuation of the balance between profession and family.

  7. Social, economic, political, ethnic, and gender composition of the Navy’s officers and enlisted personnel, and the conflicts, challenges, and processes of change associated with changing composition, including matters of explicit and implicit bias and discrimination.


18 In 2005, the “Naval Reserve” was restyled “Navy Reserve” to better communicate within and without the Navy its integral role in the Navy.


The first five areas above comprise what historically have been the (largely) internally controlled and focused formal and informal aspects (including the Navy’s organizational culture) of the Navy’s personnel, aimed primarily—perhaps narrowly—at the Navy’s warfighting efficiency. The last two directly address the role and function of the Navy (along with the other military services) in a American democratic society, which has, over the years, become less and less willing to advance, accept, or tolerate the exclusion of members of various groups defined by ascriptive traits, and includes the effects of those changes on the Navy’s organizational culture.19 The present essay addresses the first five areas, with lesser attention to the last two. For a direct focus on social forces and the Navy, the reader is referred to Ed Marolda’s fine “The Social History of the U.S. Navy, 1945–Present: A Historiographical Essay.”20

4.         How May We Usefully Think About Studying It?

The present essay approaches the Navy as an organization that perpetually invents and reinvents itself as it struggles to identify and come to terms with problems presented by its environment. As with other aspects of the Navy’s organization, its personnel function has never actually reached a more or less permanent, stable resting point, where all its problems were solved, leaving it to proceed without much friction or noise. That means, practically speaking, that it only sometimes has achieved a temporary equilibrium in which it has done a satisfactory job of addressing the problems it was able to identify and structure to that point, but the solutions to


19 As used here, “ascriptive” refers to those characteristics of the individual that are primarily hereditary and over which the individual has little or no control, to be contrasted with an individual’s ability, volitional behavior, and achievement.

20 See Edward J. Marolda, “The Social History of the U.S. Navy, 1945–Present: A Historiographical Essay,” also commissioned by the Naval History and Heritage Command as part of its historiographical series. The essay, commissioned by the Naval History and Heritage Command, approaches the Navy’s history since 1945 from the perspective of its social variables, generally, which perforce address its personnel’s demographics and origins, and the organizational dynamics surrounding them, while the present essay considers its personnel more broadly, especially its administrative aspects, but cannot divorce itself from the social aspects.

those problems themselves have produced unintended consequences, some of which were identified and assessed as undesirable and have had to be addressed as new problems. 21

To a great extent this obtains because the Navy has always done and continues to operate as an open system in continual interaction with its environment, which changes in significant ways, at greater or lesser speeds, that the Navy can usually not control and can only occasionally predict accurately (but can endeavor to adapt to and sometimes hope to influence).22 This open-system status obtains, notwithstanding the Navy’s relatively closed status as an institution. Its permeability has varied over time, which sometimes, in important ways, has left it out of synch with the broader society within which it resides and for whose security it exists. The net result has been and continues to be an organizational function that only ever is likely to be more than partially in balance with the problems it is intended to solve.

How might we usefully think about the environment for Navy and the dimensions of its personnel function as described above, in order to identify fruitful avenues of inquiry for historians? Let me suggest the following dimensions as a way to organize our thinking:

  1. the nature of warfare, and, especially, the enduring nature of warfare at sea

  2. character of the operations, campaigns, and war(s) U.S. military, but especially the Navy, conducts/fights, how it chooses to do so, and for which it must prepare in the foreseeable future

  3. organizational and legal aspects, including joint organization and requirements

  4. present state of play for technology and projected future trends, especially where technological expertise is readily transferable between the Navy and the private economy

  5. social and cultural values and norms, particularly as they concern equality of treatment and opportunity for minorities and women, expressed through a variety of means, most importantly by elected and appointed public officials

  6. demographic characteristics of the American population from whence are drawn the Navy’s personnel, especially regarding ethnic mix and generational changes

  7. state and trend lines of the domestic American economy

This essay focuses principally on the second through fourth environmental aspects and their effects on the dimensions of the Navy and its personnel outlined above. I wish to emphasize that although stated individually, these aspects inevitably interact in complex ways with one another, compounding their effects, direct and indirect, on the Navy’s personnel function, which dimensions also interact in complex and frequently unpredictable ways, leaving the door wide open for unintended consequences to follow from purposive actions to reorganize the personnel system. Consequently, this essay is organized more or less chronologically rather than by personnel dimensions and environmental aspects. By emphasizing temporal context, this approach highlights the simultaneity of changes in and complex interactions among these key variables.


21 See Chisholm (2001), ch. 1 on problem solving and institutional development. On the concept and implications of “unintended consequences” see Robert K. Merton, “The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action.: American Sociological Review 1 (1936): 894–904.

22 On the concept of organizations as open systems, see James D. Thompson, Organizations in Action: Social Science Bases of Administrative Theory (New York: McGraw Hill, 1967); and W. R. Scott, Organizations: Rational, Natural, and Open Systems, 5th Edition (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002).

5.         Where to Look

As with any historical research, developing an understanding of naval personnel writ large or along specific dimensions translates to employing a wide range of primary and secondary sources. Congressional legislative activities, whether they result in a law or not, provide considerable grist for the mill: draft legislation, subcommittee and committee hearing testimony and reports, and transcripts of floor debates (in the Congressional Record) help to build a picture of important issues and the positions and thoughts of interested actors. They also help limn out the executive and legislative processes, formal and informal, by which draft bills become law, and how changes in them over time affect substantive outcomes.

Reports from the Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office (née General Accounting Office) serve similarly. Navy-generated data and reports through the Navy Personnel Command and its Bureau of Naval Personnel, along with reports from the Chief of Naval Operations’ former Strategic Studies Group in Newport, are essential to any historical study. However, issues of security classification for post–World War II materials might hinder access, usage, and citation.23 The National Archives maintains records of 50 years or greater for the executive departments—newer means going directly to the Navy. Even where data are not classified, its sensitivity, say for comparative promotion and command screen rates for different line communities, although worthwhile, tends to make it challenging to obtain. One might review the old print editions of All Hands (previously Bureau of Navigation News Bulletin, first published in 1922, the name changed in 1945), which are archived online and searchable, along with its contemporary online incarnation.

Finding and accessing documentary resources may prove to become more rather than less challenging with the trend toward electronic generation, communication, and storage of official papers intensifying over the past two decades.24 Email, especially, may play a central role in personnel policy matters, but is particularly thorny to discover and access.


23 The present author elected to end his own study of Navy officer personnel in 1941 in part because of the sensitivity of the topic—the relevant actors to that date were deceased by the time of the research—but also because the problem of access to Navy documents and security classifications.

24 See, for example, General Accounting Office, The Challenge of Electronic Records Management. Statement of L. Nye Stevens, Director, Federal Management and Workforce Issues, General Government Division. Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Government Management, Information, and Technology Committee on Government Reform, House of Representatives. 20 October 1999; Kenneth Thibodeau, “The Electronic Records Archives Program at the National Archives and Records Administration” First Monday, Vol. 12, No. 7 (July 2007).; and Jessie Kratz, “The Challenges of Electronic Records.”

Think tanks and their studies occupy a kind of in-between ground. A World War II institutional innovation, such include nonpartisan stalwarts as the RAND Corporation (first organized in 1948) and the Center for Naval Analyses (initially organized in 1942) that produce under contract with the military services (and others) research, analyses, and recommendations on a range of issues, including personnel problems and policies. More recently, more partisan-focused organizations such as the Heritage Foundation (founded 1973) and the Center for a New American Security (CNAS, founded in 2006) have also produced useful reports and recommendations.

Oral histories and memoirs are also important primary sources but the historian may feel a little like a baleen whale straining many tons of sea water to get a few krill—references are there, and sometimes become important guideposts for further research, but one must sort through many words to find them. Neither have oral histories been systematically and consistently collected for naval officers (let alone enlisted personnel) as they have been for personnel of the other services. The U.S. Naval Institute maintains a significant, if not entirely up-to-date, collection, as does the Naval Historical Foundation, along with the Naval War College.

Published secondary sources include articles in general circulation newspapers, especially papers of record such as the New York Times and Washington Post, but also in local or regional newspapers that circulate in Navy-intensive geographic areas, such as San Diego (San Diego Union-Tribune—merged from two newspapers in 1992) and Norfolk (Virginian-Pilot). Specialized publications such as Military Times and its more focused Navy Times and Marine Times can be very fruitful. These are the modern descendants of the wonderful old print-weeklies, the Army and Navy Journal and Army and Navy Register. That they may be accessed and searched online eases research. Ditto for the wide array of Navy-focused blogs and websites that provide unique material for the last two decades and offer insights into the thinking of Navy officers. Along with oral histories and memoirs, these sources are particularly useful for divining how social issues and changes affect the Navy’s personnel, sometimes generating strong feelings and “warm contentions” among competing groups.

Articles and letters published by the U.S. Naval Institute in its monthly Proceedings magazine (in print and online) might be reasonably considered, depending on their authorship and content, as either primary or secondary sources. Articles in the Naval War College Review, first published in 1948 in print and recent years also online, with an online searchable comprehensive archive, are more likely to serve as secondary sources. It should also be remembered that since the unification of the services under the National Security Act of 1947, personnel policies have become increasingly, though not comprehensively, standardized across the several military services, which means that the researcher must cast a wider net.

Studies by scholars and pundits, published in book form, along with both academic and popular biographies, make up the final dimension of material suitable for historical research into Navy personnel matters.

Collectively, these primary and secondary sources may be employed to develop a reasonably complete narrative for both the broad trends and the dynamics of specific aspects in naval personnel since 1945.

6.         By the Time of Pearl Harbor and into World War II

In the nearly 150 years of its history from its rebirth in 1793 to the onset of World War II, the Navy devoted surprising time and effort—which included the inevitable false starts and errors of understanding—to figuring out a personnel function that would produce the Pug Henrys among its officers and their enlisted equivalents. It elaborated the structure of officer grades and enlisted ranks with their respective duties that endures largely intact today. It devised a scheme of specialization dividing responsibilities between line and staff and defined what it meant to be a line officer (although the exact places of aviators and non-aviators in the line were still under discussion).25 The distribution of officers and enlisted into the grades and ranks had been refined and algorithms for its adjustment figured out, based largely on ratios of personnel to capital ship tonnage. It established and refined a multidimensional system of commissioning officers (Naval Academy, Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps, and Naval Aviation Cadets) and recruiting enlisted. A naval reserve of officers and enlisted had been established and institutionalized and its relationship to the regular Navy agreed upon.26 Officer promotion by selection up from lieutenant(j.g.) to lieutenant through rear admiral was well-established (having been initiated in 1916 for the Navy’s top three grades), and, if not universally acclaimed, accepted as legitimate by both line and staff. It included a regularized calendar, well-defined precepts for the boards of officers who made the selections, and established procedures for the selection boards, many of which endure to the present day.

