All posts in “USNI”

Preserving History: USNI, Kickstarter and USS Indianapolis


WORLD WAR 2 was really the first multi-media war.  True – photography was present in the American Civil War (or as my late grandma used to call it “The Late Unpleasantness” among some of her milder epithets – but we digress).  Motion pictures were still embryonic and grainy when WWI burst on the scene and so most people’s information of the war came via print — newspapers mostly.  WW2 changed that as along with “traditional” media, a new breed of journalist, the photo-journalist, appeared and significantly added to the wartime narrative via imagery.  Human beings are visual creatures (and some say the male of the species especially so) and while the best of the traditional journalists could still catch you with a compelling story, it was the photo-journals that brought the war home.  In stark black and white or color (Kodachrome™ no less) we were flooded with imagery from the banal to the heart wrenching.  Through the pages of magazines like Look and Life we followed the war from the images of still burning ships in Pearl Harbor, across North Africa with Patton, above Occupied Europe in a Flying Fortress or from the decks of a warship like the USS Indianapolis, the war was in our parlors, soda stands, five-and-dimes and scattered about break rooms at our work places.  From the skyscrapers of New York, to the manufacturing plants outside Detroit to a Nebraska farm, the work of photographers like Edward Steichen (who assembled what came to be perhaps the most famous team of photographers during the war) gave heretofore unprecedented access into a global war supported by those most distant from it.

But it wasn’t just the “name” photographers who set this precedent.  Unheralded unit photographers captured and documented all the details of this massive war effort.  Photographers such as Alfred Joseph Sedivi, ship’s photographer onboard USS Indianapolis were every bit as important as the byline photogs and the story they told gives us today, a window into a piece of America’s history and heritage we might otherwise miss.  Except that today, that history, that noble heritage is literally crumbling away in the ace of the onslaught of time and environment.  The Naval Institute is endeavoring to preserve this heritage though and is working to both preserve and transfer photos to digital form — their first major undertaking in this effort is the preservation of  Sedivi’s work and other rare images from the Indianapolis.  Doing so requires fiscal support and hereto, the Institute is trying something new by funding through Kickstarter.  To quote the Institute:

the Institute has launched a effort to raise the funds needed to restore and digitize all 1,650 photos. With your generous donation, we can ensure that this important collection of photographs will be available for the survivors and their families, as well as historians, the public, and future generations. Once digitized, the collection will be made available for viewing online via the Institute’s website. More information about the photography collection of Alfred Joseph Sedivi in the current issue of Naval History magazine.  $3,000 goal would provide the funds to digitize the entire 1,650 photo collection and preserve the original photos, including preservation materials (archive boxes, poly slides for each photo). The Institute’s stretch goal of $7,000 would enable the purchase of a quality digital camera and copy stand mount allowing for the photo albums to be digitized without being taken apart.  The albums would then be preserved and properly stored in their original and current condition.  If funds raised total $10,000 or more, the Naval Institute will develop a traveling exhibition of the photographs to be displayed at museums and locations across the US. 

It is a worthy endeavor and early success would aid larger and more complex projects in the future.  Head over and read more about it here.  It’s our heritage at stake – let’s see what we can do to preserve it.



USNI Join-up in Newport

Postcards for Website Naval Station Newport Aerial

In Newport on Thursday, 12 Dec 2013?  Have questions or concerns about what direction the Naval Institute is headed?  Or perhaps some ideas to share…maybe you’d like to meet an author and get that article or book idea that’s been rattling around in the brainpan for a few out into the open?  Or perhaps issues of national and naval strategy are tugging at your synapses.

