Category Archives: Military Personnel

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Naval History Magazine, January 2013
The shipyard in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, turned out boats at a torrid pace, setting the gold standard for submarine construction during World War II.

On 27 January 1944, the Portsmouth Navy Yard achieved two things no shipyard had ever done—launching three submarines simultaneously and a fourth on the same day. The Ronquil Redfish , and Razorback lifted off their blocks in Dry Dock #1 at 1300, and a few hours later the Scabbardfish , slid down Building Way #4 into the Piscataqua River. Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox sent a congratulatory message to the yard: “In the launching of four submarines in a single day, the Portsmouth Navy Yard sets another record in the submarine program.” Before 1945 arrived the yard would complete a record-setting 32 submarines. No U.S. shipyard before or since has built so many submarines in a single year. 3

Pressure-hull sections in a submarine basin at the Portsmouth Navy Yard in March 1943. The shipyard had developed and refined sectional construction in the years leading up to World War II, and when war came the yard was poised to capitalize on a sudden surge in demand and the need for mass-production methods, University of New Hampshire Library.

Pressure-hull sections in a submarine basin at the Portsmouth Navy Yard in March 1943. The shipyard had developed and refined sectional construction in the years leading up to World War II, and when war came the yard was poised to capitalize on a sudden surge in demand and the need for mass-production methods, University of New Hampshire Library.

After averaging the completion of less than two submarines a year in the 1930s, the Portsmouth Navy Yard built 79 submarines between 1 July 1940 and 1 July 1945. The average construction time for those boats was much shorter than those of the same class built at other yards. Shipyard employment also reached unprecedented heights during that time. After providing jobs for an average of about 2,000 people annually in the 1930s, in November 1943 employment peaked at 23,465.5

To examine the yard’s wartime success it is necessary to first review events in the interwar years that set the stage for the remarkable wartime production record.

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How a Defense Bill Becomes Defense Law

How a Defense Bill Becomes Defense Law

Congress closed its 2010-2012 session by passing a fiscal package that delays deep cuts to the defense budget and other executive branch agencies for two months, averting the “fiscal cliff” that threatened to slash nearly $50 billion from DOD’s 2013 appropriations ledger.

The negotiations offered a very public look at the high-drama posturing that has become a hallmark of dealings between the White House and Capitol Hill. To many casual observers, the back-and-forth signaled a new low in relations between the two branches, but to many on the inside, it was symptomatic of the legislative process that grinds on every day, usually outside of public view.

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The hard work of crafting bipartisan legislation may take months of talks behind closed doors but produce only a few days of newsworthy drama. The annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is one of those must-pass measures that enjoy overwhelming bipartisan support but take months of meetings, briefings, hearings and tense negotiations among members of the House and Senate from both sides of the aisle and DOD. The Hill and Pentagon trade budget requests, legislative proposals, cost estimates, testing data, planning documents and long-term strategy to craft each year’s spending priorities and an overarching national-security policy. The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) leads the four defense committees each year, followed by House and Senate Defense Appropriators — the HAC-D and SAC-D — and finally the Senate Armed Services Committee — SASC.

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This Time, It's Different

This Time, It’s Different

Proceedings, January 2013

A close observer of defense-spending trends takes a look at dollars and sense and the looming budget challenges in the Pentagon.

Defense-budget headlines of late have concentrated on sequestration, as hand-wringing increased about the so-called fiscal cliff. Most coverage has focused on defense officials predicting dire consequences for the Department of Defense (DOD), or industry officials warning of job losses and collapse of certain technology sectors and associated businesses. The U.S. Naval Institute recently hosted Defense Forum Washington with a program titled “The Fiscal Cliff: What Does This Mean for Defense and National Security?” The conference focused on sequestration and its impacts. Speakers and panelists offered different perspectives on impact, ranging from disaster to a mere “pothole,” and on occurrence from irresponsible to a fait accompli that should happen to provoke fundamental changes in DOD.

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Appointment With Destiny in the North Atlantic

Appointment With Destiny in the North Atlantic

Naval History Magazine December, 2012
In 1943, the author’s uncle boarded his Liberty ship in Nova Scotia with a strong sense of foreboding.

When U-610 sank the Liberty ship William Pierce Frye on 29 March 1943, among those on board was a 24-year-old fireman from Central Falls, Rhode Island, named William Joseph McHale, my Uncle Billy. The night before reporting for duty, he said goodbye to his older brother John’s girlfriend, Mary Gannon. “Be sure to marry my brother!” When Mary replied that she looked forward to all of them reuniting after the war, Billy looked straight at her and revealed a searing premonition: “No, I don’t think I’ll be coming back.” Earlier that day he’d said something similar to his sister Rita, who remembers, “It was weird when he said, ‘I thought you’d like to see me one more time.’” True to his vision, on his first voyage at sea Billy went down with the ship. When the news of his death arrived at the tenement house on Hunt Street, my grandparents were consumed by the immeasurable grief reserved for those who lose a child. My uncle Raymond, their oldest son, called it “a dark time.”

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The events that sealed Uncle Billy’s fate were set in motion in the early morning hours of 8 March 1943, when U-610 eased from her mooring at the submarine pens of St. Nazaire, France. She set out to rendezvous with wolf pack Dränger (Pusher). Ten days later the William Pierce Frye departed on her maiden voyage from Halifax, Nova Scotia, as part of convoy HX 230 en route to Liverpool, England.

