Part I

By: Garland Davis

Since I read and posted the article about the USS Cowpens and the failure in leadership exhibited at many levels of the command, I have been thinking about military leadership, about how national leaders and senior officers lead and make decisions and the results of those decisions. I have also done some reading and given consideration to how leadership has changed and evolved over the ages.

I had considered starting this discussion with Joshua, a great military leader of the Bible. But, he was either, a great natural leader, a deranged person believing that he talked with God, or he was actually directed by the God of the Hebrews. Although victorious, I decided he wasn’t a good example of personal leadership. Joshua was more like the military leaders of today, directed from above.

Charles the Great (742-814) also known as Charlemagne was a medieval emperor who ruled much of Western Europe from 768 to 814. In 771, he embarked on a mission to unite all Germanic peoples into one kingdom. A skilled military strategist, he spent much of his reign in the field, engaged in warfare in order to accomplish his goals. He personally led and fought with his army.

Richard I of England, also known as Richard of Aquitaine and Richard the Lion Heart was King of England. By the age of sixteen, he had taken command of his own Army. He was a central Christian commander during the Third Crusade to the Holy Land. He also fought with the men he led. But, the decision to leave his Kingdom in the hands of charlatans and enemies while in the field was not a good one.

These leaders controlled the movements and actions of the armies that were physically close to their position. The further from them a unit or agent was located, the less control they had over actions. Success in these situations rested on the leader’s ability to choose the right person to lead distant units and to rely on that person’s ability to make crucial decisions.

During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress appointed George Washington as Commander of the Army but had little or no control over his actions. Likewise, General Washington had little control over distant subordinates. Military couriers were the primary method of communications. Here, congress and General Washington depended on the strengths and abilities of chosen subordinates. Although with the army, Washington did not personally lead his troops in battle, but directed actions by use of couriers (Aides de Camp) to carry messages between him and his officers. Leadership decisions in the line were made autonomously by the junior officers.

The line of communication stretched as subordinate units moved further from the overall Commander taking longer for information and orders to pass back and forth, leaving the subordinate more autonomously responsible for strategic decisions.

An example of the length of time to pass communications between the armies and the governments happened at the end of the war of 1812. After failing to take Baltimore, the British asked for a cease-fire and negotiated the Treaty of Ghent which ended the war. Before the information reached the armies in the field, the British forces attacked General Jackson’s forces at New Orleans two week after the peace had been signed.

Nowhere was the lines of communication longer than the Navy. Once a ship sailed, there would be months, if not years before information would be passed back and forth. The Navy commander was truly autonomous. He was expected to make decisions that would further his nation’s goals.

A good example of this is Commodore Preble and the First Barbary War. Preble was tasked with stopping the encroachment on U.S. merchant shipping and gaining the freedom of American seaman being held for ransom or in slavery. In May 1801, Preble traveled to Messina, Sicily where he negotiated a treaty, without direction from Washington, with Ferdinand IV, the King of Naples. Ferdinand supplied the Americans with manpower, craftsmen, supplies, gunboats, mortar boats, and the ports of Messina, Syracuse, and Palermo to be used as a naval base to launch operations against Tripoli.

In 1853 Commodore Perry was tasked with opening the Empire of Japan to foreign trade. In July of that year, four black ships led by USS Powhatan and commanded by Commodore Perry anchored in Tokyo Bay. Perry forced meetings with dignitaries of the Shogun and negotiated a Treaty that was signed in March 1854. Again with no input from Washington, although he did have diplomats from the State Department embarked.

In the examples of Commodore Preble and Commodore Perry, decisions were made and negotiations were led by them. They concluded and signed treaties in the name of the President of the United States. Preble served in the Massachusetts State Navy during and after the Revolutionary War, for fifteen years as a merchant captain and as a First Lieutenant and Captain in the U.S. Navy. A strong background of leadership duties. Matthew Perry received a Midshipman’s commission into the Navy in 1809. He served during the war of 1812 and under Commodore Bainbridge during the Second Barbary War. He also fought to suppress the slave trade, and in the Caribbean and in the Mexican-American War. He commanded a number of ships. Another strong background of increasing leadership duties.

Leadership was learned during many years, in garrison, on the battlefield, on the gun decks, and in the rigging, not in leadership schools.



Part II
By: Garland Davis

American military communications as a separate discipline began with Confederate forces in 1862 and the Union Signal Corps was formed in 1863. Innovations were to follow as methods progressed from flag and torch signaling to telegraph and numerous other inventive schemes.