Career paths for officers were more or less defined, including progressive levels of responsibility, professional education (including a system of education by correspondence for enlisted personnel, initiated by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels), and training.27


25 On the matter of naval aviators, see Donald Chisholm, “Big Guns versus Wooden Decks: Naval Aviation Officer Personnel, 1911–1941,” 52–78 in Douglas V. Smith (Editor), One Hundred Years of U.S. Navy Air Power. Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2010.

26 For a carefully researched and highly readable comprehensive history of the naval reserve, see David Winkler’s Ready Then, Ready Now, Ready Always: More than Century of Service by Citizen Sailors (Washington, DC: Navy Reserve Centennial Book Committee, 2014).The status of reserve officers and enlisted personnel relative to the line was solved formally even if informally the reserves remained in a decidedly second-tier status compared to the regulars. Moreover, some reserves, those commissioned through four-year Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) programs, were more equal than reserve officers commissioned via the several wartime-only programs. Notably, a World War II ship’s deck log indicated commissioning source for each officer joining the ship’s company. Reserve officers commissioned through NROTC before the war typically advanced to lieutenant commander during the war, while the “lesser” wartime commissioned reserve officers only promoted to lieutenant.

27 On the matter of correspondence-based education for the Navy’s enlisted personnel, see Richard McKenna, “The Wreck of Uncle Josephus,” 155–83 in Robert Shenk (Editor), The Left-Handed Monkey Wrench: Stories and Essays by Richard McKenna (Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 1984). Best known as the author of The Sand Pebbles, McKenna served in the old Asiatic Fleet from 1931–1941, thence through World War II aboard a troop transport in all oceans, and stayed through the Korean War, retiring in 1953. He credited Daniels’ education program for Sailors for much of his own development while in the service.


Time in each grade had been normalized and the need for flow through the grades understood if not entirely achieved. In support of those paths and flow the Navy had in place a reasonably efficient system for assigning duty with a regularized and predictable annual rotation. The pay structure was well developed and deemed effective for its purpose. There was a system of graded retirement (based initially on age and then years of service) in place for officers and enlisted. In all of this it must be said that the Navy had advanced further toward a modern professional personnel than had its sister service. In fine, the personnel foundation had been constructed that would allow the Navy’s effective expansion to a previously unimagined size during the course of prosecuting World War II.28

But this relative success should not lead us to assume that the history of personnel had somehow ended on the eve of World War II. In fact, the demands of wartime dictated suspending many of the personnel procedures for the duration. For example, promotion by selection up gave way temporarily to promotion en bloc for regular and reserve officers alike. As well, a great many officers who had been separated from the service for non-selection, medical disability, or normal service-in-grade retirement were returned to active duty for the duration in order to meet exigent demands for more officers.29

During this century and a half of problem solving, three central values emerged, in uneasy dynamic tension with one another, to dominate decisions about the Navy’s personnel. Their relative importance varied substantially over time and continues to do so: efficiency (effectiveness) of the Navy, equity for individuals (more for officers than for enlisted during this period), and economy, which is to say near and long-term expense (including pay and allowances along with the cost of the retired list). The period from the Navy’s inception in 1793 to the eve of World War II is accurately described as “from equity to efficiency.” Early in the Navy’s history, when efficiency and equity came into close conflict, the latter typically emerged triumphant. By 1916, however, and initial adoption of promotion by selection up for officers, the balance had tilted in favor of efficiency and so it has remained. Economy has waxed and waned in importance, growing during peacetime and diminishing in times of expansion and war. Since


28 See Chisholm (2001). Still, the place and status of aviators in relation to non-aviators had not been resolved and the so-called “hump” slowed promotion and hurt morale among junior officers, especially.

29 The present author’s family history is emblematic. Commissioned as an ensign in the Naval Reserve in May 1936 through the NROTC program at the University of California, Berkeley, the author’s father, William K. Chisholm, went on his first active duty in July 1940 as a 28-year-old ensign aboard the four-stack destroyer Brooks (DD-232). By late 1943, he was a 31-year-old temporary lieutenant commander and went on to command a destroyer minesweeper, Boggs (DMS-3), and, subsequently, an amphibious unit, LSM Group 37, at Okinawa. As with other such officers, at the conclusion of the war he was confirmed as a permanent lieutenant commander.

9/11, however, the United States has been more or less in a continuous state of war in one place or another, with no relief in sight, which may mean the old approach to economy may have been overcome by events.

Thus, by the post–World War II period under consideration here, an effective main framework for the Navy’s personnel function was in place. What did not emerge before the war, and indeed, after, however, was the inclusion of major portions of the American population into the Navy—including African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Filipinos, and women. Like the larger American society, the Navy remained racially segregated, both de jure and de facto, with women being treated only as necessary temporary accommodations to the exigencies of wartime. Unsurprising to social scientists who have studied political development, organizations in their values, culture, and form can only exist if reasonably consistent with the societies within which they reside.30

The Navy was, historically, the most class conscious of the military services, with a great divide between officers and enlisted, a chasm reinforced both by formal rules and endless symbolic communication.31 And, as a self-consciously tradition-focused organization that venerated and exalted longstanding ways of doing business, from the Navy’s perspective at the time, equal protection and equal opportunity were simply not problems to be addressed. Social and economic mobility, a historic latent function of the military generally, and especially afforded by the Navy—through training and education, responsibility, and pay and benefits—to those white Americans who would join were not available to many other fellow citizens. It would take an existential war and a virtually insatiable demand for personnel to begin that change.32


30 See Martin Landau, “Linkage, Coding, and Intermediacy,” Journal of Comparative Administration 2 (1971): 401–29; and Arthur L. Stinchcombe, “Social Structure and Organizations,” 142–93 in James G. March (editor), Handbook of Organizations (Chicago: Rand-McNally, 1965).

31 On the interwar naval culture and its carryover into World War II and beyond, see Thomas C. Hone and Trent Hone, Battle Line: The United States Navy 19191939 (Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2006); and Theodore C. Mason’s remarkable trio of memoirs: Battleship Sailor. With a foreword by Edward L. Beach (Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 1982); We Will Stand by You: Serving in the Pawnee, 19421945(Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 1990); and Rendezvous with Destiny: A Sailor’s War (Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 1997); along with James J. Fahey, Pacific War Diary, 19421945 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1963). For a social history of the early Navy officer corps see Christopher McKee’s brilliant A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession: The Creation of the U.S. Naval Officer Corps, 17941815 (Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 1991). For an analysis of the 19th century social aspects of the officer corps, see Peter Karsten, The Naval Aristocracy: The Golden Age of Annapolis and the Emergence of Modern American Navalism (Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 1972). When Karsten’s book was first published, it quickly became known in some circles as the “Little Red Book,” an unfavorable allusion to Mao’s infamous publication known colloquially by the same name. That it was excellent work and continues to have legs is evidenced by its republication in 2008 by the U.S. Naval Institute. Social histories of the U.S. Navy owe a debt to Michael Lewis’ several books on the British Royal Navy, beginning with A Social History of The Royal Navy, 17931815 (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1960), which demonstrated the value of social histories for understanding the behavior of navies.

32 See Catherine N. Barry, Moving On Up? U.S. Military Service, Education and Labor Market Mobility among Children of Immigrants. PhD Dissertation. University of California, Berkeley, 2013. See also Patricia Danette Light, Marching Upward: The Role of the Military in Social Stratification and Mobility in American Society. PhD Dissertation. Department of Sociology, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. 1 May 1998.

7.         Immediate Post-War Changes and Challenges: Drawdown, Limited Conflicts, and Integration

With the successful conclusion of World War II, the United States was left standing as the dominant Western power, and the prevailing notion of an “American way of war” had been reinforced.33 The mid-1940 Navy comprised 13,162 regular and officers on active duty and 144,824 enlisted personnel. By mid-1945 it had grown to an astounding historical peak of 317,316 officers in all corps and 1,933,563 enlisted. Demobilization was relatively swift as historically has been the American wont. After all, only a small percentage of those officers and enlisted who had served for the duration were to be needed and just as few were interested in staying. Indeed, there was no reason to suppose that the United States could not return to its historical stance of a small military establishment—the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans remained where they were, ICBM’s were yet to come, the Soviet Union’s blockade of Berlin, its other adventures in Europe, and the North Korean attack on its southern brother had not yet put paid to that era’s “peace dividend.”

While the near-term challenge was to return recently mothballed ships to commission and activate the reserve personnel to run them for the duration of the Korean War, the Navy’s (and the other services’) challenge became how to maintain a permanently larger (than pre–World War II) establishment to confront what became a persistent Soviet threat. Fortunately, the draft was continued after the war, providing the Navy with the relative advantage of a greater appeal than that held by the Army, enhanced by a civilian economy that struggled to absorb the return of so many people who had served in the military. The status and role of the naval reserve and how it would support the Cold War Navy outside of a major hot war also came into discussion.

With the United States and its military now cast in a continuing and central role upon the world stage after the war, the tectonic plates of federal government organization also shifted dramatically. The growth of the federal administrative apparatus, incremental since the founding and accelerated during the Great Depression and again during the war, had left the President with an unsustainable span of control, no institutional presidency to assist him in running that apparatus, and a welter of agencies with overlapping and conflicting missions. At President Harry Truman’s request, former President Herbert Hoover returned from trout fishing in Wyoming to run a commission that comprehensively analyzed federal administrative


33 The “American Way of War:” Russell Weigley’s argument that historically the United States has preferred to maintain a small military; if deterrence fails, mobilize massively, vanquish the foe, and return in relatively short order to victory parades, demobilization, and a peacetime military establishment. See his The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy (New York: Macmillan, 1973). The size and prominence of the post–World War II U.S. military that several generations have become accustomed to seeing runs directly at odds with American history up to that point.

management problems and proposed courses of action for their resolution.34  In the national security domain, this endeavor coincided with a long-standing desire by advocates of a separate air force for a unified department of defense. Perhaps equally important, some of the nation’s most senior military leaders, such as George C. Marshall and Dwight D. Eisenhower, had emerged from their experiences in World War II with profound regard for the power of joint commands and staffs in the conduct of joint arms. For example, in his post-war narrative, Eisenhower emphasized several times the vital importance of what he called the “air-ground-naval team” even as he recounted his recurring efforts to ensure unity of command over his disparate forces.35 The Navy’s days of independent steaming were coming to an end.

Not without considerable blood on the deck, as a piece of the larger reorganization of the federal government, the National Security Act of 1947 became effective 26 July of that year, establishing, among other things, a unified Department of Defense, with a defense secretary superimposed above the service secretaries (no longer members of the cabinet), a legally formalized Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a new Department of the Air Force. It comprised the greatest changes in national security organization since the ratification of the Constitution.36 This left the Navy with much less independence than previously to manage its own affairs, including those of its personnel. The Officer Personnel Act of 1947 (OPA) followed on 7 August 1947, with the stated intention of providing uniform rules and practices in personnel management across the services. Ironically, perhaps, this act adopted many of the key aspects of the Navy’s officer personnel system as it then stood and made them applicable to the other services. Thus, while the new law was substantively congenial to the Navy, procedurally the sea service had lost a large measure of control over how to manage its personnel. This constituted only the beginning stage of a long series of incremental joint requirements that would reduce the Navy’s independence.

