Civilians on Board the U.S.S. Greeneville
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RAY SUAREZ: For more on the merits or demerits of civilians on board submarines and other military vehicles, we get three perspectives: Rear Admiral Craig Quigley is Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.
Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan had a 35-year career in the Navy and retired in 1977. He is now with Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, a group that advocates less military spending.
And George Wilson is a columnist for the National Journal, a former Washington Post Pentagon correspondent and the author of six books about the military.
Admiral Quigley, as we reported, the civilian program is now under review. Should it return?
REAR ADMIRAL CRAIG QUIGLEY: Yes, indeed, Ray. And indeed Secretary Rumsfeld has no intention of canceling the program. This is all about the need for citizens in a democracy such as ours to understand and see firsthand what the men and women of their military do.
Over time you’ve gone from a very high percentage of individuals who have served in uniform to an ever decreasing number that have served in uniform. And young people simply don’t have an opportunity to understand the career options available to them, the people that live in the vicinity of a military installation have an opportunity to see what the men and women at that base or installation do.
And it’s a wonderful opportunity to share information that you can get no other way, no better way certainly than firsthand.
RAY SUAREZ: Admiral Jack Shanahan, what do you think, should it return?
VICE ADMIRAL JOHN SHANAHAN (Ret.): Yes. I think the process should be continued, Ray. However, an examination of its intent and purpose is definitely in order. I certainly agree with Admiral Quigley that there is an essential bonding that must take place between our military and our society.
But I think that that bonding and education, if you will, should take place through the entire spectrum of our society, not specifically to some elite group of organizations as say a payback or an award for services rendered, or to gain support for budget, the bottom line of the budget, or for a specific weapons system. When you start, when you get from educating the American people to public relations with the gee whiz dog and pony show, that’s where I draw the line.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, are there some kinds of civilian military contacts which you would endorse and others that you’re not so sure about?
VICE ADMIRAL JOHN SHANAHAN (Ret.): Sure, Ray. For example, open house, on board ship was a very popular way of acquainting the American people with what’s going on a aboard ship and on your military stations. It worked well, it didn’t cause any burden or inconvenience on the crews, because they were in port and you used the duty section to handle it.
Family cruises was a very high morale builder where you would take the loved ones of the crew out to sea on a nice quiet day, so they could see what their husbands, wives, daughters, what have you, were doing, and it built morale. As I recall in the Pacific fleet rigs when I was trying to do this required that a family cruise or any kind of cruise where you were taking civilians out had to be incident to another operational requirement. In other words you didn’t do this just for the benefit of the civilians, like I suspect was the case with the Greeneville.
RAY SUAREZ: Admiral, how do you respond?
REAR ADMIRAL CRAIG QUIGLEY: Well, by far the majority of the cases where you embark civilian guests for orientation visits are indeed done when a unit is normally scheduled to be under way for some sort of local training operation. But occasionally, as in this case, where you have had the guests have taken the time and effort and cost to travel all the way to Hawaii to do just this, in this case the Navy felt it was only fair to continue on, and to indeed carry out the overall purpose, which is to show what our submarine force in this case can do to this group of 16 guests.
RAY SUAREZ: And, Jack Shanahan, that raises a red flag for you?
VICE ADMIRAL JOHN SHANAHAN (Ret.): That raises a red flag for me, because 16 guests on board a submarine getting under way for that sole purpose, allowing these civilians to operate the equipment, Murphy’s Law is going to step into a situation like that and you’re going to have something bad happen.
RAY SUAREZ: Let’s go now to George Wilson. You’ve been on several of these trips, you’ve seen others taking them. Are they effective?
GEORGE WILSON: They’re very effective. You have to remember that the military day and night is in a competition for resources. So they want to show off what they can do, what they’re like, and I certainly agree with the other two that we should try and narrow the understanding gap between civilian society and military society. But I feel sorry for the skipper who suddenly gets an order to take 16 civilians out for the sole purpose of showing off. I don’t think that you would have an aircraft carrier skipper run flight operations just because there were some civilians in the neighborhood that you felt obligated to.
But as a general rule, I don’t think you can learn about the military from the Pentagon, that’s really a tip of a very large iceberg. You can’t understand a submarine unless you go out and spend at least a day and night aboard. You can’t understand an arm and rifle company unless you go out and field with them. You can’t understand how it is to land on a carrier unless you sit on the back seat and they you say, okay, Ray, it’s a dark night, you call the ball. You have to experience it to really get an appreciation of what the people who take a pledge to die for us are really trying to do out there.
But I have to say that sometimes the competition for resources, remember if the Navy gets 1 percent out of the Army’s budget or the Air Force’s budgets, that’s $3 billion. So sometimes the competition gets a little out of hand. And I think laying out a special mission to a very busy submarine skipper might have been one of these cases. But I don’t think that’s just justification for putting a keep out sign around the military.
