Head of Naval Historical and Heritage Command resigns

Sometimes, a phrase is all you need to hear to know that something is wrong. The Navy announced today that the head of the Naval History and Heritage Command, a retired admiral named Jay DeLoach, resigned when the Investigator General’s office found that DeLoach’s command was “struggling with decaying records and fraying ties to historians.”

The phrase that should have been the red flag here is the one that DeLoach used when he came to the History and Heritage Command (which, as it sounds, is the Navy’s home of historical artifacts and records). He said its academics were too “introverted” and needed to “serve the needs of the fleet,” and he called for — wait for it — “forward-looking historians.”

What, one might ask, is a forward-looking historian?

I don’t know, and I’m guessing that a lot of others didn’t know either, because the IG report also noted

a growing chasm between the command under DeLoach and the academic and museum community, with whom the center works to provide official Navy records and artifacts to the public. DeLoach had let an advisory committee of esteemed naval historians expire in 2010.

Moreover, the IG found an alarming disenfranchisement of the civilian staff, who serve as librarians, historians, archivists and curators. Many of these historical professionals, who make up the majority of the center’s staff, felt that under DeLoach, they were ignored and left out of important decisions.

Historians? Running a history center? What kind of nonsense is that? They need to be making those 18th century documents relevant to the Fleet right now.

Ahem.

Yes, sir, this is what we wear to work. Why?

Anyway, the Navy Times report did point out that DeLoach excelled in the one place administrators always seek to excel: getting money. In one year, the Historical Command saw its budget jump 46 precent, to $38 million for fiscal year 2012, which the command “plans to use to hire staff to process the huge backlog of holdings.”

I am not a historian, and didn’t have any dealings with the Historical Command, but I know that some of my colleagues who are historians are relieved, since as the IG report itself said, “the history and heritage of the United States Navy is in jeopardy.”

Why DeLoach wasn’t comfortable with letting the professional academics and historians do their job — choosing “disenfranchisement” instead — I don’t know. I’ve never met him, and my only experience with him was indirect: over a decade ago, when I was a department chair at Newport, then-RDML DeLoach apparently came to the College and told our then-President that the War College shouldn’t be giving an M.A. in National Security Affairs. Again – I don’t know what his reasoning was, except it was all too “academic,” or so I was told at the time by the NWC administration.

In any event, there aren’t that many academics, curators, and historians working for the military, but those who are need to be respected for their expertise — and yes, of course, I know that sounds self-serving. But it should also be obvious, and clearly, in this case, it wasn’t.

Forward-looking historians?

 

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15 comments

  1. Where to start?

    Since I am a historian, and have even served for a time as an official U.S. Navy historian (as both a serving officer and as a civilian), I wish I could tell you that all this is overblown.

    Alas, it is not. Everything the IG found was true, terribly true, as anyone who had more than cursory dealings with NHHC in recent years was fully aware.

    The greatest tragedy here, among many, is that the Navy continues to mismanage its history program (whereas the other services, the Army especially, take it quite seriously, and have for decades) – as this Navy Times report makes clear.

    Why the Navy continues to think putting retired flag officers in charge of things they know absolutely nothing about (their sage wisdom seems to consist mainly of decades-old biz school cliches … 1991 called, it wants TQM back) is a good idea … well don’t ask me, I’m only a historian.

    Stalin famously, and derisively, called historians “archive rats” – they are inconvenient people. Of course, if you destroy the archives, as NHHC was well on its way to doing … problem solved!

  2. As someone who has also spent a fair amount of time working in US naval history, and with NHHC in particular, I can tell you that this report is accurate – perhaps even sugarcoated to hide the awful truth. Any one with any talent or motivation has long since fled that command. I’m glad this situation has finally come to light after decades of neglect.

  3. It’s vital to get the naval history right, as there aren’t really a lot of fleet engagements on a regular basis, so, if you want to distill any lessons, and other than that its a computer simulation that dies on contact with the enemy, then you have to have the history totally right.