These changes were followed less than a year later on 26 July 1948 by Truman’s Presidential Executive Order 9981, which directed immediate desegregation of the armed forces. Major wars inevitably trigger unintended significant social, economic, and political changes. President Franklin Roosevelt had published an Executive Order on 25 June 1941 mandating non-discrimination in defense industry employment. To meet the requirements of economic


34 The scope of the Hoover Commission’s work was breathtaking and unprecedented in American history. It left virtually no aspect of the federal government’s organization unexamined. See Commission on the Reorganization of the Executive Branch of the Government, Task Force on National Security Organization, National Security Organization: A Report with Recommendations. January 1949. For an analysis of the Hoover Commission’s work more broadly, see Ferrell Heady, “The Reorganization Act of 1949,” Public Administration Review 9 (Summer 1949): 165–74; and “The Reports of the Hoover Commission” Review of Politics 11 (July 1949): 355–78.

35 See Dwight D. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe (Garden City, NY: 1948), 152, 154, 158, 223, 261, 266, 384.

36 For the sea services’ perspectives on defense unification, see Jeff Barlow, Revolt of the Admirals: The Fight for Naval Aviation, 19451950 (Washington, DC: Naval Historical Center, 1994) and Gordon W. Kaiser, The U.S. Marines and Defense Unification, 194447 (Baltimore, MD: Nautical and Aviation Publishing Company of America, 1996). Although President Roosevelt established a Joint Chiefs of Staff early in World War II, it had no legal status, and, as Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy pointed out, such left its function and importance entirely malleable by the President as he saw fit. See his memoir, I Was There (New York: McGraw Hill, 1950).

mobilization for an existential war, every available and able American was needed. African Americans had been prohibited from enlisting in the Navy following World War I. In 1932, that ban was lifted, but only mess ratings were opened to them. On 7 March 1942, the Navy opened enlistment for “general service” in the Navy to black Americans. Although ultimately about 150,000 African Americans served in the Navy during World War II, they remained greatly restricted in the enlisted ratings open to them, were limited to a quota of ten percent per ship, and most neither went to sea nor saw combat. There were no male African American officers until 1945.37

Notably, the Navy had employed African Americans as stevedores in segregated units, and thereon hangs the tale.38 On 17 July 1944, two ships being loaded with ammunition at the Navy’s Port Chicago facility on Suisun Bay in northern California exploded, immediately killing more than 300 personnel, over 200 of whom were black. The explosion and aftermath proved to be a catalytic event in the history of African Americans in the Navy (and in the military more generally), although its effects would not begin to be felt clearly until Presidential Executive Order 9981.39 For quite some time, the U.S. military and the Navy (even though it may have dragged its feet in implementing the required changes) led the broader civilian society in opening opportunities to black Americans, presaging similar openings for American women, for gay and lesbian Americans, and more recently for transgender Americans. Still, it was not the beginning of the end, but more like Winston Churchill’s famous “end of the beginning”—formal legal changes did not universally translate into actual practice.

The effects of mobilization during the Korean War and the subsequent drawdown led to what Congress believed to be military services top-heavy with commissioned officers. To redress this problem and to forestall it in the future, the Officer Grade Limitation Act of 1954 (OGLA) was enacted. It linked numbers of officers by grade in the unrestricted line and staff corps to the numbers of enlisted personnel.40 This law shaped the Navy’s reduction in force already underway following the Korean armistice.

That same year, on 17 May the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its epochal decision in Brown v. Board of Education of the City of Topeka, Kansas. The profound, widespread effects of this ruling took decades to unfold, followed by other federal rulings, and federal legislation, including the Civil Rights Act of 2 July 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 6 August 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 11 April 1968 (passed barely a week after the assassination of Martin Luther King). All told, these laws comprehensively addressed the sources and loci of racial discrimination in the United States. Now more than 50 years later, American society and its military are still working through the challenges.


37 See Paul Stillwell, The Golden Thirteen: Recollections of the First Black Naval Officers (Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2003). Two African American nurses were commissioned in 1944.

38 Two days after Pearl Harbor, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) telegrammed then Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, requesting that all enlisted ratings be opened to African Americans. Knox denied the request. One week later the NAACP made the same request of President Roosevelt, who turned the matter over to his newly created Fair Employment Practices Committee, whose positive recommendation was negatively received by the Navy, whereupon the President sent a note to Secretary Knox suggesting that the Navy could probably find something for black Americans to do outside the mess ratings.

The General Board recommended on 27 March 1942 against opening up all naval enlisted ratings to African Americans on the curious rationale that there were plenty of capable African Americans who would earn promotion, thereby placing them in supervisory roles over other Sailors, some of whom would be southern whites, and disciplinary issues undesirable during a war would arise. On 7 April 1942, the Navy announced that African Americans could enlist for “general service.” Two ship-manning experiments were conducted using all-black crews with white officers, a destroyer escort, Mason (DE-529), and a 173-foot submarine chaser, PC-1264. On these two ships, see Mary Pat Kelly, Proudly We Served: The Men of the USS Mason (Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 1995); and Eric Purdon, Black Company: The Story of Subchaser 1264 (New York: Robert C. Luce, 1972). A white, Purdon was PC-1264’s commanding officer from commissioning in April 1944 to September 1945. Future flag officer then ENS Samuel Gravely reported aboard as the executive officer in May 1945, and saw her through decommissioning in February 1946.

39 See Robert L. Allen, The Port Chicago Mutiny (San Francisco: Heyday, 2006).

40 On at least two previous occasions Congress had attempted to reduce and limit the overage of naval officers. It froze the numbers and distribution of officers at their existing levels in 1842 in consequence of concerns over expense, and again in 1882 froze the numbers and distribution of officers, and also reduced annual admissions to the Naval Academy. See Chisholm (2001), chs. 8 and 16.

8.         Into the 1960s and 1970s

Racial conflict in the nation’s urban areas in the 1960s and 1970s did not leave the Navy unaffected. Neither did growing opposition to the Vietnam War and generational differences between young officers and Sailors and their seniors, who had started their Navy careers during World War II. Aboard ship, relations between white and black Sailors were often strained, sometimes worse:

 [R]ecruiting standards were lowered and basic-training shortened to fill the Navy’s manpower needs more quickly and in fairer racial proportion. As much as anything, the new recruitment policies spelled trouble. Men lacking even an elementary education were entering an organization whose greatest demand was for personnel with high technical qualifications. Blacks were rushed from “street to fleet” in less than two months, only to find themselves performing the least attractive shipboard duties, usually under white supervision.41

Thus, efforts to redress racial problems may well have increased the potential for, if not the probability of, racial tension aboard ship, exacerbated by the high operational tempo and extended deployments.

The antiwar movement also found adherents in uniform and at times the lines on the two sets of issues coincided. In a number of cases, the situation deteriorated into violence. Ranger (CVA-61) suffered perhaps a dozen acts of deliberate sabotage while deployed June–October 1972, the most serious of which was committed by a white sailor who threw a wrench into the main


41 Leonard F. Guttridge, Mutiny: A History of Naval Insurrection (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1992, 260.

reduction gears.42 A fire was deliberately set in Forrestal (CVA-59). On 11 October 1972, while she was operating as part of Operation Linebacker II off the coast of Vietnam, a full-bore riot broke out among white and black Sailors amid an antiwar protest in Kitty Hawk (CVA-63), leaving at least four dozen injured and 25 black Sailors and no white Sailors arrested.43 Aboard Constellation (CVA-64), 130 sailors, all but nine of whom were African Americans, protested discriminatory job assignments and disciplinary proceedings, forcing the ship to return to San Diego.44

To be sure, in 1970 President Nixon had named 49-year-old Elmo Zumwalt as Chief of Naval Operations. The admiral resolved to bring the “Navy’s treatment of ethnic or racial minorities, especially blacks, into conformity with stated national policy, not to say common fairness and decency.”45 He moved rapidly to reduce racial and sexual as it was then called discrimination in the Navy and to increase enlistments of African Americans. Aboard the larger ships he emplaced minority affairs and human relations staff officers. Their efficacy was unclear. There were also his direct communications of policy decisions and their implementation to all hands via a total of 121 “Z-Grams,” and his relaxation of restrictions on facial hair and ethnic hairstyles, along with changes in uniforms, these, sincere efforts to address significant generational changes.

Zumwalt’s efforts were at times simultaneously staunchly opposed by his fellow senior officers and deemed insufficient by younger Sailors. He has not always been treated kindly by history and occasionally has been vilified. However, it is difficult to conjure what might have been done very differently by Zumwalt—all of American society’s institutions were under similar great stress during that time. Zumwalt allowed the Navy to bend, not break.46

The military draft, which had been maintained continuously since 1940, was, by the Act of 22 September 1971, continued in effect only through June 1973.47 Apart from those actually drafted, conscription had played a significant role in “encouraging” some of those American youth who


42 See the Associated Press news story of 20 November 1972 at,2750985&hl=en.

43 Gregory A. Freeman, Troubled Water: Race, Mutiny, and Bravery on the USS Kitty Hawk (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

44 For an overview of race relations in the Navy during the Vietnam War, see Jon Darrell Sherwood, Black Sailor, White Navy: Racial Unrest in the Fleet During the Vietnam War Era (New York: New York University Press, 2007). To place the 1970s events aboard ship in larger context, see Christopher M. Bell and Bruce A. Elleman (Editors), Naval Mutinies of the Twentieth Century: An International Perspective (Cass Series: Naval Policy and History) (London: Routledge, 2003). Guttridge (1992), 258, asserts that by the end of 1972 “the United States Navy would log seventy-four instances of sabotage, more than half on aircraft carriers, none of them attributable to ‘enemy’ action.” He provides no source for this claim.

45 As quoted by Guttridge (1992), 259.

46 For the Navy’s upbeat assessment of its own efforts, see “A Look at the Human Side: A Review of the Navy’s Long-Range Human Goals Plan” All Hands No. 682, November 1973, 3–17.

47 See Bernard Rostker, I Want You! The Evolution of the All-Volunteer Force (Washington, DC: RAND Corporation, 2006) and Morris Janowitz, “The All-Volunteer Military as a ‘Sociopolitical’ Problem,” Social Problems 22 (February 1975): 432–49.

“volunteered” for military service, especially in the Navy. Male registration for Selective Service was reinstated by Presidential Proclamation 4771 of 2 July 1980, but neither military nor civilian leadership have displayed much appetite for an actual draft. Now over four decades in, the “all volunteer” force has largely been judged a successful policy and it would be useful to sort out its effects on the Navy’s personnel during that period.48

Opposition to the Vietnam War in the American public and rising levels of a general societal malaise also had their effects on the Navy’s officer personnel. As with the other services, toward the end of the Vietnam War, the Navy lost substantial numbers of junior officers who decided that the seagoing life was not for them.49 The Navy’s loss was the private sector’s gain. Although not readily empirically measurable, it also seems probable that individuals who might in a different time have opted for the Naval Academy or the NROTC now elected not to do so. We cannot know with any certainty who these individuals were but we may be reasonably confident that had they been commissioned and stayed in the Navy the senior officer corps in the late 1990s and early 2000s would have looked noticeably different.