Mayhaps all the above — if so, head over to the USNI Happy Hour kicking off at 1700:

The Malt
150 Broadway
Newport, RI

LCDR B.J. Armstrong, author of 21st Century Mahan and 2013 Navy League Literary Achievement award winner will be there to field questions and stir the waters…

Summertime Reading

Go ahead, admit it – the habit dies hard.  Before every summer you swear that you are finally going to read “—” and by golly, this is the summer to do it.  Well, Labor Day is a mere 20-days away and I’ll bet you’ve barely put a dent in the reading list.  Fear not however, YHS has been busily working his way through several books thoughtfully provided by their publishers and I’m about to expand your list going into the fall months. We have works of fiction and non-fiction, most of which (surprise!) have a naval/maritime theme.  Some have just hit the streets – others are coming to bookshelves, real and virtual in the very near future.  All come with a firm “thumbs-up” and “read” recommendation.  In no particular order:

The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy and King – The Five Star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea, by Walter R. Borneman (Little, Brown & Co.).  The book follows the paths of four Naval officers who rose to hold the highest rank in the US Navy at the end of the Second World War – the five-star rank of Fleet Admiral.  Borneman uses an interesting approach for this comparative biography, but in a manner different than what Larrabee took in his work (Commander in Chief: FDR His Lieutenants and Their War).  While Larrabee’s work bound several biographies together, Borneman instead follows all four of his subjects through the epochs that preceded the Navy’s involvement in WW2, an approach that works very well for gaining an understanding of the changes that brought the Navy from the Olympia at Manila Bay, to the massive Fleet extant in 1945, barely 47 years later.  With wide ranging backgrounds (Nimitz was born to German immigrants in Texas while Halsey hailed form a family of sailors) each had a particular style and means to accomplish their goals – and personalities to match.  Borneman carefully weaves the personal stories through the larger narrative of societal and technological changes in the world as seen through the Navy’s lens.  The faults and shortcomings of each are found alongside their triumphs as we follow the progression of their respective careers.  I am especially pleased at the inclusion of Leahy – an oversight I thought on Larrabee’s part.  Nimitz, Halsey and King have all been pretty well highlighted for their efforts during the war – especially the first two.  To a degree, that is expected given that those three were acting directly in the Service – from Halsey at the lead, Nimitz overseeing a vast theater and actions as disparate as fast carrier task group operations to amphibious landings, an active submarine war against the Japanese merchant fleet and the logistics to make it all work; and King in the dualist role of man/train/equip that is the CNO’s portfolio and balancing with the operational oversight of a Navy engaged in a global fight.  Leahy, retired and serving as Ambassador to France was recalled as FDR’s Chief of Staff and had the task, if not the formal title, of being the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, compelling the Navy, Army and Army Air Force to work the joint fight (not always successfully).  Another contribution of Leahy, highlighted in the book, was his insistence on including State in planning, especially for the post-war years.  An important aspect of historical works is their ability to provide insight and application in the here and now – otherwise it is merely an academic exercise.  One of the first observations of today’s reader would be that each of these individuals had one or more events or personality traits that would lead to early termination in today’s Service (to wit, the almost weekly detailing of CO firings found in Navy Times).  It is worth noting, however, the values and ethics these four shared remain relevant today – perseverance in the face of adversity, dedication to personal technical and warfighting competency, devotion to Service and those under your command, and personal accountability along with a certain openess to new ideas, new technology and different ways of doing business.  At the risk of using a word that is justifiably pilloried today, they nonetheless developed and implemented transformational plans, policies and operations  without transformation becoming an end unto itself.  Criticisms are few – I would, for example, have liked a bit more about King’s work in fighting the Battle of the Atlantic and there were a few editorial discontinuities to be expected in a pre-publication edition.  Overall – a very good work and one worth including on a list of professional reading.  On a scale of 1-5 stars I would rate it a 4.5 and definite buy.

The Aden Effect – A Connor Stark Novel, by Claude Berube (Naval Institute Press – Oct 2012 publication).  “Murder, politics, seapower, Middle East instability, and intrigue in the White House…” While that may describe the front page of the Washington Post these days, it is also the lead-in descriptor for the author’s first foray into fiction, set in the troubled waters off the Horn of Africa.  A Navy Reserve Officer who has deployed to the region, Berube draws deeply on his expertise in intelligence, history and surface warfare to set the stage and populate his work with a wide variety of characters – and I do emphasize characters.  The narrative flows well for a first fictional work and there are enough plot twists and sudden turns to keep you engaged and pressing deeper into the book.  I won’t delve into details the plot as the book is slated for release in October, but an overview is available at the pre-order site on the Naval Institute Press’ website.  I will point out that in order for the plot to work, the reader need not suspend all reality and disbelief as is the downfall of many works of fiction based on the real world.  Likewise, you won’t need a copy of Jane’s or the DICNAVAB at your side to follow the action.  The “stuff” of naval warfare – ships, aircraft, tactics and procedures, are nicely woven into the story, avoiding becoming the story themselves and allowing you to focus on the characters.  With reference to the characters – it would have been nice to see a little more development of the ancillary actors but that is understandable in the first take at fiction.