  4. Interesting insight from someone who admits he’s never had dealings with NHHC or DeLoach in his capacity as director of the center/command. In other words- no insight whatsoever- just running off at the mouth… Anyone who thinks NHC/NHHC’s (and the Navy’s in general) issues were created by DeLoach is sadly mistaken. One doesn’t get 30 and 65 year backlogs in cateloging the archives and artifacts overnight. One doesn’t sit in 150 year old unrenovated buildings and NOT realize the decay and rot of the same without making a purposeful effort to ignore such. I think it was now-retired (thankfully) director Dudley who stated at his retirement that his number one goal was to “stay off the Navy’s radar screen”. Apparently, he did just that, to the detriment of Navy history-literally and figuratively. Leave the running of such an organization to historians and archivists? Seems to me that NHC/NHHC did just that for DECADES and we now see the results. Unfortunately, despite his successes in getting more money to just START to address these issues, RDML DeLoach has decided to leave. Maybe a few more folks need to be “disenfranchised” in order to truly wake up and fix the core problems.

    If you want to know more about “forward leaning historians”, all you have to do is watch ADM Greenert’s very first message to the fleet, which specifically mentions using lessons learned from 200 years ago in order to inform decisions of today. He actually finlmed it at the National Navy Museum. That’s EXACTLY what DeLoach started to do. History isn’t just for stuffy professors sitting in gilded college positions writing books and blogs for fun and their own (little) profit. Navy history is meant for the FLEET, first and foremost. From what I hear, that’s what DeLoach started bringing to NHC/NHHC, much to his credit. He should get that credit, not derision, from folks who admit that they haven’t walked in his shoes or even dealt with NHHC.

  5. “History isn’t just for stuffy professors sitting in gilded college positions writing books and blogs for fun and their own (little) profit. Navy history is meant for the FLEET, first and foremost. From what I hear, that’s what DeLoach started bringing to NHC/NHHC, much to his credit.”

    Wow, biased much? Stuffy professors, guilded college positions … maybe you can get a few more insults in there, you’re only getting warmed up, right?

    Please elaborate what your bona fides are for such comments. “From what I hear …” is weak tea.

    First off, “the FLEET” cares nothing about Navy history, where on earth did you get the idea that they do? The Army – you know, the actual DCU-wearing Army, the guys with the M4s – actually does care about its history, but the Navy hasn’t in decades, and DeLoach made things worse.

    The backbone of NHHC is those “stuffy” historians and archivists who actually know what they’re doing. These people have actual credentials and professional knowledge. They don’t just read an occasional book and watch the History Channel. Putting a bunch of SWOs and aviators, for instance, in charge of the history office would work pretty much as well as putting historians and archivists in charge of driving ships and flying planes.

    I’m all for any pro-history agitprop from CNO or OPNAV, but there is a big difference between a nice video or two and doing serious historical research and writing, which is what NHHC is supposed to be doing (among other things). Videos are easy; doing real research and preserving those records is hard and time-consuming.

    Please don’t tell me that OPNAV cares, they don’t. When OIF kicked off, the CNO ordered all Navy units to keep records and assemble a unit history … very, very few actually did so. Yes, they disobeyed orders, because they knew no one in DC really cared about history. In the Army such a blow-off would be unthinkable, units always do that sort of thing when they go to war, and the Army has historians in uniform (mostly reservists) who actually deploy in the field to do “the first draft of history.” The Navy’s capabilities are a pale image of that.

    The Navy needs to change, for its own good.

  6. Well, let’s see. I’m a past employee of the place who prefers to remain anonymous because of ties to the place with my new job. Where to begin?

    Folks who admit they haven’t had dealings with NHHC don’t know what they’re talking about by their own admission. Only, since I worked there and maintain contact, “what I hear” and “what I KNOW” is much more credible than “what you THINK”.

    The archivists and historians really are the backbone of the place. But they’re just that. No business sense-not trained in the nuances of the PPBE process. How do you think the situation WRT the backlogs of art, artifacts and archival inventories, stuff rotting on shelves, etc…per the IG investigation came to be? This didn’t just suddenly happen during the 4 years or so of DeLoach’s regime. I have in my possession studies going back to 1971 that defined the same issues he tried to deal with. Director after director after director did NOTHING to address them. Some directors, like those apt to be interviewed in Navy Times, actually made things EVEN WORSE.