More recently, the effects of the business models instituted by Admiral Vern Clark while Chief of Naval Operations included the systematic reduction of manning aboard ship and the decommissioning of ships—which were not replaced one-for-one. These changes, in which economic efficiency was to trump effectiveness, were not so troubling during the relative calm of the period immediately following the end of the Cold War, when deployments and operational tempo continued in predictable and bearable calendars.50 However, the wars in Afghanistan, then Iraq, and now Syria and elsewhere, combined with the resurgent Bear and the rise of the Peoples Republic of China, have increased demand for naval forces—in the form of longer and more frequent deployments—that has stretched both materiel and personnel. Naval personnel who thought they were signing up for one contract are finding that they have gotten a somewhat different one, and one not altogether to their liking. Secular changes in demographics and social attitudes during the immediate post-war period and through to today, including more families with both parents working fulltime and decreased willingness to endure separations from families, have intensified the negative effects of increased personnel tempo. Some promising officers have resigned their commissions relatively early in their careers while other more senior successful officers have elected to take themselves out of the running for the flag grades by choosing duty assignments friendlier to their families but not in “flag track.”51


48 See, for example, Karl W. Eikenberry, “Reassessing the All-Volunteer Force,” Washington Quarterly 36 (Winter 2013): 7–24; and Congressional Budget Office, The All-Volunteer Military: Issues and Performance (Washington, DC: 2007).

49 Admiral Zumwalt’s second Z-Gram as CNO named the problem of retaining both officers and enlisted as the Navy’s single most important personnel challenge. He employed so-called Retention Study Groups to brainstorm ideas for improving retention rates, resulting in changes in post-deployment leave policies along with attire and grooming policies. See

50 Ship deployments during the Cold War came to be planned out years in advance, which allowed not only regularly scheduled time for yard availabilities, but a useful predictability for naval personnel and their families. That regularity went away during Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure as Secretary of Defense, amid the greater uncertainty attendant to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and the declining number of ships in commission.

51 The ground services appear to have been more immediately and profoundly affected than the Navy and the Air Force by the operational and personnel tempos occasioned by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, losing great numbers of captains and majors in the combat arms.

9.         Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps

During the first five decades of the Navy’s history, there was no rationalized, systematic mechanism for annually securing the right individuals in the right numbers as officers, and only inadequate means for their education and training. The numbers varied widely from year to year, based largely on requirements for patronage, rather than the needs of the service. Appointment as a midshipman was treated as a plum and indeed, for young men politically connected, half-pay provided a decent sinecure. Many never went to sea and ashore earned well-deserved reputations as dissolutes. Their education and training was better than haphazard, via a Corps of Mathematicians teaching aboard ship, but only just. Establishment of the U.S. Naval Academy in 1845 and a system for appointment of the appropriate number of qualified cadets thereto largely solved the problem of numbers and education for a stable peacetime Navy. As the demands of the Civil War showed, however, the Naval Academy would never be sufficient to supply officers to meet the requirements of a greatly expanded wartime Navy. For that conflict, the Navy accepted volunteer officers, largely from the merchant marine, for the duration. Enlisted personnel were increased by voluntary enlistments.

During World War I the vast expansion of the Navy occasioned by the Act of 29 August 1916 once again necessitated sourcing officers from other than Annapolis. The great lesson of the Great War was that some sort of permanent mechanism for temporarily expanding the Navy, especially its officer corps, needed to be put in place. Accordingly, in 1926, following the model of the Army’s previously established Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) was organized at a strength of 1,200 midshipmen at six universities. On graduation, the midshipmen were commissioned as reserve officers. The Naval Aviation Cadet program was created in 1935 to build a larger foundation of reserve officers in preparation for wartime expansion.

World War II’s projected and actual requirements quickly exceeded the supply from the Naval Academy and existing reserve programs. In June 1940, as part of the Two-Ocean Navy Act, Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s Schools were established at various colleges and universities, and, thus, the so-called “90-day wonders.” In 1943, the V-12 program, again through colleges and universities, aimed to further increase the numbers of commissioned officers educated in the technical curricula the Navy required. Both programs worked wonderfully well to provide both

line and staff officers. Notably, the V-12 program also had as another stated objective: arresting the decline in college enrollment caused by the military draft and increasing the college population.

The Navy’s modern Officer Candidate School (OCS) and staff officer equivalents evolved from World War II’s V-7 and V-12 programs, and today comprises the third commissioning source for line officers. The Navy Aviation Officer Candidate School started training at Pensacola in 1947, while the Navy Officer Candidate School was organized at Newport in 1951. The two merged in 1994 at Pensacola, and in 2007 moved to Newport. Both programs ultimately came to reflect the requirements of permanently maintaining a large Navy during the decades of the Cold War—a policy decision unprecedented in American history. When and how NROTC and OCS graduates have been commissioned, whether as reservists or regulars, and the length and type of their post-commissioning commitments has varied over time with the needs of the Navy.

Although commissioning officers through NROTC and OCS was initially intended simply to provide means for temporary expansion, and was then institutionalized to produce a steady stream of officers above and beyond the capacity of the Naval Academy, these organizations have also come to serve other policy objectives (as the V-12 program did during World War II). The nation has found it desirable for a democracy to source officers from more than just the military academies. The education of OCS- and NROTC-commissioned officers overlaps with their Naval Academy counterparts in military science and relevant technical curricula, but their college studies overall range more widely. This has helped to serve the purpose of creating and maintaining an officer corps that broadly reflects the American population, especially important under the regime of an all-volunteer force, but also ensures a range of perspectives on the business of the Navy, enhancing creativity and organizational innovation.

Inevitably and understandably, these programs created internal conflicts in the officer corps, based on commissioning source, that were evident from the post–Civil War period through World War II. Naval Academy graduates, rightly or wrongly, have often been perceived to have an edge over their regular-Navy counterparts when it comes to promotion to the higher grades and selection for command. To be sure, quantitative data on these matters have not been readily available. This author suspects, but can muster no systematic evidence to support, that in recent decades such differences have attenuated due to the high operational tempo and a new generation.

Perhaps more important—at least more visible—than any conflicts internal to the officer corps, have been differences in values between the larger American society and the military more generally. The upheavals occasioned by the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s, and opposition to that war— sometimes violently—especially on the campuses of universities, led to the banning of NROTC programs from a significant number of schools and their absence from same for several decades, thereby and unfortunately truncating demographic sources for officers.

When the military was downsized following the collapse of the Soviet Union, just as enrollment at the Naval Academy was reduced so were NROTC enrollment numbers and programs reduced. In order to maintain access to students from the widest range of universities and colleges, while still reducing overall numbers and expense, NROTC programs were essentially merged into consortiums, in which students enrolled in one institution became part of programs located at other institutions. For example, under the command of a single Navy captain, the Chicago-area NROTC consortium had staffs at the Illinois Institute of Technology and Northwestern University, and also enrolled students from the University of Illinois, Chicago, and Loyola University.

At about the same time, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of the Clinton administration led to serious discussions among both students and faculty on campuses—both with NROTC programs and without—about how to reconcile university nondiscrimination policies with U.S. military laws and regulations that discriminated against individuals openly homosexual, including enrollment in NROTC programs. The practical effect was, it appears, to delay direct reengagement of universities with the NROTC programs, even after Vietnam-era sentiments had largely faded from their campuses and even though after 9/11 the military has been increasingly perceived positively. With recent changes in federal law and Department of Defense regulations regarding sexual preference and gender identity, it is entirely possible that more civilian colleges and universities will rethink their policies concerning NROTC.

10.       DOPMA

The first major reworking of officer personnel after OPA and OGLA did not come until the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act of 12 December 1980 (DOPMA). It went further than the earlier legislation with the specific aim to produce greater uniformity across the military services in the management of their officer personnel. It established relatively stable and predictable (“normalized”) career paths for officers, used graded retirement to protect equity for individual officers who were forced to retire for not having been selected for promotion (the “up or out” rule after two “looks”). The objective was to produce a vigorous, relatively youthful, highly professional officer corps that would enhance military efficiency. It absorbed and modified the rules embedded in the earlier OPA and OGLA. Nearly four decades later, DOPMA is judged a mixed success but efforts to rescind or substantially modify it have not found sufficient support.52


52 See Donald J. Cymrot, Paul W. Mayberry, and Michael Mara, Managing Military Careers (Alexandria, VA: Center for Naval Analyses, 1998) and Pete Schirmer, Harry J. Thie, Margaret C. Harrell, and Michael S. Tseng. Challenging Time in DOPMA Flexible and Contemporary Military Officer Management (Washington, DC: RAND Corporation, 2006); and, more recently, Pete Schirmer and Dwight “Buzz” Philips. “A ‘Measured Approach’ To Managing Military Officers.” 15 July 2015.

11.       Goldwater-Nichols, Jointness, and Education

And now we come to the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. 53 Problems in Operations Desert One, Just Cause, and Urgent Fury catalyzed a long-standing congressional inclination toward imposing requirements for jointness on the U.S. military services into action. This produced the Goldwater-Nichols Act, which created the combatant commands, elevated joint doctrine, and established Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) requirements for officers of all services. These changes wrought a profound realignment of service and joint responsibilities, resulting in changes in educational and experience requirements for promotion. The operational level commanders of the geographic and functional combatant commands became the ones to employ the forces provided by the Title 10 service chiefs. The service chiefs themselves suffered a reduction in formal power while the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff acquired more.

At the same time, technological changes in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance coupled with greatly improved precision in weapons also altered the way in which the U.S. military goes to war, increasing the importance of joint staffs, joint planning for and joint command of operations. In this brave new world, a lieutenant commander not destined ever to command might, as a member of a joint targeting board on a joint commander’s staff, exercise a more profound influence on carrier air strikes than the embarked carrier air wing commander serving as the Navy strike warfare commander (under the composite warfare command concept), with a high probability of making flag. The apparent end of the Cold War, the absence of a deep-water naval threat (until recently), and near continuous conduct of low intensity land operations (punctuated by two invasions of Iraq) cast the Navy in a supporting role to land commanders (whose services have played dominant roles in writing joint doctrine). More recently, constraints on budget resources have impelled an increased reliance of each military service, including the Navy, on capabilities and capacities of its counterparts. Taken together, these changes suggest the wisdom of reconsidering how the Navy thinks about what it means to be a naval officer.