Built in just three months by New England Shipbuilding of Portland, Maine, and launched on 11 February 1943, she was owned by the Mystic Steamship Company of Boston. The Liberty ship carried a complement of 8 officers, 32 Merchant Marines, and 24 Armed Guards. She was laden with 7,500 tons of military stores, including 750 tons of explosives, wheat, and a deck cargo of five landing craft, tank (LCTs).

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Cause for Alarm

Cause for Alarm

Proceedings, December 2012

The Navy’s future leaders should go to General Quarters with so many commanding officers being in the headlines lately.

A young submariner once wrote, “It is integrity that bonds the crew of a submarine so tightly together that when faced with any circumstance, each individual can trust his shipmate to meet the needs of the moment.” This anonymous sailor went on to make the comparison between integrity in professional conduct and the physical integrity of a ship. It seems that officers in today’s Navy need to extend this analogy to address integrity in personal conduct.

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Now-retired Vice Admiral Thomas Kilcline brought the issue of personal integrity to the fore in 2010 through a concept called “The Whole Sailor.” Unfortunately, the rate of personal misconduct, specifically among commanding officers (COs), has only increased. In the Summer 2012 Naval War College Review , Navy Captain Mark Light sought to bring attention to integrity problems at the command level through an analysis of COs who were “detached for cause (DFC)” from 1999 to 2010. He pointed out that in 2010, 13 DFCs were due to personal misconduct, compared with a total of 29 in the prededing decade. Since that analysis concluded in 2010, 25 COs (not counting the most recent incident involving the command of the USS Vandegrift [FFG-48]) have been fired for integrity related incidents. Whether or not these numbers represent a real deterioration of integrity among COs—or just heavier focus on personal conduct from senior leadership—a seemingly never-ending stream of embarrassing headlines (“Submarine commander sunk after allegedly faking death to end affair”) and a desensitized tone from the public (“Navy Skippers: The Gift that Keeps on Giving”) are unquestionably cause for alarm. 4

To be fair, senior Navy leaders have not hesitated in taking immediate action. For one, the Navy has been forthright regarding the behavior of its COs. It is easy to find articles about COs being fired for personal misconduct, but it is difficult to find credible instances of the Navy covering up such behavior. Meanwhile, strict new requirements for screening potential commanders, such as written tests, oral boards, and even reviews from peers and subordinates, are being enacted throughout the Fleet. Clearly, the Navy is willing to fight to preserve the standards to which it holds its COs.

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Sequestration: Coming Soon?

Sequestration: Coming Soon?

Sequestration has lately been hotly debated and often derided. Many probably have heard the term, aware it involves budget reductions, and possibly many know it could come to pass on Jan. 2, 2013. These potential spending reductions and simultaneous expiration of tax cuts have been collectively dubbed the “fiscal cliff,” receiving increased, post-election media attention as the President and lame-duck Congress negotiate a potential deal to change or avert both. But what does sequestration mean, and in context of the Department of Defense (DOD), what is its impact?

Sequestration could still be avoided (the President alluded to this in the Oct. 22 final campaign debate). Likewise, another outcome could be modification of the amount of budget reduction and/or the mechanisms by which it is conducted. However, worst-case sequestration under current provisions, coupled with previous budget reductions under the Budget Control Act (BCA) and compounded by other long-standing trends in defense spending, will be extraordinarily disruptive and damaging to the long-term defense program. Any change to sequestration requires passage of new legislation and presidential signature before Jan. 2, 2013 which very well may not happen. Therefore, assuming sequestration does trigger as planned in both timing and manner, let’s consider implementation impact on DOD.

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China vs. Japan Dispute is No Gordian Knot

China vs. Japan Dispute is No Gordian Knot

Proceedings, December 2012
The Senkaku/Diaoyu Tai Islands dispute between China and Japan has ramped up in a heated season of discontent, but given the position China has backed itself into through official pronouncements and military showmanship, Japan, Taiwan, and the United States have the opportunity to resolve the dispute. They can do this by forcing China to recognize a transfer of administrative control of the islands to Taiwan, or rather, the Republic of China (ROC), the legally binding designee of World War II–era diplomatic agreements. This action would accomplish a number of things:

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  • Reward China and Taiwan for recent stabilization of cross-strait ties and improve economic relations, and place the two sides in common cause over a security/territory issue.
  • Remove a perennial crisis point from the first island chain and the potential for its recurring destabilizing impact on Sino-Japanese relations.
  • Keep the islands within the U.S. alliance structure and security umbrella.

J. Randy Forbes Talks Sequestration

J. Randy Forbes Talks Sequestration

Rep. J. Randy Forbes is chairman of the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee. The Virginia Republican has held several hearings on naval readiness in the current Congress. He will be part of a panel on the looming fiscal cliff— that could result in a 10 percent reduction in defense spending—at Defense Forum Washington hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute next week.

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Rep. Forbes, you said Wednesday that you’re expecting to see sequestration in some form in January. Could you expand on that?

Obviously we are still hopeful to divert sequestration from taking place. The clock is ticking. We continue to believe that defense has already paid its share and shouldn’t be cut in such an arbitrary and drastic fashion. But it’s going to take an awful lot to keep from going over the cliff.

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