Is it a buy?  Certainly – coming out in October it is the perfect companion as you head up to the cabin for the weekend or off to the family reunion at Thanksgiving.  Overall I’d rate it at 4 on a scale of 1-5 stars and am looking forward to the next installment in the series.



PIRATE ALLEY: Commanding Task Force 151 Off Somalia, by RADM Terry McKnight, USN (Ret) and Michael Hirsh with a Foreward by Jim Miklaszewski (Naval Institute Press – October 2012 publication).  The reality of the ongoing scourge of piracy off the Horn of Africa is brought home in vivid detail in this volume co-written by a 31-year veteran of the sea service and a Vietnam War Army combat correspondent. Piracy is an industry that tallies almost $13B a year in worldwide economic impacts and in 2011, took some 1,000 seafarers into captivity.  It is not supported by a government – for in effect is no government in what has become a lawless territory and all that implies where International Law and the efforts to stop piracy are concerned. The first baby steps at confronting this scourge followed the MV Golden Nori incident (a Japanese-owned tanker carrying 40,000 tons of high;y explosive industrial benzene) in October 2007,  when in December 2008 the UN finally passed UNSCR 1846 which permitted actions in the territorial waters of Somalia for the express purpose of repressing acts of piracy through all means necessary – on the high seas and under international law.  The following month, January 2009, saw the stand-up of Combined Task Force 151 (CTF 151) in the Gulf of Aden with the express purpose of fighting piracy and RADM McKnight’s assignment as the first commander.  The narrative builds from there as we see the cumulative after-effects of previous actions and nonactions, distilled in the pirate’s business model, as illustrated by NAVCENT, VADM Gortney “They will not shoot at me.  I will get their money. And no one will arrest me.  It’s a good job.” And it had to be (a good job) in order to continue to attract recruits from the traditionally non-seafaring parts of the Somali back country and place them in  tiny skiffs, armed with AK-47’s and RPGs intent on capturing and holding hostage giant (to them) ships, their cargo and crew.  For millions.

The challenges of leading a CTF in that part of the world – the delicate politics of the situation, domestic and international; of dealing with a strategic messaging plan whose audience couldn’t possibly have been the pirates (“suspected pirates” – never “pirates” or terrorists” even when caught red-handed hundreds of miles offshore with weapons in their possession), of rules that said which nations could capture pirates and which could only “deter” piracy;  are all detailed here.  It is an interesting reading exercise in command judgement and innovation, well detailed by McKnight and Hirsh in examples that include several chapters on the capture/re-capture of the Maersk Alabama and freeing of her hostage captain.  It is also a work that serves to peel back the underlying layers of elements that support and contribute to piracy in the region in an attempt to better understand why it happens which in turn.  In a section titled Piracy 101, there is a conversation with an expert on the local area in general (Bosaso) and the pirates in particular in which he relates his surprise that whereas he thought he’d be interviewing pirates themselves, the first month or so of his investigation was spent talking to the businessmen who sprung up around the piracy and as he relates, gave him greater insight into piracy – there’s lots to like here and wealth of information in an easy and quick reading format.  I’ll be frank – I’ve always been interested in other aspects of naval matters and tended to read articles on piracy only out of a sense of obligation – not so here.  If there is just one book you read this fall on piracy, this should be it.  Overall – 4.5 stars on a scale of 1-5 and a must include on your professional reading list.

Thank you to the Naval Institute Press and Little, Brown & Co. for providing early/advanced copies of these books for review. – SJS

Launching the USNI Wiki

If you recall, we previously pointed to the Strategic Plan rolled out in last week’s Annual Membership meeting.  That plan has four objectives:

  1. Enhance national understanding of the vital contribution of American seapower;
  2. Preserve and make available naval history;
  3. Increase, broaden and engage our membership
  4. Secure endowments to fund key strategies and initiatives that enable the Naval Institute to realize its vision.

