Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Conversation with the Creator... of NPRP

Captain John Jackson, SC, USN (ret) has been the program manager for the Navy Professional Reading Program since the program was first envisioned by the CNO. Jackson is a full professor at the Naval War College, in Newport, Rhode Island. Prior to his retirement from the Navy in 1996, he was a supply and logistics specialist with more than 27 years of experience both afloat and ashore. He holds advanced degrees from Providence College and Salve Regina University; is a graduate of the Management Development Program at Harvard University; and he completed the College of Naval Command and Staff in 1983. His doctoral research addresses the influence of technology on the human condition. We interviewed him exclusively for Navy Reads blog but encourage others to publish this interview about the origins of the Navy Reading Program.

How did the NPRP get started? Who had the idea for it; what was the spark that got it started?

Shortly after being named as CNO, ADM Mike Mullen requested the Naval War College to develop a Professional Reading Program that was more than just a list of suggested titles of books to read. Over the fall of 2005 and the spring of 2006, we developed the “matrix” structure of what became the Navy Professional Reading Program (NPRP). The Program consists of 6 areas of skills/competencies needed by all Sailors:

- Critical Thinking
- Joint and Combined Warfare
- Regional and Cultural Awareness
- Leadership
- Naval and Military Heritage
- Management and Strategic Planning

Within each of these areas, books are recommended for various grade levels, although every Sailor is encouraged to read any book in the NPRP Library, as well as other books of merit. The overall library is divided into various collections, as an aid to those readers who are looking to focus their reading on books of particular relevance at their particular career point. The collections are:

Junior Enlisted Collection
Leading Petty Officer Collection
Division Leaders Collection
Department/Command Leaders Collection
Senior Leaders Collection

We formed a Navy Professional Reading Program Advisory Group, and nominated 60 primary titles to the Chief of Naval Operations for his approval. Once approved by ADM Mullen, we obtained funds, purchased over 65,000 books, and distributed them to 900 locations around the fleet. The official kick-off was in October 2006, when the Navy gave itself a birthday present: The NPRP.

The first complete NPRP Library was hand delivered to the oldest ship in the Navy, USS Constitution, in celebration of the Navy’s 231st Birthday.

The “spark” that got it started came directly from the Chief of Naval Operations, and it continues to have the personal interest and support of ADM Roughead and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick West.

How many people collaborated on recommending books in 2006?

The NPRP Advisory Group included representatives from the Naval Academy, the Naval Postgraduate School, the Naval War College, the Naval Historical Center, and the Senior Enlisted Academy. We also got input from the U.S. Naval Institute, the Commander, Naval Installations Command (which operates base libraries) and other sources. Altogether, over a dozen individuals considering several hundred books before the final 60 titles were approved by CNO. Many of the books that did not make the cut for the primary library are now listed as “Supplementary Suggestions” on the NPRP website.

What were some of the criteria for selecting titles?

The books must be currently in print, and thus available for purchase and distribution.
All titles must address one or more of the skills/competencies in the program matrix.
The books should cover topics and issues of enduring value.

Do you have any anecdotes or stories about how the NPRP helped individuals? Have senior Navy leaders told you the program is helpful?

In 2007, a survey was conducted by the Navy Personnel Research, Studies, and Technology organization. Seventy-five percent of the senior leaders surveyed said that “The NPRP will make the Navy of tomorrow better than the Navy of today.” Aboard USS Vella Gulf (CG-72), the CO established a “Heritage and History Leadership Essay” contest where Sailors could win cash awards for writing about books from the NPRP. The skipper of USS Stockdale (DDG-106) asked for a NPRP library during their pre-commissioning work-up, since he felt these books would help shape his crew into the cohesive fighting unit they are destined to become.

You've quoted CNO Adm. Gary Roughead as saying the NPRP should be used as a "starting point." Can you give us short list of recommended additional titles, beyond what's on the original 2006 list?

In February 2009, CNO released the first revision to the NPRP, which we call NPRP 2.0. This revision added five great new titles to the NPRP library:

Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrel
Aircraft Carriers at War by James L. Holloway, III
The Elephant and the Dragon Robyn Meredith
Forgotten Continent by Michael Reid
Six Frigates by Ian Toll

We also recommend Wired for War by P.W. Singer (about the robotics revolution) and Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen (about promoting peace through education).

Who is recommending additional titles as the program evolves? Would you accept recommendations from Sailors and Navy civilians? (If so, how could they make those recommendations?)