    You’re right- preserving all of the above is a very hard task. One that takes business sense and money, which DeLoach brought to the fray. How “wicked” of a problem do you think it is when an inventory hasn’t been conducted in 30 years and the previous regimes kept taking in more? No proper inventory, no proper handling of still-classified material, not being in control of the declass process (NCIS is, and not doing a very good job, at that), active mold growth due to unrenovated 150 year old buildings that just let moisture in like a sponge. Anyone who’s ever worked there or used the archives can’t help but notice the rapid temp and humidity swings through the spaces. If it’s that bad for the materials, just how bad do you think it is on the PEOPLE working there? And until DeLoach came along, nothing was done. Trust running the place to historians and archivists? Been there, done that. Results obvious. The place needs to be run like a business, at least for a while. The historians do great work, but they’re not trained and equipped to deal with contracting, building renovations, personnel management, the crazy budgeting process, webpage design, social media, etc…DeLoach brought that stuff to the forefront and the team there is moving out with the Blue Ribbon Panel’s blessings.

    Not publishing? NHHC recently put out operational histories of 5th and 6th fleets. 7th fleet is on the way in the very near future. The command is pumping out histories of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, along with more recent works on diversity at the Naval Academy and a history of Gulf War I. It’s sent out oral historians to capture OIF/OEF and Libya. NHHC continues to publish and provide real relevance to OPNAV staff on a host of other issues, while fighting a Navy cultural attitude that history doesn’t need to be taught. I hope that will be changing under CNO and NHHC leadership.

    Which brings me to my next point: OPNAV DOES care. Go to the Bupers webpage under messages and see how many they’ve released lately regarding submission of ops reports, which as you state, has been lacking. CNO now has a historian from NHHC on his personal staff. The new director came directly from SECNAV’s office and has a PhD in history. How much more serious do you want? You think after this IG report that this SECNAV and CNO want to go down as being the guys who continued to let the place rot? I don’t think so.

    While the army does indeed take its history more seriously, you’d probably be very surpised to learn that the CMH has exactly the same issues to deal with that NHHC does. Try giving Rob Dalessandro a call and asking him. He’ll tell you. The Navy has some growth to do, but SECNAV and CNO “get it” and thanks to Jay DeLoach, the money, people and facility fixes ares flowing in to try and get it right.

  7. So … we’re not disputing what a sorry state USN’s naval history program overall has been up to this point and that most of the rot did not happen on RDML DeLoach’s watch. The IG report reflected the present and continuing state of neglect. I believe NHHC was characterized as one of, if not the worst, command climates they’d ever seen. After he’d been on board for a few years. That’s how leadership and accountability works, I believe.

    *Now* Big Navy cares that it’s history program has become a more widely-known embarrassment after all these decades. I was one of those sent out to collect the OHs, I saw the Six Sigma charts on the wall, lots of churn and little progress, and the continuing horrible state of the collections and facilities (though some were improving, true). I feel for all those who ever had to work in/under those conditions. Perhaps any director faces a nearly impossible task. Bottom line: If they had any confidence in DeLoach’s leadership, and that he was still right for the job, CAPT Hendrix would not be stepping into this mess as interim director. Everyone’s taking it seriously … for now.

    (Btw, CAPT Hendrix’s PhD is in War Studies from KCL, but his dissertation topic was historical in nature – on naval diplomacy under Teddy Roosevelt – close enough!)

  8. Seems to me that there are two different arguments going on here: one about the general state of the Navy’s archives and collections (where the historians here seem to agree), and the other about command climate.

    I only know what the IG findings said about climate there under DeLoach. But personally, I wince whenever I hear that any government agency, particularly those in the DoD, and especially one with an academic or historical mission, has to be “run like a business.” An historical archive cannot be run like a business. Archives have to be run like archives, and schools have to be run like schools. We’re not making cars here.

    Worse — again, don’t know if this was the case at NHHC, but it’s been the case elsewhere — the “run like a business” argument tends to cover a multitude of mismanagement sins. (I can remember some years ago teaching in NWC classrooms that had black mold in them, while brand new flat-screen televisions were being installed in the hallways. It’s about priorities, I guess.)

    Being able to get money is a virtue, but being able to spend it properly is an ever greater one. If the commitment to the right mission isn’t there, all the money in the world won’t solve an institution’s issues, and if you have an organization dedicated to history and archives, I can’t imagine that “disenfranchising” the historians and archivists is a good idea.

  9. Everyone here would do well to FOIA the 1999 IG inspection of the NHC. Compare it to the recent one. Different grades, but same issues (except command climate was never addressed back then, other to say that the overall program was not in existence as it should have been). Mold degredation, facilities in poor shape, art and artifacts rotting away, security, safety and health issues galore, facilities not ADA compliant, records destroyed instead of being archived, poor accession and management of archives, Navy Library’s rare books and special collections at risk. Bottom line: Same story, different day, which shows just how little had been done between Dudley and the time DeLoach showed up. DeLoach tackled these issues head on with a business sense, because it was and is obvious that the historians running the place at the time, couldn’t or wouldn’t.

