Academic journal article Naval War College Review

Stowaway Soldier, Camouflage in a Khaki World Creating a Single Culture of Trust from Distinct Service Cultures

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

Stowaway Soldier, Camouflage in a Khaki World Creating a Single Culture of Trust from Distinct Service Cultures

Article excerpt

After three decades of wearing Army green and camouflage, I finally went to sea. My first "ship," however, was miles from any ocean. In the summer of 2010 I became the executive officer / deputy commander of National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland (NNMC). I was the first Army officer to ever hold the job. My Army career had begun in the infantry, back when we were still training to fight "Ivan" in the Fulda Gap in Germany. After spending my entire adult life in the Army, I was struck during my first year at NNMC with how differently the Army and Navy operate. It became clear that these differences were underappreciated in 2005 when the BRAC, Base Closure and Realignment Commission, drafters directed that the two medical centers realign to form the new medical center by September 2011.

Culture is a set of repeated behaviors motivated by thoughts and feelings based in belief that is developed over a long period and reinforced as an individual matures in a given culture. The uniformed services each have well-defined, discernible cultures, as Carl Builder discusses in The Masks of War. He discusses the different services' primary cultural foundations: for the Navy, independent command at sea; for the Air Force, devotion to technology; and for the Army, service to the country as a citizen-soldier.1 Cultural differences between the services were among the primary challenges in the medical center merger, and in many ways they posed the greatest risk for its failure.

Much of the work to integrate the different cultures was superficial, such as discussion of the differing enlisted ranks and ratings, as well as vocabularies unique to each of the services. Additional layers added complexity. The Army Medical Department and Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery had distinctly different organizational cultures, each representing several centuries of their respective unique histories. The two hospitals themselves had institutional cultures dramatically different from other medical treatment facilities. These institutions not only were significantly different from one another and from other facilities but had been in competition with each other to be considered the "nation's medical center" and the center of gravity for the care of the nation's wounded, ill, and injured service members.

Several Navy flag officers who took the time to help me prepare for my job at NNMC told me that I would not understand the Navy culture without appreciating the significance of isolated command at sea. One admiral told me, "When the ship disappears over the horizon it is a world unto itself, and the captain's word is law." When mutiny and anarchy are the biggest threats to a ship far from the safety of home port, obedience to the captain and to the chain of command becomes paramount. In the words of Admiral R. A. Hopwood of the Royal Navy, "Now these are the laws of the Navy, and many and mighty are they, but the hull and the deck and the keel and the truck of the law is obey."2 Obedience to and utilization of the chain of command are a clear Navy strength.

The Army has a different view of anarchy. Where anarchy is the greatest threat at sea, command on the ground almost requires a state of controlled anarchy. Subordinate Army commanders are given their commander's intent and some general guidance and are then expected to improvise and adapt operations to meet the challenges of the battle. This expectation affects and shapes the perception of the chain of command in a way that is different from that of the Navy.

Sociologist Geert Hofstede has researched a system of codifying cultural differences and has described several key dimensions that provide insight into the differences between Army and Navy cultures. The "power distance index" (PDI) is the degree to which those with the least power in a cultural system are comfortable with the distance between themselves and those who hold the greatest power. For example, Asian, Latin, African, and some Arab countries have large PDIs-there is a great degree of comfort with the differences in social strata. …

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