Progress in Diversity

Coming to Naval Reactors from serving as the Chief of Naval Personnel, I had a certain “predisposition” for people concerns and diversity. It’s something near and dear to my heart. I was very concerned that the submarine program was not making enough effort to “look like America” – that we were satisfied with the status quo. We needed a greater amount of “constructive dissatisfaction,” a term that I stole unabashedly from UPS. We needed to find a way to increase diversity without changing the standards of personnel selection, integrity, and intelligence we set for people, because our esprit de corps and the excitement we expect from our people are core values and must not be touched. To merely go after diversity just to improve our numbers will throw out the baby – our standards – with the bathwater, and that’s a non-starter and was never on the table.

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ADM Bowman receives the salute after receiving his admiral’s flag during his retirement ceremony.

Rather, it was a challenge to my organization, to the Bureau of Personnel, to the recruiting commands, to the NROTC units, and to the Naval Academy to recognize that we’re not doing well here and that can we do better without changing our standards one iota. And it turned out there was a gaping hole. There wasn’t an effort to go to the historically black colleges and universities and talk to them about what we look for in our interview process at Naval Reactors or when young college graduates come to us with an interest in our officer programs. We needed to answer the question: What exactly should they emphasize in their curriculum development?

When I was the Chief of Naval Personnel, I worked with retired Army Lt. Gen. Julius Wesley Bacon Jr. on the diversity issue. And frankly, the reason for it was largely that the candidates who came to our interviews often didn’t show well. They relied too much on memorization and cranking through equations they could put down on paper. They couldn’t talk about the reasons for things and the underlying principles. He and I decided that it would be good for the colleges to know what was missing. I sent an e–mail to many of them to describe the types of questions that were asked in the interview process, and how important it was to know more than just the equations, but also to understand the underlying science. One thing that would definitely improve the future success of
our minority candidates would be understanding where things had gone askew in the past.

Another thing we did was to start attending various seminars and conventions sponsored by diversity organizations that were already in existence. If you go look in my car right now, you’re going to see a travel mug that says “Women in Nuclear,” a small group with growing representation around the country. I became annoyed that the nuclear industry, writ large, was fencing out half the intelligence of the country – women! I became very active in “Women in Nuclear,” and encouraged the women in Naval Reactors to form their own chapter. It became another outreach program, joining those aimed at colleges and universities and those in which we send role models to groups interested in Hispanic, Asian-Pacific, and African-American success stories in our officer corps. We have many, many of these, and we have a good story to tell, but somehow it’s not getting told. I personally sat on several college boards of visitors, and I valued the opportunity to get out there and mix it up with the undergraduates and tell them about the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program, focusing, very honestly, on the minority role.

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ADM Bowman, Navy Secretary Gordon England (left), and Energy Secretary Abraham (right) stand at attention during the parading of the colors during ADM Bowman’s retirement ceremony.

Am I happy with the current situation? Well, let’s say I’m “constructively dissatisfied.” Since 1990, the naval nuclear propulsion program has gone from 250 minority nuclear officers to 630. On my watch, we added 280. However, despite this significant increase and accelerating growth, I’m still not happy with our current 12 percent minority representation. And just because I’m leaving, don’t think that this emphasis will stop. On the contrary, we’re more committed than ever, and this effort has become part of our process. I wouldn’t call it a core value, but it’s pretty darn close. If we don’t make ourselves look more like America, we’re going to wake up someday and find ourselves on the outside looking in.

Enlisted Attrition

I thought that our attrition levels among enlisted personnel in nuclear power school were wrong. We had brought in men and women and given them an opportunity to make something of themselves in life, and yet enlisted attrition was coming in at seven out of 10. I’ve been the steward of the taxpayer’s dollars in this area, and it was grossly inefficient to bring these kids in and spend the amount of money and resources we did, only to lose seven out of 10 before they got to the fleet. So I said, let’s go down and talk to the nuclear-power school instructors and their staff advisors and the enlisted leadership.

Darn it, we got these bright eyed and bushy-tailed youngsters into the Navy – feeling good about themselves – and then something happened after they got to us, and we lost more than half, and that was nuts. And my sense was that with a little bit of care and feeding, with a little bit of intrusive leadership – with class advisors and section leaders getting in there when they sensed something going screwy and before it became a major problem – we could fix that. We do preventive maintenance on machines, and I wanted to do it for people – those who come to us wanting to do well but who somehow fall off the track and get very cynical about their performance. If we did it right, I thought we could turn them around. We can’t ever lower our standards, and the exams and the material they have to know when they leave here can’t change a bit – but we needed to be giving our junior people every opportunity to succeed rather than pushing them in the direction of failure.
Anyhow, the enlisted leadership at those schools turned the trick for us, and instead of losing seven out of 10, we’re saving seven out of 10. Personnel requirements in the fleet have gone way, way up because of the CVNs, and yet we’ve gone from asking recruiters for 4,000 Sailors a year to asking for 2,200. That’s a success story.

Thoughts for the Future


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ADM Bowman is embraced by his wife Linda following the retirement ceremony at the Washington Navy Yard.

We just finished the Silent Hammer exercise, which showed that in the large underwater volume provided by a converted TRIDENT submarine, we can take onboard a Joint Task Force commander and his forward element, and conduct in situ battle operations against a hypothetical enemy. Our converted TRIDENTS will generate their own intelligence, which allows onboard commanders to make decisions about what’s needed and determine what additional organic sensors should be deployed in virtually any scenario. The resulting situational awareness will be key to dominating the situation, either by supporting deterrence or dissuasion, or if that fails, by being ready to act against whatever bad actors may be out there. This is new, something the Submarine Force hasn’t done in the past. We’ve been in strike warfare for the last 15 years or so, but we’ve not generated our own actionable intelligence and passed it back to the command authority in the United States to get direct orders to act. Silent Hammer – and Giant Shadow before that – showed the viability of unmanned, off-board sensors that can be controlled from his command center by the Joint Task Force commander. In Silent Hammer, the commander was a one-star Air Force general who had never set foot on a submarine before. And yet within a few hours he felt very comfortable with the 20 onboard workstations that were made available to his advanced task force for generating information and directing actions ashore. What prospects for the future!

Finally, on the occasion of my retirement, I’d like to note that I truly believe with all my heart that Naval Reactors – and really, the larger institutions of the Navy and the Nation – are not about the people who occupy the chairs and offices. When I first arrived here, I was bonged aboard as “Director, Naval Reactors.” Yet at the end of my farewell ceremony, I will be bonged off simply as “Admiral, United States Navy, retired.” And of course, that’s the way it should be in our country. The people come and go, but the organization – the institution – remains and continues to move on. Naval Reactor’s continuous oversight of our nuclear propulsion programs spans both administrations and political appointees coming and going, and it needs to remain that way. This continuity reflects one of the most cherished characteristics of our American way of life, and it remains a cornerstone of what we believe in.








Cover of Undersea Warfare Magazine Winter 2005