Eye on the Navy
Demands of the sea never change
By Edward Lundquist
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Technology has transformed the way Navy ships operate, but respect for the sea and the need for a strong moral compass have not changed in the past 40 years, says Vice Admiral Rodney Rempt, Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy at <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Annapolis, Maryland. Rempt is also the “Old Salt,” meaning he is the “senior” Surface Warrior on active duty.
Rempt began his seagoing career as a junior officer on a destroyer on the gun line off Vietnam. Later, he prepared to fight a Cold War fleet engagement. “Our AEGIS fleet was designed for the Soviet air threat.”
Today, computerized navigation has replaced celestial observations and handwritten sight reduction equations. Contact course and speed and station keeping determined automatically instead of with a maneuvering board.
“We have new and better sensors, and weapons with longer ranges and better accuracy,” Rempt says. “What has not changed are the demands of the sea. There are tough days and good days. You need stamina, perseverance and vigilance. You must undertake your job as a watchstander with a sense of accountability and responsibility in what you are doing, particularly if you are an officer of the deck (OOD) at night or in a firefight ashore with your Marines.”
The scope and magnitude of shipboard operations has expanded, too. “We used to focus on fighting well as a unit, training our bridge team, CIC, gunnery crews, and learning to fight together as a ship. Today we focus on fighting as part of a Joint Force. We operate as part of a Carrier Strike Group, and Expeditionary Strike Group, or as part of a Sea base. There is more of a joint emphasis.”
Today, he notes, the Navy has shifted its thinking to how best to support forces ashore by projecting defense and providing precision strike. Today’s Navy is a distributed fleet that is designed to address asymmetric threats. Our contemporary Navy is also well postured to provide prompt and meaningful humanitarian assistance, such as in response to the Tsunami or Hurricane Katrina.
As a junior officer, Rempt was impressed that he could live in San Diego, but travel aboard his ship to the far reaches of the Pacific Ocean and back again. He learned to stand his bridge watches in demanding sea conditions and during periods of intense operations.
The designation as the “Old Salt” is determined by the date of attainment of the Surface Warfare designation, or Officer-of-the-Deck letter for those who qualified before the SWO designation was established. Rempt recalls he qualified as OOD while transiting from Sydney to Wellington aboard USS Coontz (DLG 9) in 1967.
This “seniority” is a relative thing to the Midshipmen at the Academy, Rempt says. “When I was a junior officer is ancient history to them.”
But Rempt’s experience enables him to set and maintain a high standard for the Midshipmen. “We want our Midshipmen to be the commanding officer of a YP,” he says, referring to the Yard Patrol Craft used for training. “’You have four years to do it,’ we tell them. Only a few will obtain this, but it’s what we want them to do.”
Rempt says “We teach basic seamanship and watch keeping to all Midshipmen to give them a better sense of the sea and the weather. Even those who will not be surface warriors need this fundamental knowledge. Marines and naval aviators still operate from ships. With all of the electronic sensors available to you, there is no substitute for deck officers and lookouts who understand their surroundings. Radars and sensors can give a sense of complacency.”
Building an effective team.
Rempt says the Academy strives to develop Midshipmen into good leaders. By leading by example, one can earn the trust of their subordinates, and build teamwork with the people they are trying to lead.
“We teach them to do the things that help build the team. As leaders, they are usually responsible for a handful of people. On a ship, a division officer has his or her chief and leading petty officers. A department head has his or her division officers. A CO has the executive officer, command master chief and department heads. It isn’t necessary to deal with everybody and their issues. It is important to understand and work closely with that team for which you are responsible, to help them with their careers and their family issues. Focus on them and they can focus on their teams. The result is a very caring and supportive organization, Rempt says.
The Academy teaches core values.
The Navy has gone through some ups and downs, but the desire to live up to these high standards has not changed, Rempt says. “We want them to take honor into their soul, with continuous vigilance and application of what they’ve learned.”
The Navy’s core values of honor, courage and commitment are pretty simple. The Academy teaches honor. If your people do not trust you, they will not follow you.
“They come from all walks of life,” says Rempt, referring to the freshman “plebes” who come to Annapolis. “They don’t all have the same standard. We have the same focus on leadership, honor and character values today as we did when I was a Midshipman. They’re smarter, and better academically and physically prepared. They come into the Academy at a higher standard than when I arrived here, and leave even better. But they do not all arrive with the same sense of honor. By the time they graduate, however, they are ready to lead and serve with the highest sense of personal honor.
That’s a big challenge, but “They have four years at the academy to do that.”
The young people who come to the Naval Academy inspire Rempt. “Their whole approach to serving impresses me. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They want to make a difference.”
Rempt says he can speak for the Old Salts before him. “None of us thought we would be around as long as we did. My roommate, Mike Haskins and I vowed we would never come back here after we graduated. Both of us became admirals, and here I am as the Superintendent, and Mike retired and is now the Distinguished Chair of Leadership at the United States Naval Academy.”
Edward Lundquist is a retired U.S. Navy captain. He is a senior technical director for Anteon Corporation, Washington, DC