Naval officers found themselves subject to externally-imposed schoolhouse joint education milestones (Joint Professional Military Education I and II) that ran counter to a longstanding Navy indifference toward post-graduate education, unless such specifically advanced directly relevant technical knowledge (i.e., ordnance engineering, underwater acoustics, hydrography, and the like). Throughout its more than two-century history the U.S. Navy, like its progenitor the Continental Navy, and its British Royal Navy forebear, has maintained a certain ambivalence about “how to get good.” On the one hand, as an “old” service, it has tended to favor the “school of the ship” as the most effective means by which officers and enlisted alike might gain the requisite experience and expertise. On the other, it has recognized that as its foundational


53 Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986. Public Law 99-433—1 Oct.1986.

technologies became (and continue to become) vastly more complex some sort of formal training, if not education, concomitantly increased in practical importance.

Against the background of longstanding internal opposition to a “naval school” the Naval Academy was established in 1845—more than four decades after its Army counterpart was founded at West Point—with one portion of its cadets selected to engineering. Following merger of the line with the Corps of Engineers in 1899, the Annapolis curriculum came to be dominated by and known for engineering. The development and growth of Navy schools of all stripes became most dramatic during World War II given the mutually reinforcing demands imposed by rapid technological innovation and integration along the exponential expansion of its personnel. These schools were institutionalized in subsequent years to become an indelible part of Navy life. Following the war, technical education for officers continued in its place of honor, provided by the Naval Postgraduate School and civilian universities.

Against this ready acceptance, the Naval War College has, since its founding in 1884 in the former Newport Asylum for the Poor, enjoyed a peculiarly indifferent relationship with its service. Newport’s broader education regarding the profession of arms at sea loomed important during the interwar years, but was largely suspended for the duration of World War II, and although in recent times praised as the “Navy’s Home of Thought,” and esteemed highly by the other military services, seems never quite to have recovered its former luster in the post-war era.

In autumn 1950 Rear Admiral Arleigh Burke wrote to a young officer that in his view the best way to “get good” was still to go to sea. Officer career paths developed and were largely maintained that emphasize time at sea, and left little time for resident professional education. The Navy continued to emphasize the “school of the ship” and did not build into the normalized career milestones required by DOPMA time for resident education. Where the other military services have historically valued resident graduate education and officers selected for that experience compete before selection boards, the Navy continues to employ its detailers to fill quotas for resident JPME schools. The Navy has favored distance education means for fulfilling JPME I requirements because they do not demand time away from the fleet and still provide the “check in the box.” To its credit, the Navy made completion of JPME I mandatory for successfully screening for O-5 command in the unrestricted line communities.54 The surface warfare community has found ways to build time for resident JPME into its officers’ career paths.

At the same time, the Navy promised every officer one resident graduate education experience.55 This means that officers who go to the Naval Postgraduate School for a master’s degree are also required to complete JPME I during their course of study. For the first two decades following Goldwater-Nichols, the Navy sometimes under-filled their quotas at the Joint Forces


54 This was an ingenious course of action—command screen boards are administrative vice statutory entities, allowing the Navy to change the requirements without having to seek changes in the law.

55 Navy Graduate Education Review Board, “Transforming Graduate and Professional Military Education. Briefing. 2002.

Staff College and regularly sought and gained waivers for JMPE II for their “hot runners.” Waivers largely went away in the mid-2000s at the insistence of Representative Ike Skelton (D-MO) and other members of Congress, and for a time the Navy had to work diligently to ensure that its officers could meet the requirements.

In addition to JPME I and II, for promotion to flag rank Goldwater-Nichols mandated joint tours, and designated specific billets that satisfied those requirements. And again, the Navy, like the other services, had to find room in officers’ career paths to satisfy them.56

The years following Goldwater-Nichols saw extensive development of joint doctrine, but written largely by the other military services, especially the Army, and, not surprisingly, that joint doctrine has reflected those services’ cultures and preferences (for command and control and for planning processes, for example). To the extent that the Navy for some years eschewed an active role in the development of that doctrine it placed itself at a disadvantage, both because the substance of the doctrine did not necessarily favor Navy preferred ways of doing business and naval officers were not well versed in that substance. In recent years the Navy has come to recognize the practical value of JPME as a way of “breaking the code” of joint doctrine and has become increasingly active in producing both doctrine and officers who understand it so that the Navy can compete effectively with the other services—especially with the Air Force over control of the employment of carrier aviation—in the joint arena.

12.       Women in the Navy

For most of its modern history, the Navy maintained an ambivalent attitude about women among its officers and enlisted personnel. Fleet Admiral Ernest King, for example, favored having women serve in the Navy, while Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz decidedly did not. The Navy emerged from World War II having had some 86,000 women serve as nurses or in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) under the provisions of the Naval Reserve Act of 1938 as amended by the Act of 30 July 1942, which established the Women’s Reserve Program. Although the vast majority served in the United States in administrative capacities, a number deployed overseas and some were captured and held as prisoners by the Japanese. However, as had been the case during World War I, women in the naval


56 The emerging vision for the development of joint officers was given fluent expression in Chairman, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Vision for Joint Officer Development. (November 2005). More recently, GEN Dempsey outlined his own vision for military leadership. See Chairman, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Desired Leader Attributes for Joint Force 2020,” Memorandum to Chiefs of the Military Services, Commanders of the Combatant Commands, Chief, National Guard Bureau, and Directors of the Joint Staff Directorates, CM-0166-13, 28 June 2013. . Ironically, one of the coauthors of this document was a recently retired Navy surface warfare officer. On a Navy approach to jointness for officers, see James Stavridis and Mark Hagerott. “The Heart of an Officer: Joint, Interagency, and International Operations and Navy Career Development,” Naval War College Review 62 (Spring 2009): 26–41.

uniform continued to be understood not as a long-term investment but as a temporary expedient during the war with a return to the status quo ante bellum intended.

However, in 1947 the Army-Navy Nurses Act established the Nurse Corps as permanent staff corps of the Navy and Army and granted permanent commissioned rank for nurses. And on 12 June 1948, President Truman signed into law the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, which enabled women to join the Navy in regular or reserve status and disestablished the Women’s Reserve created by the acts of 1938 and 1942. This was no mere change in name; women for the first time were to serve alongside their male counterparts under the same organization, but the specialties open to women remained limited and among officers no flag rank was authorized. Subsequently, female reservists along with male reservists were recalled for active duty during the Korean War. Not until 1967 was a two percent cap on women in the Navy lifted.

Given new energy by the various civil rights laws passed in the 1960s, and having been passed by both U.S. House and Senate, on 22 March 1972 the Equal Rights Amendment was sent to the states for ratification, but ultimately failed to gain the required number of positive votes (38 states) within the time limit specified in the amendment. Less than four months later, on 7 August 1972, Chief of Naval Operations Elmo Zumwalt released Z-Gram 116.57 It was nothing short of revolutionary.

Its objectives were to accord “women equal opportunity to contribute their extensive talents and to achieve full professional status.” He prefaced the substance of the message by noting that (1) the imminence of the all-volunteer force had heightened the importance of women as a personnel resource; (2) he hoped soon to have the authority to utilize female officers and enlisted aboard ship in order to maintain the Navy at the size required and allow for a proper, sustainable sea-shore rotation; and (3) he was establishing a task force to examine all laws, regulations, and policies that required change in order to “eliminate any disadvantages accruing to women from either legal or attitudinal restrictions.”

As had been the case for African Americans and women during World Wars I and II, some of the impetus for women’s inclusion came from a practical realism that continued discrimination imposed an opportunity cost on the Navy and the other military services, one likely to increase in severity under an all-volunteer force regime. The difference was that whereas the wars were temporary, this regime was likely to be long-term if not permanent.

Z-Gram 116 specified several actions already underway to achieve the objectives above:

  • authorizing limited entry of women into all ratings

  • assigning a limited number of women to sea duty on Sanctuary (AH-17) as a pilot program pending legislation that would authorize women to ships at sea

  • removing existing restrictions on women succeeding to command ashore

  • opening up the Civil Engineer and Chaplain Corps, thereby opening all staff corps to women

  • expanding assignment of technically qualified unrestricted line women to restricted line billets

  • offering paths to flag rank within the technical managerial spectrum as was being contemplated for men

  • eliminating the practice of assigning women exclusively to certain billets and assigning qualified women to the full range of challenging billets

  • opening midshipmen programs to women at all NROTC campuses and considering women for selection to joint war colleges.



The CNO enjoined all commanding officers to (1) accurately reflect the spirit and intent of Z-Gram 116 in their own commands; (2) “initiate similar equalization actions in matters within their purview in order to ensure that women are accorded full trust and responsibility to function in the assigned position or specialty;” and (3) be guided by standards of duty, performance, and discipline which are truly equitable for both men and women.”

Of course, the CNO could and did fundamentally alter the formal rules of the game, but the proof of the pudding would be in the behavior of officers and enlisted, all part of a self-consciously traditional culture loath to change. Organizational cultures are notoriously difficult to alter appreciably other than over the long term. As with racial attitudes, the Navy’s culture has historically reflected the broader American culture, even if at times it has been somewhat out of synch with it.

In the 20 years following Z-Gram 116, women were graduating from the Naval Academy and Aviation Officer Candidate School. They qualified as naval aviators; there were unrestricted line flag officers. They were screening for command ashore and afloat. Ships were delivered with habitability modifications for full gender integration. More than 2,600 Navy women participated in Desert Storm.58

And yet, there was Tailhook in September 1991, which indicated with great force the distance full integration of women into the Navy had yet to go. Emotions still run high and opinions on what


58 In 2015, the Navy Personnel Command published a detailed and useful historical timeline for women and/in the Navy. As a matter of interest, it contains no reference to what arguably was the most important event in the post–World War II period related to women—Tailhook and its aftermath. See

happened in Las Vegas still differ. Even today, it is challenging to find a carefully reasoned and empirically sound account and evaluation of Tailhook.59

However, not entirely unlike the 1944 Port Chicago events and the 1972 riots aboard deployed Navy ships, Tailhook acted as a catalyst for change in both the formal laws, regulations, and policies concerning women in the Navy and for shifts in the Navy’s organizational culture. It may be that relatively closed institutions like the military are likely only to make profound changes in their existing cultures following near-cataclysmic events like Tailhook, which then realign them with the broader society within which they reside.

The integration of women aboard ship and in the Navy more broadly has introduced specific challenges regarding privacy, harassment, and assault, along, apparently, with shifts in the causes for the reliefs of commanding officers, executive officers, and command master chiefs. In this, the Navy evidences a commitment to cultural change within, but this must be sustained for perhaps another generation.