Now there’s a lot to like there, and especially as you drill down to the deliverables under each objective – but our readers know of the keen interest held in naval history ’round these parts.  And as you read down through the deliverables (yes, there is a reason I highlight that word), you will come acorss this item:

“Our strategies to preserve and make available Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard history rely on the power of recent technological advances. The list is long, but here is a sample:

3.  Our active-duty members have a lot to teach each other on matters as diverse as how to conduct a burial at sea or how to command. They will be able to share that information through our USNI Naval Wiki, a wisdom-of-the-crowd tool to connect our professional community and help them help each other to solve practical problems.”

The USNI wiki was rolled out this week (and a heartfelt BZ to Mary and the gang for their efforts in this regard – SJS) – so barely a week out from the meeting and one of the first deliverables is on the street, recognizing, of course, that it is a living work and expectations are that it will continue to meet the highest standards as established by the Institute in the promulgation of information.

Oh, and for those who access the net via smartphone or tablets, RUMINT has the USNI app coming down the ways in the very near future, thus another deliverable:

4.  Access to USNI’s information, such as Naval Wiki, is great if you have a computer and an Internet connection. It’s a problem if you don’t. We will solve that problem by designing and building applications for Android & iOS (iPhone/iPad) devices that will hold information, make it instantly available, and then update it when the devices are re-connected to the Internet.

should be met in the near future.  And we hear of many other good works in various forms of progress too are on the way.

And this is good.


US Naval Institute: 2012 Annual Meeting

Back from this year’s meeting with some goods and a few others.  First off, I want to thank again everyone for your votes and support for my candidacy to the USNI Board of Directors.  Alas, I did not make it and while a bit disappointed (my one “other” here), I am encouraged with the cohort who have been elected.  Moreover, after listening to CEO VADM(ret) Pete Daly’s “State of the Institute” speech I am very much encouraged at the direction and future of the Institute compared to this time last year.  To begin, most importantly, the mission remains unchanged – to be an independent forum “for those who dare to read, think, speak, and write in order to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and other issues critical to national defense.”  Building on that mission is the new vision of being the preeminent thought leader in seapower. Why is that critical?  It accomplishes three functions — building professionalism among the Sea Services’ members, enabling access to our history and informing (not influencing – a subtle but important point especially for a non-profit like USNI) the public on the vital role seapower plays in the daily course of this nation and our allies.  The latter is an important point as we come off a decade of large commitments of the national treasure in manpower and material, to land wars in Central Asia.  The maritime narrative, save for the opening days/weeks of conflict, has, perforce, been muted and secondary to that required for the support of those efforts.  In combination with concern, and (one hopes eventual) discourse and decision over the national debt and priorities, having an organization that can serve as a “go to” source for information and education in naval matters, one that is not beholden to industry or advocacy group, and can serve as an honest point of reference for seapower writ large will become increasingly important.  And there you will find the Naval Institute – at least that is the vision of current leadership and the gist of the Strategic Plan.  The Strategic Plan summary, by the way, is available and may be read here.  Again, another item in the “good” column.  Focus especially on the strategic objectives and I think you will find that may of the concerns and recommendations raised here and in several other locations last year are being addressed.  Bu the proof is in the doing and therein lie challenges and opportunities.

Foremost among these, as VADM Daly point out, is membership.  Mere numbers are not enough if, frankly, your membership is graying by the day.  While somewhere in the 46-47,000 range, an overwhelming number of members are like myself – retired, but still very much engaged and interested in all matters naval and maritime.  Yet the long-term survival and ability to thrive is very much dependent on the intake of a much younger cohort and where USNI in particular is concerned, one drawn from across the ranks and within the lifelines; officer and enlisted alike.  That is the dynamic of today’s sea services and a reflection of the mission areas we are engaged.  A number of initiatives were mentioned, including the gifting of student memberships (keep an eye on this, more details are coming and I am fully onboard), advisory panels that include and are focused on junior officers, enlisted and the larger membership all of whom have POVs that are vital and necessary in the long term viability of the Institute and arrive from a different locus than that of the sole, flag-member panel (which too has a place).  Expect to see more membership meetings held in association with other naval/maritime related fora, especially in fleet concentration areas.  For example, this May 15th will be the next membership meeting held in conjunction with the 2012 Joint Warfighting Conference and Exposition in Virginia Beach.  And the Annual membership meetings, beginning with this year’s, will change in tenor and content — today’s, for example, included a post-lunch session with VADM Harwood, deputy CENTCOM and hosted by Mr. David Hartman (of GMA among other things).

