Sailors leaving Navy over stress on social issues, Top Gun instructor says

By Rowan Scarborough – The Washington Times

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.”

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.”

“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.”

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