The Program Office at the Naval War College receives emails and letters nearly every day with book suggestions. Our Advisory Group also exchanges messages about new books, and we get suggestions from faculty members at NWC, NPS and USNA. Suggestions can be forwarded to us at:

What's on the horizon for the NPRP?

We are experimenting with e-book readers such as the Kindle to see if this technology is a good way to get our books in the hands of our readers. We have purchased “Playaway”-brand audio-books for patients in Navy hospitals who cannot read, or hold a book, but still want to participate in the NPRP. We are hoping to sponsor author book signings with our partners at the Navy Exchanges, and we continue to make our website as interesting and functional as possible.

You've said elsewhere that you encourage people to renew their fighting spirit through the power of professional reading. Would you expound on why reading is important for our Navy and our nation?

In early 2009, CNO noted in a Navy-wide message:

“Reading, discussing, and understanding the ideas and concepts found in the NPRP will not only improve our critical thinking, it will also help us become better Sailors, better leaders, and better citizens. As President John Adams once warned, "A fighting spirit without knowledge would be little better than a brutal rage." I encourage all personnel to renew their fighting spirit through the power of professional reading.”

Reading is important because it allows people to benefit from the lessons learned by others, going back literally thousands of years. An old sage once said “You can never live long enough to make all the mistakes yourself”! Good books entertain, illustrate, and educate. They open a door to the past, they explain what is happening today, and they project what may happen in the future. You only need to read about the actions of the men and women in Navy-blue who went before you to understand that we are all part of an organization much bigger than ourselves, and with a tremendous legacy on which we can build. Thomas Jefferson once wrote: “I cannot live without books”! Every avid reader feels the same way.

Do you think books could become "dinosaurs" in the age of social media, electronic games and cable/Internet TV?

Modern technology is great, and any tools which improve communications between individuals are positive things. Even so, the book (in hard-copy, electronic format, or in audio) still has a place in everyone’s life. A book provides a level of detail on a subject that no movie can match; it energizes the reader’s imagination, so the concepts are tailored to the experiences and expectations of each individual; and a printed book is compact, permanent, easy to carry, and needs no batteries!

What are some brand new titles you'd recommend as good Navy reads?

Six Frigates by Ian Toll (fairly new) - about founding of the U.S. Navy; Leave No Man Behind by George Galdorisi and Thomas Phillips about Combat Search and Rescue; Shattered Sword by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully about the Battle of Midway; and Lincoln and His Admirals by Craig Symonds about President Lincoln’s relationship with his naval commanders during the Civil War.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share about the Navy Professional Reading Program?

Every indication is that the NPRP has been warmly embraced by our Sailors who are interested in their professional development. In addition to the books which are widely available in lending libraries aboard all ships, in squadron ready-rooms, and at base libraries and liberty centers around the fleet, these books are available for sale at reduced prices in all Navy Exchanges and by using the NEX on-line and telephone ordering systems. Since the program began, over 60,000 books have been purchased by Sailors who wanted to create their own professional libraries.

You can read them in hard-copy…. You can read them as e-Books…. You can listen to them as audio-books. The Navy Professional Reading Program is accessible to everyone who wants to participate and as the program’s motto says, it will help “Accelerate your Mind.”

Special thanks to Professor John E. Jackson. Read more from Professor Jackson at the Naval War College. We welcome readers' comments about NPRP and the books in the various collections; also, your suggestions for this blog are always appreciated. -- Bill Doughty

Friday, July 3, 2009

Honor, Courage, Commitment In 1776

1776 by David McCullough

Review by Bill Doughty

One of the many benefits of the Navy’s Professional Reading list is finding books that bring history to life.

Such is the case with David McCullough’s 1776, a compelling, lively story of the fragile beginnings of our nation and how the United States nearly didn’t make it.

McCullough introduces us to George Washington, King George III, and Benedict Arnold, as well as lesser-known but equally colorful characters like Major General Charles Lee, Washington’s deputy.

About Lee: “He was a spare, odd-looking man with a long, hooked nose and dark, bony face. Rough in manner, rough of speech, he had nothing of Washington’s dignity. Even in uniform he looked perpetually unkempt . . . He had been married to an Indian woman, the daughter of a Seneca chief,” writes McCullough. “Lee was also self-assured, highly opinionated, moody, and ill-tempered (his Indian name was Boiling Water), and he was thought by many to have the best military mind of any of the generals, a view he openly shared.”

Using hundreds of quotes from archived letters, diaries, and newspaper accounts of the time, McCullough shows how the honor of individuals – Americans, “Loyalists,” and the British – was tested in battle. He describes the commitment of leaders and volunteers in fruit orchard battles, city sieges, and long marches through forests in the dead of night. He reveals the courage of the mostly volunteer militia against overwhelming odds, facing the British army and Hessian forces.