In sum there’s a lot of good going on, but it is all for naught without an engaged membership – by which I mean more than just reading your monthly issue of Proceedings.  This is our Institute and as stockholders by dint of our membership and naval service, now or in the past, it behooves us to take interest and ramp up our participation in all aspects of the organization.  The CEO, USNI staff, Board of Directors and Editorial Board all are engaged and have their work cut out for them – and we too can take a round turn and lend a hand.

A New Year and the Naval Institute

It is January and this month’s issue of Proceedings and Naval History will include the ballot for the next Board of Directors.  In contrast, I think, to years past there is a wide selection of candidates to chose from who come from a number of paths – aviators, SWOs, submariners; Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, active duty, retired and distinguished civilian that ranges from senior enlisted through FO/GO.  It is, in sum, an exceptional list of accomplished candidates and one I am deeply humble to have been nominated for as well.

Yes, you read that right — I am a candidate on the ballot for the 2012 USNI Board of Directors.

I was approached by a group of members who were seeking to recruit candidates who had attained a degree of success and recognition in their naval service and if retired, who carried that recognition into their current career.  In addition, this membership-led effort was concerned with forwarding candidates who would ensure the Naval Institute would remain an independent, objective forum for the naval services as reflected in the concerns raised by a large part of the membership last year.  I participated in the debate through this and other fora as one who argued for the USNI to hold to its founding principles which have separated and elevated it above the many warfighter community, Service and industry oriented advocacy associations that have grown and multiplied over the years.  The Naval Institute, by both challenging all to “dare to think, write and debate” and providing the independent forum to do so, has staked out this singular, widely recognized and respected territory and should not cede it.  To that, I remain committed.

That, however, does not mean there is no room for change.  Indeed, there are several challenges across a number of fronts the Institute faces in the coming years in an effort to remain relevant in the ongoing national debate.  These are among the concerns as a member of the Board of Directors I would address and argue for action:

  • Grow our membership through outreach and recruiting of junior officers and senior enlisted.
  • Establish an advisory board comprised of active duty and Reserve officers (O-3 to O-5) and enlisted (E-5 to E-7), representing a cross-section of the naval services that would compliment the already existing Flag Advisory board to provide the POV and concerns at the deck-plates-level I think is lacking today.
  • Open the aperture on all forms of traditional and “new” media –  this would include expanding the online offerings to include current, relevant and substantive content that resides behind a membership firewall and encourages membership growth.
  • A clear path of encouragement, recruiting and mentorship resources to assist up and coming writers – be they interested in blogging, writing for Proceedings or Naval History, or even those interested in submitting to manuscripts to the Naval Institute Press.

These are but a few of the concerns the Naval Institute needs to move forward.  The coming year, with the challenges to be faced domestically and internationally by our nation and its naval services places us at another of those critical junctions with questions not only about force structure and missions, but the very character of and rationale for a Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.  The existence of an independent forum with a reputation for the full, free and frank informed discussion and debate on these and so many other issues is vital in this process and that forum is the Naval Institute.  As a member of the Board of Directors, that will remain my chief concern and focus.

Thank you for your consideration and vote.


CAPT Carl W. (“Will”) Dossel, USN (Ret.)
Steeljaw Scribe

Please also consider these candidates when making your selection:

  • RADM Daniel R. Bowler, USN (Ret.)
  • CAPT Karl M.Hasslinger, USN (Ret.)
  • Mr. Mark W. Johnson
  • Dr. J.P. “Jack London, CAPT USNR (Ret.)
  • CAPT Dave M. McFarland, USN
  • Mr. Edward S. Miller
  • HON B.J. Penn
  • CAPT Gordan E. Van Hook, USN (Ret.)

The USNI 2012 Elections Page may be found here.