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March 2018

Rear Adm. Dee L. Mewbourne

Commander's Perspective
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Bending the Curve, Union Partnership Visit and Ship Leadership Symposium, Maritime Academy Day

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

Over the past several months I’ve been speaking to various groups including military leadership, industry representatives and our own workforce, providing a one-year assessment of our work at MSC and some thoughts on where we are heading over the next two years.

At each of the talks, I use the phrase, “Bending the Curve,” to represent our comprehensive multi-year plan of action to adapt to the changing operational environment.

The phrase is meant to help us visualize where we are now in relation to our competition, where we need to be, and the work required to get us there. Bending the Curve is about wisely and effectively using our resources, solving problems with innovative solutions, and making a commitment to our fellow workgroups and taking ownership of the job we do every day.

Bending the Curve explains the “what” and the “how,” but it is important to understand the “why.” Simply, the Navy is changing. Decades of sailing the maritime commons at will have ended. Recent events, such as missile attacks against U.S. Navy ships while sailing in the U.S. 5th Fleet have forced us to think differently about how we operate. With the rise of near-peer competitors, we can no longer presume dominance in space, cyber, air, sea, and undersea domains. These recent and on-going maritime actions confirm that our Navy is operating in a contested environment. We must prepare ourselves to operate in this environment. This will require us to think differently, to act differently, and to work differently.

A not-too-distant example from our nation’s past provides us with significant lessons learned that we can apply to our work today. If we go back in time to World War II and the Battle of the Atlantic at the beginning of the war, the Atlantic and Caribbean Oceans were a killing field for our merchant marine. In the run-up to the war we failed to calculate or observe what was going on with the German submarine threat. The Germans attacked our supply chain and we lost hundreds of ships and sadly, thousands of mariners. We did not provide our mariners the tools to succeed in a contested environment.

Eventually our military planners focused on the problem set at hand and developed strategies to avoid and defeat the German submarine threat: convoys, coastal defense systems, anti-submarine warfare, emission control measures, tactical sailing, survival skills and a better understanding of the enemy’s pattern of life. The point here is that we learned, we adapted, and eventually defeated the enemy, but at great cost, losing 9,000 mariners.

The lesson for us is that we need to prepare now so that our mariners can operate in a contested environment and to ensure we continue to empower the joint warfighter. And while we are the best in the world at delivering maritime logistics today, we are instituting a number of actions to better prepare our efforts to mitigate the risk to sealift and adapt to the changing environment in which we operate. Our plan has four Lines of Effort:

- Training Wholeness: Ensuring our mariners have the skills to mitigate emerging threats across all five dimensions;

- Holistic Readiness: Ensuring the modernization and readiness of our platforms;

- Capability Alignment: Ensuring we remain aligned with the Fleet and Joint Forces; and

- Experiential Learning: Ensuring that we are learning as fast as possible.

Bending the Curve is about focusing on and committing to improve the many programs and processes associated with these four lines of effort. Everyone at MSC has a role to play within these areas and is capable of contributing to Bending the Curve.

Now is our time to prepare for the future. We can make a difference. We hope that we don’t see an operating environment like that in the Battle of the Atlantic. But if we do, we want to be prepared. The high-quality, team-based work we are doing today will enable MSC to provide global assured logistics, sealift, and special services to the joint warfighter in any environment we may encounter.

Union Partnership Visit and Ship Leadership Symposium

Recently we conducted two important events that directly support our “Bending the Curve” campaign, a comprehensive multi-year plan of action to adapt to the changing operational environment.

First, MSC senior leaders met with leadership from the maritime unions. In line with the MSC Voyage Plan focus, this meeting fostered and nurtured a relationship with important strategic partners. We rely on our unions to assist with crewing our vessels and representing the interests of the workforce.

We had the opportunity to exchange views on issues impacting our mariners. In addition, we conducted a frank and open discussion about today’s challenging maritime environment and why we are adapting in order to ensure that we can provide essential assured logistics and service support to the warfighter in the future.

Secondly, we held the first Masters and Chief Engineers Leadership Symposium in a long time. The purpose of the symposium was to gather together senior afloat leadership and discuss the current operating environment and the changes we are making so that our mariners are trained and able to operate in a contested environment.

A common thread running through these two events was the importance of coming together with our people and partners. Working together in a collaborative, team-based setting, overcoming obstacles and seeking innovative solutions, is how we will adapt to the changing operational environment. It is only through a team effort that we continue to remain the premiere maritime logistics force in the world.

I would like to extending my profound gratitude to the staff who facilitated both engagements. The prepared briefings, assisted discussions, and administrative support contributed to the success of the events.

Maritime Academy Day

Recently we hosted presidents from the state maritime academies, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, and the Administrator of the U.S. Maritime Administration. The purpose of the day-long meeting was to provide an update on issues of mutual interest such as mariner employment outlook and hiring trends, and sexual assault prevention program actions. In addition, we looked at the changing operational environment and discussed the skills and training that academy graduates will need in order to operate in the contested environment.

During our day with the academy presidents, we discussed our effort to “Bend the Curve” and the intense focus by MSC to adapt to the changing operational environment. We also talked about ways in which the academies could contribute to that effort as well as ideas for MSC to help the academies in producing resilient, adaptable, and innovative mariners. We highlighted three areas that should be cultivated as we teach and mature student mariners, to include: developing leaders of winning teams, teaching skills to survive and prevail, and inciting a mindset of adaptability and creativity.

This outreach effort to the academies is aligned with the Voyage Plan pillar of Our Partners. Fostering relationships with the academies will mutually strengthen one another and assist in providing MSC a pipeline of skilled and trained mariners who will lead MSC into the future.

We have been reaching out to our partners in industry, the maritime unions, and at academic institutions to collectively address and solve common problems. Our partners expand our scope of operations by providing additional tools for our people and platforms to accomplish the mission.

I’ll close by extending my gratitude to our guests for contributing to the rich dialogue on ways MSC and maritime academies can adapt to the changing environment, and to the staff who prepared briefings and provided administrative support. Thank you for making this forum and exchange of ideas a success.

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