View Print Version

January 2018

Rear Adm. Dee L. Mewbourne

Commander's Perspective
A  A  A  

Leadership Promotion Board, Comprehensive Review, Ownership

Rear Adm. Dee L. Mewbourne, USN
Commander, Military Sealift Command

One of the strategic themes in the Voyage Plan focuses on our people, “Harnessing and Developing a Diverse, Capable and Talented Workforce.”

Supporting this theme, we are restructuring and improving the promotion board procedures for selecting permanent Master Mariners and Chief Engineers at Military Sealift Command (MSC).

For the past several months we thoroughly reviewed the current method for selecting our most senior leaders on MSC ships. We found that the present process, while sufficient, could be improved with additional formality and rigor.

I am confident that a more formal approach to selecting the best and fully qualified maritime officers will benefit applicants for our critical Master Mariners and Chief Engineer positions.

The improved process will mirror the systematic approach followed for selection boards conducted by Navy Personnel Command (NPC). In fact, future selection boards will be conducted at Millington, Tennessee, in the NPC board spaces and will incorporate time-tested procedures that reduce subjectivity and personal bias.

The revised board process will benefit the mariner candidates because it will reduce subjectivity and distraction and promote integrity, rigor and transparency. The new process will establish a collaborative environment focused on evaluating professional performance as the key qualifier for selecting future Master Mariners and Chief Engineers.

Board members will evaluate each applicant’s Mariner Advancement Program record, resume, and responses to Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSA). The total record of each applicant will be assessed by two board members at least one of whom shall be a qualified Master Mariner or Chief Engineer. Then the records will be further reviewed via a process known as the “tank” (space at Millington specifically design to electronically review records) where they will be collaboratively reviewed by the entire board to select the best and fully qualified. In the tank, discussion invoking context and expertise will be encouraged in order to thoroughly consider all aspects of an applicant’s record. For future boards we envision further shifting away from KSA responses to using a tailored questionnaire and evaluations.

The selection board will be chaired by a MSC Flag Officer or Senior Executive Service member. Board members will consist of qualified O-6 staff (must have held afloat USN Command) or Area Commanders, experienced GS-15 staff, and permanent MSC Master Mariners and Chief Engineers.

The process has not been changed without reaching out to our partners, the labor unions. The International Organization of Masters, Mates, and Pilots leadership toured NPC in Millington and were impressed with the increased scrutiny of each record, formal electronic briefing, incorporation of electronic scoring and the sanctity of the spaces. As such we received their endorsement during our Nov. 15 Union Meeting. Likewise the process has also been endorsed by the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association (MEBA). As a result of the progress made to the process, our intent is to implement this enhanced selection board process during the spring of 2018.

I know you share my commitment to provide our mariners with leaders who exemplify the highest standards of leadership, professionalism, and personal integrity. I believe the improvements to the board process will ensure that future Master Mariners and Chief Engineers are truly the best and fully qualified to meet these high standards.

Comprehensive Review

Recently the Navy released a report detailing the events and actions that led to the collision of USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and ACX Crystal in June, and the collision of USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) and merchant vessel Alnic MC in August. As a result of those incidents, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson tasked Adm. Davidson at U.S. Fleet Forces Command to conduct a comprehensive review of surface ship operations and incidents at sea to inform and drive improvements Navy-wide.

The CNO noted, “Both of these accidents were preventable and the respective investigations found multiple failures by watch standers that contributed to the incidents.” The Comprehensive Review identified gaps in doctrine, organization, training, material, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities that point to actions needed to improve in the areas of fundamentals, teamwork, operational safety, assessment, and culture.

As an organization dedicated to continuous improvement and high-velocity learning, we need to read and understand these reports, and take the lessons learned and areas for improvement and apply them to our work at MSC.

For it’s important to remember that MSC is not immune to mishaps and safety lapses. In the last year we’ve had our share of incidents from groundings, to allisions, to anchor drops that have adversely affected mission and most importantly were preventable.

In all that we do, sound maintenance practices, adherence to standard operating procedures, and a commitment to watchstanding principles are the backbone of crew safety and mission success.

This past week at our headquarters, a U.S. Coast Guard representative provided us a debrief on the Board of Investigation report from the sinking and loss of the steam ship El Faro. Here too, the investigation revealed that a lack of leadership, crew complacency, and lack of training and procedures contributed to the tragedy. As this report details, the nature of our work is totally unforgiving; even a momentary lapse in vigilance can swiftly lead to disaster.

I would encourage everyone to read the findings, conclusions, and recommendations of the Navy Comprehensive Review and the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation. These documents may be found at the following links: comprehensive-review-of-surface-force-incidents/ Board-of-Investigation/

After reading and discussing these reports with our teammates, we should ask ourselves, “What can I learn from these accidents?” and “How can I apply what I learned to my work at MSC?”

In the coming weeks and months we will take the findings from the comprehensive review, and the findings from our recent operational pause, and use them to improve our operations. In addition, we will stand up a cross functional team that will serve as the hub for integrating the lessons learned and recommendations into all stages of our training, and the operation and maintenance of our ships.

We are constantly called upon to operate at the highest levels of performance providing on-time fleet logistics, strategic sealift and special mission support to the joint warfighter. Your daily commitment to safely operating and maintaining our ships is critical to mission accomplishment and the safety of our mariners.


Our Navy’s Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority is a framework to guide our behaviors and investments now and in the years ahead. The Design’s core attributes of integrity, accountability, initiative and toughness serve as criteria for our decisions and actions. An intangible quality that ties these together and propels an organization forward is the idea and implementation of an “ownership” culture.

As Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Adm. John Richardson recently noted, “Ownership is absolutely critical to our business. No matter where you are in the Navy, no matter what your job, no matter what your seniority, we need 100 percent ownership of what we’re doing. We need to own our behaviors, we need to own our technical competence, we need to own our character.”

Ownership is also about taking that next step and pushing our work effort deeper and wider. Technical competence is critical to our success, however, it’s important to look up and out, and see the connections between all that we are doing. Ownership involves seeing and caring about that big picture and understanding how our individual contributions relate, and are absolutely critical, to the overall success of the mission.

As we examine and review our individual performance, we should apply this thinking to how we can take ownership of our work to support our four strategic themes:

  • Harnessing and Developing a Diverse, Capable and Talented Workforce;
  • Assuring Global Maritime Logistical Services;
  • Developing Tactical Capabilities that Support Future Warfighting; and
  • Dedicated to Continuous Improvement and Innovation

The CNO captures the essence of ownership when he states, “To truly achieve our theoretical limits of performance, it’s got to come from within each one of us. We have to identify and dedicate ourselves, push ourselves not to achieve the bare minimum, but to go well past that bare minimum and really try and maximize our performance.”

As an organization, we have been pushing hard over the past year and in some cases nearing that theoretical limit. That demanding work has produced tangible results and significant accomplishments in our four strategic themes, enabling us to empower global warfighting capabilities. I appreciate that our team is applying the same high-level effort to meet this year’s objectives and next year’s aspirations.

In everything we do, let’s keep ownership in the forefront, using it to propel our high-performing teams upward to the next level.

United We Sail,

Rear Adm. Dee L. Mewbourne, USN
Commander, Military Sealift Command