RAY SUAREZ: But you’re saying more is going on than just civilian military links being forged?
GEORGE WILSON: Sure. I think we have to keep in mind that we’re in a competition for men’s minds; we’re in competition for taxpayers dollars, for military service so the big picture is that you have to justify your existence.
And the submarine force, the question is raised, well, what do we need submarines for, if there are no Russian boats out there to worry about — well, the submarine community is very adamant about saying we’re the best spy you’ve got out there, so keep building submarines. So there’s more to it than just trying to have a public relations link with civilians. It’s to show off what you can do and to show you have the right stuff and you have the best stuff.
RAY SUAREZ: But is it just anybody getting on board these ships in your experience, just civilians?
GEORGE WILSON: No, the focus is on influentials.
RAY SUAREZ: Who would they be?
GEORGE WILSON: Start with the president, if you can get a president aboard a carrier, which is often done, that’s good. If you can get a secretary of defense out here that’s good, senator, congressman, or reporter like yourself. I mean, influentials are the target. And it makes sense to try and influence public opinion by getting to people who have a certain clout in the public arena.
RAY SUAREZ: Do you go along with that, Admiral?
REAR ADMIRAL CRAIG QUIGLEY: Let me add one other category that’s becoming increasingly important. All the military services are working very hard to meet their goals of recruiting. And we’re all going for the same slice of young Americans, with high school degrees, clean record, good kids that have a future. And despite the recent softening in America’s economy, it’s still a very, very competitive place out there to get a job.
So as fewer people have served in uniform, over the years, and presenting fewer role models to our young people, all the branches of the military have put a particular emphasis on educators — high school teachers, guidance counselors, principals and the like, to make sure that they understand what America’s military is all about. And they can accurately portray to their high school students the many options that are available to a person to serve in uniform for the United States — very important.
RAY SUAREZ: But you heard Admiral Shanahan talking about open houses, family cruises. But we’ve also got civilians jumping out of planes, with trained paratroopers, civilians flying in military jets, and on various kinds of ocean going vessels that are in maneuvers and so on. Is there a hierarchy of risk that needs to be examined now, are some things more dangerous to do in these contacts than others?
REAR ADMIRAL CRAIG QUIGLEY: Well, I think that’s what you have seen Secretary Rumsfeld do here in the last week or so. He has put a moratorium in place for embarking guests, civilian guests and placing them in positions of control of the ships, of the tactical vehicles, of the aircraft — some of the particular weapon types and things of that sort. And he has put that moratorium in place indefinitely. So that not to stop the program, but to err on the side of safety and make sure that the guests get a safe orientation as to what their military is all about.
RAY SUAREZ: Admiral Shanahan, you heard George Wilson talk about the pressures, and you heard Admiral Quigley talk about continuing the program. As you’ve been reading about the story of the Greeneville, the state of the control room in the final moments before the ascent, did you start to put together a story in your own mind about how this may have happened?
VICE ADMIRAL JOHN SHANAHAN (Ret.): Well, basically I did. I felt that he had these people on board, he had a tight schedule, he got under way in the morning, he had a tight agenda, he probably had to get them back in by 16:00, so they could be briefed, debriefed and end up at the usual cocktail party. So the skipper was under serious time constraints.
He thought everything was in good shape. He might have, because of the pressure, cut a corner here or there. After all, that Japanese ship must have been within two miles of him when he started the maneuver. So, yes, there was a lot of pressure. But I agree, these civilians did not directly cause that accident. But there might have been some indirect contribution, and I think the board of inquiry will probably figure that out.
Let me add, Ray, if there’s time, that the American people need to know that our military forces are capable of winning our country’s battles and therefore prevent war in the first place. If they’re satisfied that we can do that job, then PR will take care of itself. Competition between the services belongs at the Army-Navy game every October, or November — not out in operational forces.
RAY SUAREZ: Are we going to see a different looking policy coming out of this incident?
REAR ADMIRAL CRAIG QUIGLEY: That is yet to know, Ray. But again, the focus here is to retain the program, but to do it and make double sure that it is carried out in a safe way. That is Secretary Rumsfeld’s goal.
RAY SUAREZ: Do you think that’s going to happen?
GEORGE WILSON: I think there will be a lid on how many guests you can take. I would predict they’ll say you can’t take hitch hikers unless it’s incidental to the mission at hand. I don’t think you’ll see any special trips for visits VIP’s any more. I think those are two things that will come out of this. I hope they don’t lock the door, because as every year goes by the gap gets wider between the military and civilian communities, and we need to narrow that gap.
RAY SUAREZ: Gentlemen, thank you all.