Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Commentary on FITREPs

We have undergone a change of command here recently, and with it the obligatory change of command FITREP and debrief. My former boss is very heavy on the “career counseling” aspect of these debriefs; he leads with the question, “what do you have planned for your next tour?” Never mind that I’ve made it clear on several occasions that not only did I want to get out, but that my community is structured in a way that wouldn’t provide a path back in, regardless of my wishes, so his efforts to change my mind were futile. In general, I play the “I’m getting out” card pretty close to the vest, but when asked directly, I don’t beat around the bush.

This decision was made when I accepted this tour; the Hawkeye community places no value on education and no value on IA tours. I was introduced to this concept long ago, when as na├»ve LTJG, I wondered aloud why the Department Head selection board would even consider passing on a guy who has a PHD in aerospace engineering from MIT in favor of a guy who spent three years teaching some useless PDS class over at the RAG. My CO told me flatly, it is because the guy at the RAG “gave something back to the community.” That may have been the first time I heard that concept, but it would not be the last; as I moved closer to my shore rotation, I was offered excessive career advice from anyone with an oak leaf and chance to run their mouth for a few minutes, and it always bounced back to the same theme – give something back to the community.

Let’s get this out of the way up front; being a “member” of the Hawkeye “community” is in every way equivalent to playing for the losing team. The E-2C is an aging platform, unable to effectively adapt to a modern warfare environment. I could go on forever about the reasons why, but I’ll save that for another day. The point is, asking me to give something back to the Hawkeye community is absurd; it is like asking Barry Sanders to give something back to the Lions. Flying the Hawkeye was a booby prize; it is the participation ribbon of Naval Aviation – I don’t feel indebted to it in any way, and I don’t think my “good deal” shore tour is any less of a contribution than sitting in the Simulator at the RAG or re-drafting useless TTP in a triple-walled nerd-locker in the desert.

In fact, I’ll stack my tour here up against anyone of those as far as contribution to the Navy; after all, we all joined the Navy, not the Hawkeye community. My tour, to include my 9-month combat tour, compares favorably to a RAG, WTI, or NSAWC tour in every measurable way except one – It has nothing to do with sitting in the back of an E-2C (by the grace of God). By the time I leave here, I’ll have delivered hundreds of commissioned Ensigns to the Fleet, I’ll have more joint experience than any of my peers having a FITREP signed by a member of 3 of 4 service branches, I’ll have invaluable combat experience on the FIRES end of CAS/TST – a mission which should by now be an E-2C core competency but falls short in favor of Cold War doctrine - and I’ll have a master’s degree.

All of those things would strike an ordinary person as pretty favorable traits to bring before a career board; which is probably why my CO continued to bring it up for two years, but the Hawkeye community is not listening. Hawkeye CO’s are still encouraged to manipulate the FITREP system to give the maximum advancement opportunity to guys who choose jobs that are on the “track.” You may be the number one performer, but this other guy “needs” the EP because he’s going to the RAG. He’s giving something back! I don’t mean to sound bitter, because I wasn’t trying to stay in, and I was never mislead – my detailer looked me right in the eye and told me I’d never make command if I took this job. It’s just an infuriatingly broken system; and the community will never advance in any meaningful way as long as clings to this incestuous promotion scheme. There are plenty of very good, very deserving officers at the RAG and NSAWC; top performers who I admire and in many cases count among my closest friends. But there are more than a few clowns too – and it is a straight roll of the dice which of these guys will be the next generation of squadron COs.

New ideas are not generated by homogenous groups who have been more or less stuck in the tube of an E-2 for their entire careers. It is a frustrating conversation to be forced to have every fucking FITREP cycle.