Friday, January 12, 2007

Expect more transparency pushed by the Commandant of the Coast Guard

On Wednesday, Jennifer Grogan of the New London Day wrote Allen Vows CGA Report Will Be Thorough (Commandant: It's 'incredibly important' that study of cadet culture be done right). I have to tell you, were this ten years ago or five years ago or, even, one year ago, I would have called BS.

Well, I'm a believer now.

I just hope that Admiral Allen is actually able to help the Service make a culture shift, and that he has the support inside, and out, to keep us going in the right direction.
The commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard promised Tuesday a “fully transparent” report on student life at the Coast Guard Academy.

Adm. Thad W. Allen said the report, which is expected at Coast Guard headquarters this month, will examine whether recent incidents of cadet misbehavior are isolated or part of a trend.

The review was initiated after the court-martial of a former cadet last summer on charges of sexual assault, and after other reports of sexual misbehavior and alcohol abuse surfaced.

“Anytime you have anything like that happen, it's a problem,” Allen said. “The question is, is it a problem in isolation or are there systemic issues to deal with?”

Since September, a task force has been examining the climate and culture among cadets at the academy. Retired Rear Adm. Erroll Brown, the first African-American to be promoted to flag rank in the Coast Guard, leads the group. Vice Adm. Robert J. Papp, the Coast Guard's chief of staff, will review the report. The final version could be released in February.

Allen said there will be an event to pass out the report and identify where the service needs to take action.

“I'm incredibly proud of Admiral Brown and his folks taking a look at this,” he said.

Allen discussed the report in an interview following his annual leadership address at the academy Tuesday. He shared some of the report's preliminary findings with the cadets.

“It's incredibly important we get this right,” he told them. “This institution is being looked at because you are special. You competed against some of the most qualified students, athletes and college candidates in the world. You owe it to yourself, in terms of self-respect, and we owe it to you, in terms of the respect we have for you, to make sure this four years is the best we can do to produce competent officers and leaders of the Coast Guard.”

Two of the report's themes, Allen said, are the need to instill “officership” in the cadet corps and the importance of respect. He defines officership as the skill, expertise and personal integrity required of a Coast Guard officer as a professional, a leader and a servant of the nation.

“In the process of becoming an officer, you are held to a higher standard,” Allen said. “I am held to a higher standard. We are all held to a higher standard.”

Officers must embody the core values of the Coast Guard — honor, respect and devotion to duty, he said. Allen views respect as a link between honor and duty, which binds the two together.

“It's what takes you as an individual, the talent and the skills that you have, and allows you to function in a larger organization to serve your country,” he said.

Allen added that when people make mistakes and bad decisions, this absence of respect “erodes and tears apart the link between honor and devotion to duty.”

“Your time here is indistinguishable from the rest of your time in the service,” he told the cadets. “It is our challenge and it is your challenge to understand the extraordinary opportunity that exists for you within these walls, to understand that you are today members of the Coast Guard. If you understand that simple idea, you will know why respect for yourself and others is so vitally important here and in the field.”

After the speech, Capt. Judith Keene, the academy's commandant of cadets, thanked Allen.

“You reinforced everything we have been saying to the cadets,” she told him.

Rob O'Donnell, a senior or first-class cadet, said he appreciated Allen's candor.

“He brought things to light and he gave us a path to ensure that the academy continues to do the good things it has done so far,” he said.

The review at the academy is part of a larger self-assessment being done by the Coast Guard. Allen said he has ordered a “top-to-bottom review.”

The Coast Guard is in the final stages of examining how it is organized to deliver support services for field units and how operations are directed through the command and control systems.

As the Coast Guard adapts to a changing strategic environment, Allen said that the training of cadets must also change. He said possibilities could include a modified curriculum at the academy with lessons that provide more of a strategic context.

“If you're going to develop an officer corps capable of handling a much broader spectrum of threats in the future, you have to make sure that those types of competencies are started to be imbedded when you bring officers in through Officer Candidate School or the academy here,” he said.

There is a discussion within the Department of Homeland Security about educational opportunities and leadership development. There has been talk of a school devoted to the new view of national protection, but a location has not been announced.

Allen said the academy has a significant amount of related infrastructure, capacity and competency.

“The question is, How should we position the academy going forward in what will be a department-wide demand for education and training?” he said. “There probably are some opportunities here.”
I see a graduate school, ala a war college headed our way. And rightly so.

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