The Civil War was the first “modern war.” Abraham Lincoln became president of a divided nation during a period of both technological and social revolution. Among the many modern marvels was the telegraph, which Lincoln used to stay connected to the troops in the field in almost real time. Some historians say the he used the telegraph to micro-manage his generals and the war. No leader in history had ever possessed such a powerful tool.

During the years between the Civil War and the turn of the twentieth century many advances were made in telegraphy, however, it was still dependent on a system of wires connecting telegraph stations. Communication between ships or between ships and the shore were limited by the distance that flags or flashing light could be seen. The first electrical use in communications in the U.S. Navy was that of electric signaling lights in 1875.

The Coastal Signal System was created and by 1898 consisted of 230 land stations along the coasts of the country and were tied together by telegraph and telephone and used various systems to communicate with ships off shore. These stations were manned by Navy personnel. Again, only visual communications with ships were possible.

The first transatlantic telegraphic cable was laid in 1858, reducing the time for communication between Europe and the U.S. from ten or more days to minutes. This enabled U.S. Navy ships to send reports and receive orders rapidly when in a European port.

A number of scientists, including Faraday, Maxwell, Loomis, Dolbear, and Edison, developed the rudimentary aspects of electromagnetic communication during the 1870’s and 1880’s. Recognizing that it would of great use to the Navy, Lt Bradley A. Fiske researched and experimented with wireless communication in the decade following 1885. His work preceded that of Marchese Marconi. Marconi developed and applied Lt Fiske’s research to the concept of communications. The outcome of Marconi’s research was by July 1898; the steamer Flying Huntress became the first ship outfitted with radio for commercial purposes.

By 1900, the Royal Navy had installed radio equipment in 26 ships and coastal stations. In January 1902 the U.S. Navy issued instructions that ships masts be prepared to accommodate antennas. Early Navy Radio had two components. One was the shore radio system under the individual Commandants of the Naval Districts. The second system was Fleet Radio. It often lacked discipline and unified protocols.

During the period between the turn of the century, radio communications improved and communication between ships and ships and shore station greatly improved. Although subject to solar and weather influences, fleet and area commanders could communicate with individual ships and the Navy Department almost instantaneously. Because of the complexity and size of the Navy, communications became even more important during WWII. Radio equipment became more reliable during the war.

In 1947, the transistor was introduced. It eliminated the vacuum tube and permitted great strides in the sophistication of radio equipment. The next great leap in communication was to marry the transistor radio to the computer chip and the computer. This innovation created the ability to use satellite technology instead of antenna towers or microwave relay facilities. Today a commander can literally lift the telephone and talk with a ship’s commander or the fleet or area commander. Likewise, the fleet commander can talk with the Navy Department.

If you have read this far, you are probably asking, “What the hell does a history of modern communications have to do with leadership.

The stage for the use of modern communications was set by Abraham Lincoln, “micro-managing” and “nit-picking” his generals during the Civil War. This culminated during the Viet Nam War in the nightly assigning of North Vietnamese air targets by the President and Secretary of Defense. All the Air Commanders and U.S. Forces Viet Nam commander could do were suggest priority military targets. The politicians selected targets with little or no political value. Instant communications also prevented on scene commanders from taking military action in the Libyan Benghazi affair.

Navy Petty Officers, Chief Petty Officers, and Officers have become a community of reactive individuals waiting to be told what and how to do something rather than proactive individuals who determine what and how a project is to be completed. Junior Officers learn to wait for orders and to pass those orders down and oversee the accomplishment just as his superior is overseeing his efforts.

I was taught that if you have a problem, present the problem to your superior and also present your best solution. If you cannot communicate with a superior attempt to solve the problem and report your actions.
Before I left the Navy, I saw junior officers get lambasted for presenting solutions or actions to the command. They were told the solution. It becomes a habit to ask for guidance instead presenting solutions. One who follows orders meticulously cannot be wrong. Our Petty Officers, Chief Petty Officers, and Junior Officers are being trained that good leadership is asking for orders and the making sure those orders are passed down and accomplished.

A good friend, an MMC serving in a DDG in the early seventies, when asked by an inspector during an engineering inspection, “Chief, you are the EOOW, you just lost fires in both boilers and the electrical load, what action are you going to take?”

“The Chief said, “Put on a pot of coffee.”

“Why?” The inspector asked.

MMC replies, “Because the CO, the XO, the CHENG, the MPA, and every other fucking officer who can find his way down here is coming to visit and get in the way.”


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A native of North Carolina, Garland Davis has lived in Hawaii since 1987. He always had a penchant for writing but did not seriously pursue it until recently. He is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he majored in Business Management. Garland is a thirty-year Navy retiree and service-connected Disabled Veteran.


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