13.       Technology

Navies, and the U.S. Navy in particular, have always depended on the most modern and often the most sophisticated technologies of any given era, whether it be the sailing ship-of-the-line, coal-fired reciprocating steam engines, nuclear propulsion, use of radio communications, radar-directed naval gunfire, or GPS. In each major era the Navy has adapted its organization to the dominant technologies employed. But as technologies continue to evolve, this has periodically resulted in sharply punctuated equilibria. As an example, just as the Navy figured out how to safely and effectively operate internal combustion engine propeller aircraft from its carriers, the introduction of the jet aircraft toward the end of World War II necessitated a very compressed adaptation embodied by the angled-deck carrier, replacement of hydraulic by steam catapults, and the hand paddles of the landing signal officer by the optical ball system, all accompanied by changes in carrier flight operation procedures.60

Let me suggest, however, that the most momentous technological changes in the post–World War II period in terms of their effects on naval personnel were:

(1) nuclear propulsion, initially for submarines, subsequently for surface ships
(2) replacement of naval guns by guided missiles
(3) vast expansion of the sophistication, complexity, and capabilities of electronic sensors
(4) the extension of programmable microprocessors into virtually every aspect of the ship and aircraft.


59 See Jean Zimmerman, Tailspin: Women at War in the Wake of Tailhook (New York: Doubleday, 1995); and William H. McMichael, The Mother of All Hooks: The Story of the U.S. Navy’s Tailhook Scandal (New Brunswick, NJ and London: Transaction Publishers, 1997) for two substantially different analyses of the event and subsequent related actions and events.

60 Thomas C. Hone, Norman Friedman, and Mark D. Mandeles, “The Development of the Angled-Deck Carrier: Innovation and Adaptation,” Naval War College Review 64 (Spring 2011): 63–78.

Excepting its conventional propulsion, the new Zumwalt (DDG-1000) embodies and exemplifies each of these changes.

The peculiarities of nuclear propulsion (along with the advantage that nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines gave the Navy in the post–World War II competition with the Air Force for strategic mission) led to a fundamental rethinking of what it meant to be an unrestricted line officer as profound as the 1899 amalgamation of the line with the engineers (the belated recognition that one could no longer fight a ship without a grasp of its engineering characteristics).61 Although the greatest consequences came for the submariners, early optimism about the potential of nuclear propulsion for the surface Navy led to changes there as well.62 Even the aviators were not immune. Nuclear-powered carriers as conventional aviation assets before them were/are by law to be commanded by naval aviators.63 This ultimately, because of the career time required for nuclear qualification and deep-water command prior to carrier command, produced a fundamental divide between aviators who would become air wing commanders and those who would command the carriers.

Curriculum at the Naval Academy and for the NROTC programs was revised to reflect increased engineering requirements. Admiral Hyman G. Rickover acquired the institutional power to select the cream of Naval Academy and NROTC graduates for the nuclear power program, which imposed certain opportunity costs on the other officer communities. Time had to be built into already crowded career paths for nuclear power school, including aviators who were selected to command nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.

Contemporaneous with the introduction of nuclear propulsion, the Navy began to shift to guided missiles for antiaircraft defense, and cruise missiles for offensive strike against ships at sea and to project power against land targets.

The pre–World War II battleship captain, whose situational awareness was limited to visuals from his ship and radio messages from other ships and his organic scouting aircraft, who was expected to fight his ship at distances within the range of his main batteries and lay those guns with optical equipment, and whose battle station was to be the armored conning tower with only narrow slits for vision, was displaced by the World War II development of the radar-driven Combat Information Center (CIC) made

necessary by the great closing speeds and lethality of Japanese aircraft.64


61 Chisholm (2001), chs. 18 and 19.

62 Think of the innovative Bainbridge (DLGN/CGN-25) and Long Beach (CGN-9), originally envisioned as the vanguard of an entirely nuclear-powered surface fleet.

63 Legislation requiring that aviation units, whether shore stations, aircraft squadrons, air groups, or wings, or ships be commanded by qualified naval aviators or naval flight observers was enacted in the late 1920s. Chisholm (2001), ch. 25.

64 See John Monsarrat, Angel on the Yardarm: The Beginnings of Fleet Radar Defense and the Kamikaze Threat (Historical Monography Series Naval War College No. 6) (Newport, RI: Naval War College Press, 1985).

The CIC and its associated electronic sensors continued to evolve rapidly following World War II, given urgency by the development of highly accurate anti-ship missiles with even greater speed and lethality than aircraft. With other technological changes that incrementally reduced ship manning requirements (including the continuing replacement of steam with gas turbines or diesels for propulsion of non-nuclear powered ships), the rise of the CIC began a fundamental alteration in the composition of the ship’s complement. The deck and engineering sections were much reduced while increasing numbers of enlisted and officers alike were dedicated to sensors and weaponry rather than the maintenance and operation of the ship itself. Systematic cross-time comparison of functionally equivalent ships from 1945 forward would reveal, I’d wager, the revolutionary character of these changes. In turn, educational and intelligence requirements for Sailors increased along with classroom training regimens. The higher order skills required of the operational specialists (along, of course, with engineers) has made them appealing to the private sector in ways boatswains, firemen, and gunners had never quite managed, thereby creating new issues of retention and turnover for the Navy.65

Rising education levels for enlisted personnel to support their increasingly complex duties may well have lessened the divide between them and the officers, and has probably subtly altered the historic officer-enlisted relationship. Indeed, some, in both military and public policy domains, have called for the end of the officer-enlisted divide, calling it essentially a kind of social anachronism, an institutional arrangement inherited from the 18th-century British Royal Navy that reflected the enormous requirement for human physical labor to operate sailing ships.66

Technological change, even as it offers innovations in the conduct of warfare, occasions resistance because it also disturbs existing structures of power and known ways of doing business, as historians have demonstrated in studies of the Navy.67


65 See Lawrence Kapp, Recruiting and Retention: An Overview of FY 2011 and FY2012 Results for Active and Reserve Component Enlisted Personnel (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 2013).

66 The original frigate Constitution, 370 ft. overall length and 2,200 tons, for example, required about 450 officers and enlisted, the vast majority of the latter being required to tend to its sails and fight its guns.

67 See, for example, Elting E. Morison, Men, Machines, and Modern Times (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1966); Thomas C. Hone, Norman Friedman, and Mark D. Mandeles, American & British Aircraft Carrier Development, 19191941 (Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 1999); and Mark R. Hagerott, Commanding Men and Machines: Admiralship, Technology, and Ideology in the 20th Century U.S. Navy. PhD Dissertation. Department of History, University of Maryland, 5 August 2002. Morison (no relation to Samuel Eliot Morison) was the son-in-law of ADM William S. Sims and his biographer.

14.       Line Officers and Staff Corps

It might be said that the two most important questions for any large-scale formal organization, such as the Navy, are first, how to divide up the work so as to exploit the efficiencies of horizontal and vertical divisions of labor and specialization, and second, how to reintegrate that division of labor and specialization in order to produce a synthetic organization that effectively accomplishes its mission.

The Navy organizes its officer personnel into a complex array of line communities and staff corps. This organization has, for the most part, become more differentiated and specialized over the Navy’s history. Stimuli for changes have largely been concentrated in the effects of technology, mission requirements, and environmental developments. Changes have not always been conflict free. How the Navy organizes its personnel into line and staff, the formal and informal relationships across officer groups, and their formal responsibilities speaks volumes to what the Navy thinks it needs by way of specialized expertise and how much relative value it places on any given area of expertise.

In general terms, the line has and continues to dominate, acquiring new expertise by organizing new officer communities and staff corps but limiting their responsibilities, authorities, and prestige, in order to maintain the line’s definition of its own responsibilities and its preeminent place. Once upon a time, staff officers were accorded only “relative” or “assimilated” rank. Thus, a passed assistant engineer ranked with, but behind, his line officer lieutenant colleagues. Since World War II all naval officers have worn the same uniforms, with unique distinguishing insignia for staff officers, enjoy the same ranks, and are subject, generally, to the same promotion processes.

The Navy began at its 1794 rebirth with line or executive officers, medical corps, following shortly by pursers (which soon became paymasters, organized into a Paymaster Corps). It added a corps of mathematicians to teach midshipmen celestial navigation and other matters until the Naval Academy was established. From 1842 to 1899 there was a corps of engineers (when they were merged with the line and a new definition of what it meant to be a line officer emerged), and naval constructors and civil engineers were added. Beginning with the introduction of submarines and aviation, the line commenced differentiating itself into various communities, which today number five unrestricted (URL): surface, aviation, submarine, special warfare, and explosive ordnance disposal (formerly special operations). Within each community, officers may specialize, usually informally, but in some cases formally. For a time some officers were designated as General Unrestricted Line (GURL).68

A wide range of restricted line communities has developed over the past century, beginning with Engineering Duty Only, followed by Aeronautical Engineering Duty Only, Aerospace Maintenance Duty Officers, Intelligence, Cryptologic Warfare, Foreign Area, Public Affairs, Oceanographers, Information Professionals, and Human Resources. There are presently eight staff corps: Medical, Dental, Nurse,


68 See Chisholm (2001), chs. 18 and 25 on the old Corps of Engineers and the naval aviation community, respectively. On the personnel and organization of naval aviation, also see Chisholm (2010).

Medical Service, Supply, Civil Engineer, Chaplain, and Judge Advocate, the last having been organized only in 1967. Staff officers may and do command within their corps. Both restricted line and staff corps acquire officers from transfers from the line, from the service academies and reserve officer training corps programs, direct commissioning into the corps via officer indoctrination school, and from senior enlisted personnel, the latter often designated as “limited duty officers.”


There was and is no single, ineluctable linear path by which the Navy has organized its officers. Other navies, such as the British Royal Navy, have addressed mostly the same challenges by different modes of officer organization. For example, the Royal Navy has aboard ship line officers who command, along with engineer officers, and weapons engineer officers. The Navy’s organization of its personnel will not remain static but will continue to change episodically. Each decision taken regarding the organization and specialization of its personnel has created new challenges of authority and relationships.

All the way back in the post–Civil War period, the engineers recognized that absent an institutional home, they would have no real power within the Navy, and thus was born the Bureau of Steam Engineering. When naval aviation began to grow the aviators took a page from the steam engineers’ book and the Bureau of Aeronautics was established, with a portfolio of responsibilities, including detailing aviators to duty assignments. Naval aviation also might have become a separate flying corps, as obtained in the U.S. Navy and in the British Royal Navy, but in the mid-1920s the decision was made to retain aviators as an integral part of the unrestricted line.

For example, with the end of the Cold War, the vast Cryptologic community was reduced in size and status, its organization altered. In 2009 as cyber warfare and information operations became increasingly important, the Navy established the Information Warfare community, which in recent years has come including Information Professionals, Cryptologic Warfare Officers, Intelligence Officers, Oceanographic Officers, and the like. This reorganization was specifically intended to merge intelligence with command, control, communications, and computers. In turn, the Navy now has a type commander institutionalized as Navy Information Forces with Fleet Cyber Command/Tenth Fleet as the operating force. Whether the information warfare officers, wholesale or in part, may at some point become an unrestricted line officer community is an interesting question for historians to consider.

15.       The Great Divide

Of the several U.S. services, the Navy has historically maintained the greatest distinction between its officers and enlisted. This comprehends both differences in role and place aboard ship and social differences. Commissioned officers have tended to use the “distorting lens of class”

through which to view the enlisted personnel and their officers.69 The differences have been reinforced by pay, uniforms, berthing, messing, and other symbolic and substantive communications both at sea and ashore.