Honor, courage and commitment come together in the story of Henry Knox of Boston. Knox was a self-educated bookseller from Boston who enjoyed reading about the “military art” and who became a colonel in Washington’s army.

“Colonel Henry Knox was hard not to notice,” writes McCullough. “Six feet tall, he bulked large, weighing perhaps 250 pounds. He had a booming voice. He was gregarious, jovial, quick of mind, highly energetic – ‘very fat, but very active’ – and all of twenty-five.”

McCullough writes: “The army that had crossed in the night from Brooklyn was, in the light of day on August 30, a sorry sight to behold – filthy, bedraggled, numb with fatigue, still soaked to the skin, many of them sick and emaciated. The army that had gone off to Brooklyn cheering was no more.”

Knox had the idea of bringing 58 mortars and cannon from Fort Ticonderoga in New York to the outskirts of Boston.

Traveling over snow-blanketed hills and across ice-covered rivers, cutting down trees and using sleds, Knox and his team succeeded in bringing the heavy guns (believed to be 120,000 pounds in total) to Washington. Knox’s heroic act helped deal a powerful and demoralizing early blow to the British.

1776 shows the few victories, but it includes painful details of the losses and the almost hopelessness of the situation at times.

The capture of more than a thousand American prisoners in Brooklyn was part of a terrible campaign in New York, including a retreat into New Jersey.

Thomas Paine famously wrote in The American Crisis:

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value.

Paine's writings unquestionably inspired the leaders, warriors and patriots of the time. Washington is said to have ordered Paine's words read throughout the Continental Army.

The tide for Washington turned, thanks to freak weather conditions, some political crises on both sides of the Atlantic, and a timely capture of British vessels carrying resources all helped turn the tide for the colonies.

Logistics played a key role in determining the outcome of the war, according to military leaders and historians worldwide, and the story of 1776 and logistics still resonates with allies of the United States today.

In 2007, Vice Adm. Yoshinari Kawano, Commander of the Maritime Materiel Command of the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force, spoke at the Supply Corps Birthday Ball at Yokosuka, Japan. He talked about the heroism of 1776 from a logistics perspective.

Kawano said he thinks Americans won the Revolutionary War for these reasons: Britain’s long supply lines, blockades against British supply vessels by America’s allies (France, Spain, and the Netherlands), and George Washington’s leadership in capturing British ships laden with provisions and ammunition.

“With this triumph in the campaign, Washington made the Congress acknowledge the importance of building the Navy, and eventually led to the birth of the Supply Corps,” Kawano said.

“What may be said in the summary of these historical events is that the United States won against the Kingdom of Great Britain because it won the war of supply.”

In the May 2009 issue of Seapower, Admiral Gary Roughead, U.S. Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations, discussed the importance of logistics now and in the years ahead.

“Our ability to move significant amounts of logistics at sea and throughput them at sea is going to be important in the future,” Roughead said.

Learning the lessons of history and putting history in context is one of the benefits of the CNO’s professional reading program.

Our beginnings were so remarkably tenuous...

In 1776, McCullough writes: “The war was a longer, far more arduous and more painful struggle than later generations would understand or fully appreciate.”

“The year 1776 . . . (was) a year of all-too-few victories, of sustained suffering, disease, hunger, desertion, cowardice, disillusionment, defeat, terrible discouragement, and fear, as they would never forget, but also of phenomenal courage and bedrock devotion to country, and that, too, they would never forget.”

The beginnings of U.S. military core values and ethos...

McCullough concludes, “Especially for those who had been with Washington and who knew what a close call it was at the beginning – how often circumstance, storms, contrary winds, the oddities or strengths of individual character had made the difference – the outcome seemed little short of a miracle.”

Reading 1776 made me want to pick up Power, Faith, and Fantasy – America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present by Michael B. Oren (2007).

Oren’s book shows that while the 13 colonies fought for their independence, American merchant vessels became a target of the mighty British fleet, North African pirates, and other countries’ navies. This set the stage for American naval hero John Paul Jones, Thomas Jefferson’s engagement of what would become the “Middle East,” and the legacy of the Barbary Wars: “. . . to the Shores of Tripoli.”

But that’s another read.

A version of this review was originally published in the Navy’s Supply Corps Newsletter. In researching links for this posting, I stumbled across an amazingly detailed and provocative blog about the history of this period, a Boston perspective: Boston 1775; worth checking out! Coming soon on Navy Reads, an interview with the chief creator of the Navy Professional Reading Program...