- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Navy F-18 fighter pilot and former Top Gun instructor is publicly warning admirals that retention is beginning to suffer from the military’s relentless social conditioning programs.

Cmdr. Guy Snodgrass, until recently a Pentagon speech writer for the chief of naval operations, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, said sailors are becoming fed-up with the constant emphasis on social issues — an apparent reference to gays in the military, women in combat and ending sexual harassment.

“Sailors continue to cite the over-focus on social issues by senior leadership, above and beyond discussions on war fighting — a fact that demoralizes junior and mid-grade officers alike,” Cmdr. Snodgrass wrote this month on the U.S. Naval Institute website, an independent forum for active and retired sailors and Marines.

It is a remarkably frank assessment from an upwardly mobile fighter pilot who is due to become the executive officer of a F-18 unit in Japan.

He says one troubling sign already has emerged: a drop in applications to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis last year.

“The U.S. Navy has a looming officer retention problem,” Cmdr. Snodgrass writes, adding there is an “erosion of trust in senior leadership.”

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He says retention racked up its “worst year in history” for the special warfare community, including Navy SEALs, with a record number of lieutenants declining to stay.

The aviation side had a goal of 45 percent “take rate” on retention bonuses, but got only 36 percent.

“Unfortunately,” Cmdr. Snodgrass says in his 24-page study, “the fact that a growing number of quality officers have already left the service or are planning to head for the doors seems to be going undetected by senior leadership.”

He lists long wartime deployments as a leading retention negative.

He also tackles a touchier issue, what some sailors have referred to as “political correctness,” such as the banning of uniform patches that might offend someone.

Cmdr. Snodgrass writes of “a recent shift within the Navy to eradicate behavior that is, by its every nature, ineradicable.”

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“Put simply, there is no dollar amount that can be spent, or amount of training that can be conducted, that will completely eradicate complex issues such as suicide, sexual assault, or commanding officer reliefs for cause — yet we continue to expend immense resources in this pursuit,” he says. “Sailors are bombarded with annual online training, general military training, and safety stand-downs — all in an effort to combat problems that will never be defeated.”

Some of the pressure comes from Congress.

“The perception is that these efforts are not undertaken because they are incredibly effective, but rather because of significant political and public oversight,” the commander says.

Vice Adm. William Moran, deputy chief of naval operations for manpower, personnel, training and education, told The Washington Times Tuesday that he applauds Cmdr.  Snodgrass for warning that retention problems may lie ahead.

“I share many of the concerns and have similar questions raised in the paper,” Adm. Moran said. “Many have heard me on the road talk about how the Bureau of Naval Personnel, historically ‘swings behind the pitch,’ unable to nimbly react to economic and early stage retention issues. It’s not neglect, good people here trying to do the best they can with limited tools, but the fact is it has cost us in both good people and money. We have to do better, and I must say that this discourse helps.”

He added: “Fostering an environment where our people feel empowered to share thoughts on important issues is a core responsibility of leadership — ideas, good and bad, have no rank.”

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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