Consider messware. Although officers have always dined apart from the enlisted, from the 1890s forward, officers of the wardroom have eaten on specially contracted Navy china, using heavy hotel-grade silver plate utensils in the “Kings” pattern, served on white linen by enlisted stewards using an extensive array of silver plate pieces (tea pots, coffee pots, vegetable bowls, soup tureens, gravy boats, creamers, fish platters, and many more). Enlisted have eaten different food in their own messes on heavy restaurant plates and bowls, using stainless steel knives, forks, and spoons, served cafeteria style.70

As a great maritime nation, the Navy was for more than a century able to draw principally upon already salty merchant seamen, vice landsmen, for its enlisted until World War I. The enlisted were effectively treated as infinitely substitutable with their replacements readily available. They were not considered professionals. Establishment in 1845 of the Naval Academy reinforced the differences between educated professional officers and the enlisted. During the Civil War, for example, heroic acts by commissioned officers were rewarded with advancement by lineal number of seniority and in grade, while the enlisted might only be awarded the newly created Medal of Honor, the supposition being that officers had careers while enlisted were largely temporary members of the service.71 Not until after the Spanish-American War, as the Navy began its expansion under Teddy Roosevelt were the old “receiving ships” replaced by stations to train the vast untapped pool of young (lands) men from the Midwest and other inland areas—thus, the establishment of Great Lakes Naval Station in 1905 and its rapid growth during World War I to accommodate the vastly increased requirements for personnel, both commissioned and enlisted, occasioned by the Act of 29 August 1916, to that date the largest ship-building program in history.

Of course, this distinction did not come from Moses and the tablets, but evolved out of a vertical division of labor from a time when most heavy work aboard ship was accomplished through the physical labor of large crews of enlisted—hoisting barrels of salt pork and water aboard ship, raising and lowering ships’ boats, weighing anchor, setting sail, moving cannon, and the like. These tasks required neither keen intellect nor education for their successful performance. And, in fact, the enlisted were a pretty rough and ready group, with one important function of Marines aboard ship to provide enforcement of enlisted discipline and personal security for the commissioned officers. In contrast, commissioned officers (also styled “gentlemen”) performed the demanding intellectual work of navigation, sailing, and steam engineering, along with the support functions such as supply and weapons


69 See Michael J. Crawford, Officers of Peculiar Skill: Petty and Forward Officers of the U.S. Navy, 17971860 (Washington, DC: Naval History and Heritage Command, 2017), 2.

70 Since the 1970s the degree of formality in the wardroom mess has diminished somewhat, with some wardrooms opting to eat the same food as their enlisted personnel, while the use of silver plate has also decreased.

71 See Chisholm (2001), 280. The Medal of Honor was not authorized for commissioned naval officers until 1915.

development. The problem remained as to what sort of individual would occupy the ranks immediately below the commissioned officers and above the enlisted.

The Royal Navy had developed a useful system in which a relatively small number of enlisted men might develop specialized expertise in important areas and aspire to become more or less career so-called “petty officers” or “forward officers.” Petty officers included master’s mates, captain’s clerks, stewards, and yeomen, who served in their rate at the pleasure of the ship’s captain and could be disrated by him.72 On the other hand, warranted forward officers comprised the ship’s boatswain, gunner, carpenter, and sailmaker.73 This system was in place from almost the beginning of the U.S. Navy. The precise boundaries between the forward and petty officers and the commissioned officers have varied significantly over time. The warranted “sailing master” served aboard larger warships as the individual principally responsible for the navigation of the ship.74

Even though the warship has been and continues to be the most technologically complex system of every historical era, its technology has become exponentially more complex with time. The introduction of steam engineering, along with hydraulic and electrical systems during the 19th century began an accelerating trend in which mechanical energy was substituted for human energy aboard ship, and accordingly, the skills required for the warship’s effective operation began to change. As the Navy came to terms with redefining what it mean to be a commissioned line officer in the 1890s, resulting in the merger of the engineer corps with the line in 1899, part of that adjustment included establishing rates of machinists to operate and maintain (still under the command of commissioned officers) the steam propulsion plants.75 New technologies such as the automobile (or Whitehead) torpedo brought new ratings as did radio and the vastly increased use of electricity aboard ship. What was once a vast unwashed mass of enlisted personnel primarily used for physical labor aboard ship had begun to require complex skills, and in turn a system of different ratings, each with its own formal qualifications, and, with World War I, what would become a vast system of training organs.


72 Crawford notes that “In the age of sail, petty officers, in contrast to those holding warrants or commissions, were appointed by a ship’s commanding officer and held their posts at the commander’s pleasure. ‘An Act for the Government of the Navy of the United States,’ enacted by Congress and signed by President John Adams on 2 March 1799, provided that ‘all officers not having commissions or warrants (or appointed commission or warrant officers for the time being), are termed petty, or inferior officers.’ The U.S. Navy has employed the term petty officer ever since.” See Crawford (2017), 1.

73 “They were designated forward officers because they berthed adjacent to each other in small cabins forward of the mainmast and shared a mess. They held warrants signed by the President and served during good behavior. Petty officers, in contrast, were appointed by a ship’s commanding officer and held their posts at the commander’s pleasure.” Crawford (2017), 15–16.

74 In time, sailing masters were divided into those not in the line of promotion and those in the line of promotion, and the title changed to simply “master.” They ranked immediately behind “lieutenant” and in front of “midshipman.” Ultimately, those not in the line of promotion were allowed to die out, while those in the line of promotion became lieutenants, junior grade.” See Chisholm (2001), chs. 6, 8, 10, and 16.

75 Addressing the same problem, the British Royal Navy adopted a different system of vertical division of labor. See Chisholm (2001), chs. 18–20.

In more recent years, with profound changes in the broader American society, these distinctions have begun to blur and have, perhaps, in the present day become a kind of social atavism deriving from the origins of the U.S. Navy’s culture in that of the 18th-century British Royal Navy. Levels of education in the United States are much higher than before World War II. The all-volunteer military needs and has been able to insist upon higher educational attainment for its recruits than in the past, and this has helped to narrow the educational gap between enlisted and commissioned officers. It is not unknown for chiefs and warrants to have more formal education than the commissioned officers under whom they serve.

At the same time the composition of a warship’s crew has greatly changed since World War II to reflect continued mechanization of tasks, shifts to nuclear and gas turbine propulsion, and the exponentially increased use of electronics for just about everything, but especially sensors and weapons. From about a dozen crude radar sets on its ships just before the war, the Navy acquired tens of thousands of radars for both ships and aircraft—ditto for sonars. The concomitant development of the Combat Information Center, which integrated command, sensors, and weapons aboard ship in turn required manning by highly trained specialist enlisted personnel, demand for which has continued to grow. The deck and engineering crew, once comprising the preponderance of enlisted personnel, on most ships now is in the minority, supplanted by operations and other technical specialists. This, of course, raises issues of retention for warranted and petty officers much as it does for commissioned officers—the skills and qualifications they develop in the Navy, once useful only in a maritime context, now have broad applicability in the civilian sector, which can usually offer more remuneration than the Navy.

The heightened requirement for technically sophisticated and experienced personnel, the concomitant development of professional careers for enlisted personnel, and the all-volunteer force have conspired to increase the incentive for the military services, including the Navy, to retain their enlisted personnel, and petty and warranted officers. Boards to select for promotion to petty and warrant officers and milestones for career development, combined with caps on years of service unless promoted, have come to make the enlisted ranks more closely resemble their commissioned superiors.

Finally, we need take note of movement between enlisted and commissioned officers. Of the several services, as a matter of both tradition and practice, the Navy has been and remains the least willing of the several services to commission officers out of the enlisted ranks. It has done so during wartime emergencies and the need for temporary officers since the Civil War, with reversion back to enlisted status for most following the conclusion of the conflict. Following World War I, a number of former enlisted were granted permanent commissions in order to provide officers for naval aviation. At that time, such officers were labeled “mavericks,” and did not enjoy the same status or promotion rates as their Naval Academy brethren. Later they were known as “mustangs,” a term with similar negative connotation. In the post–World War II era, certain staff and other officer corps have increasingly sourced officers out of their enlisted personnel, with comparatively fewer so sourced for the unrestricted line communities.

The historian might usefully ask several questions about trends in the conceptualization of and distinction between enlisted and commissioned officers.

16.       Endless War, Operational and Personnel Tempo, Retention, and the Reserve

Russell F. Weigley observed more than four decades ago that Americans historically have maintained a concept of a dichotomous state of war/not war.76 To some extent this proved reasonably accurate as a description of relations among Western-style “states” and Western-style conventional warfare that involves the polite protocol of declaring war and its conclusion through formal peace treaty. And, for much of its history, the United States was insulated from the intrigues of Europe and Asia by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This narrative survived the intercontinental ballistic missile and the four-decade “Cold War” with the Soviet Union, and conditioned the deliberate drawdown of the U.S. military following that war’s “end” in order to exploit the economic benefits of the so-called “peace dividend.”

However, it was never very apt as a description of relations between “states” and non-state actors, and remains so. More important, with the rise of China as an antagonist to the United States over the past two decades, we see its unwillingness to engage with the United States in the form of conventional conflict at which we excel and a corresponding disposition toward other means of conflict (such as economic and information warfare) and a willingness to press U.S. limits up to the point of direct armed conflict.77

Since 9/11 the United States has found itself involved in conflict with various incarnations of jihadism across the planet, at least one of which overtly has called for a Fabian war of exhaustion against the United States, with no end in sight to any of its ongoing commitments and the real possibility of expansion to other geographic areas.78 The blurring of the U.S.-preferred lines between war and not-war by its antagonists, combined with the effects of the post–Cold War drawdown, and certain assumptions about the substitution of capital for personnel have, across the military services, led to an enduring relatively high operational tempo and a concomitant high personnel tempo. The military remains sized and organized for relatively short, high-intensity conventional conflicts. This has translated for the Navy into longer deployments and less time in home ports. Although the unplanned wear and tear on ships and aircraft is often the most visible manifestation of high tempo, increased stress on personnel has produced reasonable founded and genuine concern, in the absence of a draft, about


76 Weigley (1973).

77 The clearest statement of this distinctly non-Western approach to state-on-state conflict is found in Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui. Unrestricted Warfare (Beijing: PLA Literature and Arts Publishing House, February 1999).

78 See, for example, Osama bin Laden’s 1998 declaration of war against the Americans. On the matter of expanded jihadist war see warnings by ADM Harry Harris, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command.

recruitment and retention, especially of the best qualified officers and enlisted. Increased pay only goes part way in mitigating the problem, especially when the economy is strong and the private sector prizes the experience and abilities of military personnel. Officers and enlisted alike have skills and abilities readily translatable into private sector or civilian government jobs, and some, at least appear to believe that the sustained high personnel tempo “violates” the implicit contract or expectations they believe should govern their service lives.

