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

1 comment:

Roxanne Darling said...

Bill - This was one of the highlights of my tour on the USS Nimitz ( took pics of the books!) and I think it is one of the takeaways for how and why the Navy is successful. Glad to learn more in-depth about the program.