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US Navy Under Secretary Thomas B. Modly Speaks During Cleveland Ohio Navy Week

The last three days, in anticipation of the Cleveland National Airshow, the Blue Angels have been loop-de-looping and roaring through the skies outside our offices in downtown Cleveland.

This morning we had the opportunity to listen to Thomas B. Modly, graduate a while back of Shaker Heights High School, subsequently the Naval Academy, Georgetown, and Harvard Business School. While serving in the Navy, he was a UH-1N Bell Huey pilot. He currently serves as the 33rd Under Secretary of the Navy. 

He was speaking at the Union Club, a Cleveland business club. He introduced several colleagues, including the woman who while commander of a US Naval ship in the Mediterranean, launched missiles into Syria, and his chief of staff, Andrew Haeuptle, who has recently accepted an assignment in the White House.

Mr. Modly's message today was about the complexity of a $190 billion per year organization, how disorganized it is, and yet its continuous resolve to be in command of its mission.

He listed many challenges, including the North Atlantic, South China Sea, asymmetric threats, hypersonic missile capabilities (of other countries), Salafist threats, Russian revanchism (reversing territorial losses), growing the Navy to 355+ ships by 2055, and outrageously expensive equipment (planes at $100 million each, subs at $12 billion each, and aircraft carriers at $13 billion).

He listed a group of qualities, building together a vision of agility: velocity, collaboration, visibility, adaptability, innovation, humility, skepticism, and trust.

Mr. Modly himself is on more than 15 oversight boards within the armed services, each of which is tasked with overseeing an aspect of the armed services' improving itself. 

Mr. Modly left us with the image of himself taking a ride this spring in the back seat of a Blue Angel F/A-18 Hornet. After the pilot tried unsuccessfully to make Mr. Modly sick, the Under Secretary asked the pilot about his previous work, and learned the attack sequences a pilot would use in Afghanistan to neutralize a target on the ground. If observation didn't work, it might require direct interaction -- also known as firing missiles. In order to do that, the fighter pilot would dip the nose of his plane "under the horizon" and dive at the target.

Mr. Modly, in a meeting following the ride with the Blue Angels pilot, relayed to fellow officers that when seeking to improve the armed services, rather than relying on fellow executive staff, they should aim below the horizon, and identify those in their command that will rise up and command in the future. Work on making those younger and less experienced more capable of running a smarter, faster, more agile US Navy. 

A final note: we love reviewing the roster of the whole Blue Angels team. This year it includes five foreign-born personnel. The United States of America is a nation of immigrants, and we love that our armed services reflect that.

Gordon Landefeld