These stresses have also affected the Navy Reserve. Peculiar to the Navy, its reserve has, for the most part, not been organized into deployable units, but has instead deployed individual reservists to augment its regular personnel. Some thoughtful individuals have begun considering whether the Navy’s reserve component might usefully be re-conceptualized and reorganized to recognize what appear to be permanently changed circumstances.79 Put differently, reserve forces originally thought of as a force to be called up perhaps once in a generation have been and are being employed as an operational force, affecting several services’ profoundly.

17.       Concluding Thoughts

It is easy to miss the sweep of history when we are in the midst of events. It is easy to forget or to minimize how much change we may have experienced only a few years previously. And sometimes we find events of the distant past more compelling than what might be called “near history” and the world must wait for a future generation to tell that history.80 Often we seem to learn as much about the period when the history was written as we do about the period about which it was written. When histories are written the mind’s eye tends to recur to some components of the human experience and not so much to others. And even (or perhaps especially) when it does investigate some less attended to subject matter what seemed fairly simple at the outset emerges as a finely detailed complex set of dynamics that defy easy simplification and generalization.

Every one of these difficulties beset the author in attempting for this paper to make sense of the broad history of naval personnel during the period since the end of World War II. And because virtually nothing that goes on in any organization leaves its personnel unaffected, it proved difficult to establish


79 See, for example, Jacob Alex Klerman. Rethinking the Reserves. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2008. This monograph is based upon a study produced for the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review. More recently, JPME students have entered the discussion. See Brian M. Howlett, “Rethinking the Operational Reserve.” A Research Report Submitted to the Faculty In Partial Fulfillment of the Graduation Requirements (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air War College, 7 February 2012); and Albert Orgain, “Preventing a Crisis in Sustainability: Recommendations for the Future Navy Reserve.” Thesis submitted in partial satisfaction of the program requirements for Advanced Studies in Naval Strategy. (RI: Naval War College, 13 June 2014).

80 I am indebted for the term “near history” to novelist Alan Furst, who has used it to locate in time his series of espionage novels, all of which are set in the late 1930s through the middle of World War II. See the end matter in Night Soldiers (New York: Harper Collins, 1998) originally published in 1988.

and maintain a useful set of boundaries for the subject. Pretty much everything concerning personnel was in play. Fortunately the task set was not to write the history but to limn out at least some of the areas worthy of closer attention by historians and to suggest some useful ways to think about them.

In the century-and-a-half of the Navy’s history up to World War II, it had contended more or less annually with enduring, cyclic, and emerging problems of its naval personnel. Many, if not all, of them will be familiar to the contemporary student of the Navy. It had managed to find reasonable formal solutions to these problems in laws, regulations, and policies, and, improbably perhaps, had built a distinctly more modern professional personnel system than its sister services. It had transformed itself from an organization focused on the protection of equity for individuals to one that regarded military effectiveness as the highest order of business, but still managed to provide protections for individuals. The plain fact is that it worked. In fact, if one knows the Navy’s personnel system on the eve of World War II, then arguably one understands the majority of the system in place today. That was and remains quite an achievement.

But of course history did not end. And although the nature of war (and of the sea) has not changed, and the human element remains its most important component, the environment in which the Navy moves continued to change in important ways, so that it has had to find ways of adapting. It successfully prosecuted the war against Japan largely on the terms it wanted.

At the end, the Navy found itself in the position to which it had for many years aspired: the most powerful such service in the world (and in history, for that matter). But Americans were tired of war and not so inclined to immediately accept the mantle of leadership in the world community and demobilization was swift, much as it had been following the Civil War and World War I. Events in Europe and Asia soon necessitated partial remobilization and ultimately continued maintenance of a large naval establishment for the Cold War, drawn initially at least from the capital investments of World War II, in terms both of materiel and personnel.

In charting its course, the Navy quickly found itself with reduced freedom of maneuver compared to what it had enjoyed up to the war. Establishment of the Department of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff meant that the Navy was subject to real and external administrative and legal control at a level below the President and would be compelled to follow courses of action it had not charted for itself or negotiated directly with the Congress. On the matter of personnel, initially it did not have to change much, as its system was essentially adopted DOD-wide. However, in subsequent decades its personnel, especially officers, would be subject to increasing externally-imposed constraints and restraints through OPA, OGLA, the all-volunteer force, DOPMA, and Goldwater-Nichols. There would be no going back. That the Navy now lives in a relentlessly “joint” world means that its personnel must understand the perspectives and processes of the other services and relevant civilian agencies more profoundly than at any time in its history, with implications for education, training, and career paths.

The pace and scope of technological change relevant to naval warfare accelerated rapidly after the war, with nuclear propulsion, guided and cruise missiles, jet aircraft, and electronic sensors heading the list. These innovations required changes in personnel, including how the naval officer was defined, the skills and abilities required of enlisted, the appropriate education and training, organization of specialized corps, the composition of ship’s complements, and the relationships between officers and enlisted. In these changes, the Navy was moving through problems analogous to ones previously encountered, and if the latter were not especially well-remembered, the personnel problems were mostly solvable. The novel problem was the ready marketability of highly sophisticated technological skills of officers and enlisted in the private economy. This, combined with the social and political pressures summarized below, led to significant challenges to retaining personnel, something the Navy had not previously confronted. Current technological trends, especially those associated with cyberwarfare, suggest that adaptation and exploitation of these technologies will require changes in the organization of the Navy’s personnel, how they are accessed, educated, trained, and retained.81 Associated with retention are military pay and benefits, which, for reasons of economy, have come under close scrutiny and their transformation begun.82 Expenditures on such things as graded retirement pay have historically gone some distance to ease the sting of non-selection and involuntary separation. Similarly, since 2001 regular military pay increases have compensated partially for higher personnel tempo and deployment frequency and duration. Both have been at the considerable cost of long-term commitment of resources by the taxpayer. In recent years, the mechanisms for military retirement have been revisited with an eye toward shifting more of the burden to naval personnel for retirement income. Ditto for the costs of medical care both on active duty and when retired.

If many of the challenges of personnel remained consistent with earlier periods, the post-war Navy has been subject far more to the social, political, and economic perturbations moving through American society. Issues of race and gender associated with shifts in the demographics of the American population, the structure of its economy, and attitudes of Americans became perhaps the most profound factors requiring the Navy to adapt. World War II set in motion new and powerful social and political forces in American society that have taken decades and will take decades more to address—compounded by the political and social turbulence of the 1960s and 1970s—because they required fundamental alterations of the Navy’s organizational culture. The Navy did not make those adjustments easily nor are they complete today.


81 These challenges have not gone unnoticed. See, for example, David Barno and Nora Bensahel, “Can the U.S. Military Halt Its Brain Drain?” The Atlantic, 5 November 2015.; and Congressional Budget Office, Recruiting, Retention, and Future Levels of Military Personnel (Washington, DC: 2006).

82 See Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, Report (April 2015). For earlier analyses of the problem, see for example, Michael Hansen and Martha Koopman, Military Compensation Reform in the Department of Defense (Alexandria, VA: Center for Naval Analyses, 2005); and Cindy Williams (Editor), Filling the Ranks: Transforming the U.S. Military System (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004).

American society’s continued willingness to expand the participation of historically excluded groups, such as gays and lesbians, suggests that the business of adjustment will not end anytime soon.83

The indirect effects of the Vietnam War for the Navy’s personnel mostly had to do with retention of personnel, officers and enlisted alike, and the need to bend in order not to break under the social and political pressures of the time. It did so pretty well, though not to universal approbation, especially from the older, World War II generation of officers and senior enlisted personnel.

More recently, there was the continuing drawdown of the military across the board, based upon the idea of a “peace dividend” following the collapse of the Soviet Union, improvements in intelligence, and technological innovation that would reduce requirements for ships, aircraft, and personnel (including reduced manning aboard highly automated ships). Throughout, operational requirements have remained at least constant and episodically increased—the long war against Islamic extremist groups contributing mightily to high operational tempo. The apparent resurgence of Russia and the rapid rise and aggressiveness of China suggest that the two decades following the end of the Cold War were anomalous rather than indicative. How the Navy manages these challenges for its personnel will have much to do with its future effectiveness.84 Similarly, the issue of managing officer career paths seems destined to attract continuing attention.85 And what should the overall contours for naval personnel look like into the future?86

World War II ended more than seven decades ago; there has been a lot of history since, and not all of it has been beer and skittles. Here, naval historians, though still subject to the siren call of the Navy’s shiny platforms and weapons and still attracted by the real dramas of operations, should find full-time employ in the study of the Navy’s personnel. In so doing they have a genuine opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the Navy’s future effectiveness.


83 For recent analysis of how minorities and women are doing in the Navy, see Amos Golan, William Greene, and Jeffrey M. Perloff, “U.S. Navy Promotion and Retention by Race and Sex,” January 2010. And see Laura L. Miller, Jennifer Kavanagh, Maria C. Lytell, Keith Jennings, and Craig Martin, The Extent of Restrictions on the Service of Active-Component Military Women. (Washington, DC: RAND Corporation, 2012). See also Undersecretary of Defense, Personnel and Readiness, Population Representation in the Military Services, Fiscal Year 2015 Summary Report (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2015), one of an annual series of such reports from 1975. Some in the Navy today have noted that the diversity of perspective afforded by the integration of various ethnic groups into the Navy is likely to enhance its effectiveness. On the matter of the practical consequences for the Navy of cultural differences, see, for example, Lorand B. Szalay, and Jean A. Bryson, Filipinos in the Navy: Service, Interpersonal Relations and Cultural Adaptation (Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research, 1977). Michael Shawn Davis provides a historical analysis of black Americans in the Navy through 1955. It might serve as a useful guide for what could be written about the period since World War II. See his “Many of Them Are Among My Best Men: The United States Navy Looks at its African American Crewmen, 1755–1955,” PhD Dissertation (Manhattan, KS: Department of History, Kansas State University, 2011). On sexual assault and harassment, see Andrew R. Morral, Kristie L. Gore, and Terry L. Schell (Editors), Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment in the U.S. Military (Washington, DC: RAND Corporation, 2016).

84 See Bernard Rostker, Right-Sizing the Force: Lessons for the Current Drawdown of American Military Personnel (Washington, DC: Center for a New American Security, 2013).

85 See Ann D. Parcell and Amanda Kraus, Recommendations from the CNGR Implementation Plan: Exploring the Requirements of DOPMA and ROPMA (Alexandria, VA: Center for Naval Analyses, 2010); and Ann D. Parcell and

Jonathan D. Mintz, with David L. Reese, Challenges for Navy Officer Personnel Management. (Alexandria, VA: Center for Naval Analyses, 2014).

86 Naval Studies Board, Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences, National Research Council, Manpower and Personnel Needs for a Transformed Naval Force (Washington, DC: National Research Council, 2008).


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Published: Mon Feb 12 11:48:55 EST 2018