Assorted Updates (May 2021)

My new article on junior officers and politics, an update on the SEA STATE newsletter, and more.

Hello!

I know there are several types of subscribers to this Substack — some family and close friends, some professional connections, and probably some Russian bots. So if you are reading this for a well-composed set of insights, you may want to skip this issue. But if you’re interested in four random updates from my month, by all means read on.


1. I recently wrote an essay on “why junior officers should learn about politics” over at From The Green Notebook. FTGN is a military professional development website run by Joe Byerly, an Army lieutenant colonel and battalion commander who somehow also has time to write articles, publish a newsletter, host a podcast, and mentor younger officers like me. Joe asked me to write this piece based on a conversation we had on the phone. In that conversation, and in the article, I argued that we should abandon the concept of an “apolitical” military in favor of a “non-partisan” one. Here’s an excerpt:

Thinking and talking about politically sensitive topics in a non-partisan way is a skill that junior military leaders — not just public affairs officers, or generals and admirals testifying before Congress — must work to develop. It is possible that 20 or 30 years ago, an officer could serve for a decade or more before encountering a situation that required any semblance of political awareness or savvy. One could fulfill their oath to support and defend the Constitution by solely focusing on their “day job.” That is no longer the case.

Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and their families are not immune from the partisan and ideological morass that envelopes more and more of daily life in America. Social division at this scale presents new challenges for military units at the tactical level – challenges that most of our predecessors did not have to reckon with.

Today, for example, any junior officer or senior enlisted leader must be able to lead a productive discussion in their unit on anti-democratic “extremism” without making false equivalences and without putting their hand on the scale for one political party or the other. They must be able to answer honest questions from troops about whether diversity training makes us stronger, or if it is a sign of a Marxist weakening of the force. They must be prepared for the possibility that one of their soldiers believes that a global pedophile ring controls world events, or that one of their Marines does not recognize the President as the duly elected commander-in-chief. At the very least, they should be able to help build understanding when a member of their unit is just a little bit confused or concerned about current events.

You can read the full piece here: https://fromthegreennotebook.com/2021/05/22/an-uncomfortable-conversation/ (I didn’t pick the title.)

This is not an article I spent a long time pondering or researching. It’s just an organized version of everything that swirled around in my head throughout my time in Chicago studying civil-military relations and watching current events, and since then during talks with friends and groups of fellow officers and midshipmen. Some of these thoughts were crystallized for me (and other officers) during the extremism stand-down ordered by the Secretary of Defense post-January 6th.

More than most other things I’ve published, I was nervous about how this piece would be received when it came out. The essay touches on some things that are open to misinterpretation (or excessive interpretation?) and I’m stating my own beliefs here rather than synthesizing the opinions or research of others. But so far, the senior military officers and experts I’ve heard from have had positive things to say and are at least intrigued by the ideas. I’ll also say that writing for FTGN was an awesome experience and that Joe and his team of editors are very easy to work with. I’d love to hear your feedback on the article if this is a topic that interests you.


2. This isn’t a personal update at all, but John Warner, the enlisted Navy sailor (WWII veteran), Marine pilot (Korean War veteran), Secretary of the Navy, U.S. Senator, submarine namesake, sixth husband of Elizabeth Taylor, and former Senate Armed Services Committee chairman who did as much as anyone to shape the modern American military, died this week. He is a fascinating character in U.S. history and definitely a case study in civil-military leadership. Take a moment to read about him if you haven’t already: https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2021/05/26/john-warner-a-ww-ii-and-korean-war-vet-who-served-as-secnav-and-sasc-chair-dies-at-94/


3. SEA STATE, the weekly newsletter I’ve been working on some other Navy, Marine Corps, and now Coast Guard officers, is about to put out its 13th issue and things are going really well! My plan is to manage the newsletter’s operations for another three or four months and then turn it over to other members of the team. We are building a streamlined process where busy people (i.e. sea-going junior officers) can contribute a little bit whenever they can, and not too much responsibility is placed on any one person. Figuring out how to do this effectively and still turn out a constantly-improving product has been a very fun and interesting challenge.

Last week, SEA STATE published a message to junior officers from retired Admiral Mike Mullen, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Admiral Mullen has been one of my heroes for almost a decade — I remember sitting in my grandparents’ house in Kansas, reading a profile of him in TIME magazine when he was still the Chairman and thinking how crazy it was for a sailor to be the U.S. military’s top officer during two large ground wars in the Middle East. He was a member of my class’s “link in the chain” class at USNA and getting to know him a little bit there was an incredible privilege.

I thought it was a long-shot that Admiral Mullen would be interested in contributing even once, but it turns out he’s very eager to maintain a connection with junior people and this is one way for him to do it. He will be writing for SEA STATE on a quarterly basis and responding to questions from readers.

I’m also currently reading a book he recommended: Career Compass by the late admiral James Winnefeld, Sr. The book is intended as a guide to the Navy’s promotion process, but it’s mostly a very punchy and insightful collection of advice about being a naval officer — what your priorities and perspective should be during your career and how seeking out tough jobs can benefit you personally and professionally. Winnefeld clearly had an acute, objective pulse on Navy culture and leadership: whenever he talks about what successful officers do, he is perfectly articulating intangible traits I’ve observed in officers I respect — and when he describes pitfalls that unsuccessful officers fall into, those patterns are very recognizable as well. Definitely something I wish I’d read earlier, but I’m glad to have come across it now and it’s made very excited to finally finish my training pipeline here in a few months. Highly recommend checking it out.


4. Speaking of tough jobs as a naval officer, I am super proud of my wife MW, who is doing incredible work in her new role as main propulsion assistant (division officer for the nuclear mechanics) on a fast attack submarine, who is crushing her qualification process, and who promoted from ensign to lieutenant junior grade three days ago! (The Navy now has two LTJG Krasnicans.) She’ll be embarrassed if I say too much, but hearing about her experience so far has been very encouraging and I am a very proud military spouse right now.

Thanks for reading this newsletter! If you would like to discuss anything here, please email me anytime. Talk to you next month.

TK