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That's the thesis of the generational pearl-clutching published in the May 2019 issue of Proceedings, in which Navy Capt. John L. Bub, Jr., director of operations and training for Tactical Training Group Atlantic (TTGL), argued that the "highly distracting" chatrooms utilized by sailors aboard Navy vessels are a sinister threat to surface operations that desperately require our attention.
"Don't text and drive has been ingrained in our collective consciousness. Distracted driving is the number one cause of accidents in the United States, and the number one distraction causing those accidents is drivers texting on their mobile phones," opens Bub. "On warships at sea, watchstanders face a similar problem—they all have the ability to, and are even required to, communicate through message chat rooms on computers at their watch stations."
Yes, true: Distracted driving kills more than speeding or booze when it comes to car accidents, and the same logic that applies to your Ford should probably apply to a multimillion-dollar warship. But Bub's thesis quickly devolves into his best impression of bewildered septuagenarian Abe Simpson from the titular animated comedy (emphasis ours):
Despite the ubiquity of information today and the sophisticated information technology systems afloat, staff tactical watchstanders remain severely challenged in maintaining an accurate picture on tactical displays.
Most watch stations now have chat rooms that watchstanders are required to monitor along with their console display. Young watchstanders are very comfortable monitoring chat rooms, but less comfortable monitoring radar. This is like being more comfortable texting than looking out a car's windshield while driving. They are even less comfortable talking on the radio, though doing so would better allow them to communicate while simultaneously monitoring their tactical displays. Communicating through text as opposed to verbally reflects the pervasive presence of digital media in today's society. Furthermore, this trend away from verbal communication and the decline in professional, competent radio procedures has been exacerbated by the elimination of the Radio Users Telephone Handbook to train watchstanders
"When the fight starts and missiles are flying, watchstanders may only have seconds to react and save the ship," he concludes. "My great hope is that if that happens the watchstander will be looking at the tactical display and not the chat window."
So let me get this straight: in the event of an imminent collision (like, say, the car crash situation Bub invoked in his opening graf), young watchstanders won't call for help because ... they're more comfortable texting than calling for help over the phone?
Look, it's certainly true that younger generations prefer text to talking, but Bub's only evidence that this is directly impacting surface operations is, well, "I have mentored and evaluated many ships and watchstanders." Luckily for us, we have two years of Navy investigations into the back-to-back mishaps of the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain to provide some real-world insight in to how watchstanders react in times of crisis.
First, let's take a look at the "dual-purpose investigation" into the Fitzgerald collision by Rear Adm. Brian Fort and obtained by Navy Times in January 2019:
[The USS Fitzgerald's] Voyage Management System that generated more "trouble calls" than any other key piece of electronic navigational equipment. Designed to help watchstanders navigate without paper charts, the VMS station in the skipper's quarters was broken so sailors cannibalized it for parts to help keep the rickety system working.
Since 2015, the Fitz had lacked a quartermaster chief petty officer, a crucial leader who helps safely navigate a warship and trains its sailors — a shortcoming known to both the destroyer's squadron and Navy officials in the United States, Fort wrote.
Fort determined that Fitz's crew was plagued by low morale; overseen by a dysfunctional chiefs mess; and dogged by a bruising tempo of operations in the Japan-based 7th Fleet that left exhausted sailors with little time to train or complete critical certifications.
So the equipment was broken and the Fitzgerald crew were exhausted and hated their lives — sounds about right. How about the McCain? According to the Navy, the problem wasn't screen obsession but bad training, per Navy Times:
[The] McCain's bridge team was neither experienced nor qualified to the level they should have been to be steaming a warship through crowded waters, and the Navy's report acknowledged as much, blaming the failures on the bridge team's insufficient local training and qualifications.
That's because multiple members of the bridge team on watch at the time of the collision were temporarily assigned from the cruiser Antietam and had never officially qualified to operate the bridge equipment on board McCain.
The report noted that the differences between the two ship's steering systems were significant, but none of the watch-standers were given any training to learn the new system.
I'm sorry, Bub: I trust your experience, but levying this argument without even the slightest bit of anecdotal elaboration seems eerily reminiscent of somebody stewing over being snubbed by their granddaughter's dinnertime iPhone use. Time comes for us all — just embrace it.
Read the whole article on the U.S. Naval Institute website here.
My brother earned the Medal of Honor for saving countless lives — but only after he was left for dead
"As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night."
Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.
Air Force Master Sgt. John "Chappy" Chapman is my brother. As one of an elite group, Air Force Combat Control — the deadliest and most badass band of brothers to walk a battlefield — John gave his life on March 4, 2002 for brothers he never knew.
They were the brave men who comprised a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) that had been called in to rescue the SEAL Team 6 team (Mako-30) with whom he had been embedded, which left him behind on Takur Ghar, a desolate mountain in Afghanistan that topped out at over 10,000 feet.
As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night. After many delays, the mission should and could have been pushed one day, but Szymanski ordered the team to proceed as planned, and Britt "Slab" Slabinski, John's team leader, fell into step after another SEAL team refused the mission.
But the "plan" went even more south when they made the rookie move to insert directly atop the mountain — right into the hands of the bad guys they knew were there.
Sen. Rick Scott is backing a bipartisan bill that would allow service members to essentially sue the United States government for medical malpractice if they are injured in the care of military doctors.
The measure has already passed the House and it has been introduced in the Senate, where Scott says he will sign on as a co-sponsor.
"As a U.S. Senator and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, taking care of our military members, veterans and their families is my top priority," the Florida Republican said in a statement.
Little girls everywhere will soon have the chance to play with a set of classic little green Army soldiers that actually reflect the presence of women in the armed forces.
Russia established an air base in the Syrian city where withdrawing US troops were pelted with potatoes
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia landed attack helicopters and troops at a sprawling air base in northern Syria vacated by U.S. forces, the Russian Defence Ministry's Zvezda TV channel said on Friday.
On Thursday, Zvezda said Russia had set up a helicopter base at an airport in the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli, a move designed to increase Moscow's control over events on the ground there.
Qamishli is the same city where Syrian citizens pelted U.S. troops and armored vehicles with potatoes after President Donald Trump vowed to pull U.S. troops from Syria.
An Austrian soldier was apparently killed by two military working dogs that he was charged with feeding, the Austrian Ministry of Defense announced on Thursday.