    WRT running a business, that’s EXACTLY what’s needed over there. They have a product that needs to be provided to customers. They have suppliers that need to supply. They have an infrastructure and enterprise that needs to be properly managed. Processes and procedures that need to be developed and implemented to address recommendations made by the IG 13 years ago. DeLoach may not be perfect. Any transformation/change is difficult and bound to have fits and starts, but he started down the right path. Climate in any organization under such circumstances is going to take a hit.

    Look at command climate from another perspective. I’ve been over there and I know some folks are beat down trying to do the right thing. I also know those that would just as soon go back into their cubby holes and be left alone, allowing their art, artifacts, photos, etc…to rot, because as Dudley put it- “they’re staying under the Navy’s radar”. And as anyone who has ever conducted a climate survey will tell you- only the naysayers will speak out. No one ever bitches about good things happening.

    From another perspective, having been in organizations that have faced major changes, command climate also takes a hit as the staff finally wakes up and becomes demanding customers. For years, NHC was undermanned and underfunded. Now, DeLoach comes in, says “you’re right, lets get to work” and the staff wakes up to what they really are entitled to. Only, because the Navy is the Navy, progress is slow. The command was never set up to be a command with a proper HQ element. The POM process doesn’t work overnight and folks who see light at the end of the tunnel suddenly are pissed off because it can’t be fixed RIGHT NOW.

    With respect to “disenfranchisement” of the historians, my informed opinion is that this is limited to one or two folks over there. Last year’s IG pointed to the commemorations office as largely being the source of the disenfranchisement. Well, common sense says that’s baloney because all commemorations does is set up the events. It’s the historians and archivists that are fully engaged in providing the CONTENT. Mike Crawford and company are doing a great job there. Without them, all the 1812 events would be is a glorified fleet week or BSF. Others are engaged in the VietNam and Korea commemorations. The historians have PLENTY of work and shouldn’t feel disenfranched at all, because for once, they have a HUGE venue to share their wares.

    Again, get ahold of the 1999 IG report. Think about how screwed up that place was under the leadership of historians like Dudley. Think about how much effort WASN’T put into cleaning the place up until DeLoach got there. They have a ways to go, for sure. But they’re getting there and OPNAV is behind them, for once.

  10. Hello,
    I am an employee at the Naval History & Heritage Command. I’ve been here 21 years. During this time, I produced three gold-standard academic monographs. Among them, these books received dust jacket endorsements from General Colin Powell, Admiral Mike Mullen, and President Jimmy Carter and received awards from the Navy League of the United States, the Society for History in the Federal Government, and the Organization of American Historians. I’ve also produced a lot of other works based on deep dives into the archives. My talent remains here. So many things are “broken” around here that it will take years, perhaps even decades to fix. As for the fleet, I know that officers and enlisted people billeted in Bahrain have read Shield and Sword and that Naval Academy officials, alumni, and midshipmen have read Breaking the Color Barrier and Blue & Gold and Black. These are facts. Typed by the hands of an “archive rat.”
    Robert J. Schneller Jr., Ph.D.

  11. Hello again.
    Evidently Mr. Nichols doesn’t understand what RDML DeLoach means by “forward-looking historians.” My interpretation of this term stems from two questions the admiral posed to the staff. These are paraphrases. 1. How can we best collect and preserve the documents, artifacts, and art etc. from today’s Navy and tomorrow’s Navy so that when the present and future becomes the past, historians, curators, etc. will have the data necessary to write our Navy’s history? 2. How can we produce new and variegated history and heritage “knowledge products” to better serve policymakers, warfighters, force providers, Sailors, etc. (the broad range of our primary audiences)? Part of the answer to the first question involves creation of a robust oral history program. Part of the answer to the second involves creation of “popular” illustrated narrative histories, brochures using historical facts to help the Navy’s Diversity Directorate recruit minority officers and enlisted people, gold-standard academic monographs, Powerpoint presentations, web-based information, and so forth. I have produced all of the aforementioned products and I’m not the only one doing so here at NHHC. Most of our staff comprises dedicated, hard-working, talented, career civil servants who have spent their working lives developing subject matter expertise on a variety of topics. We are a bunch of archive rats. May I respectfully suggest to doubting Thomases that they too do their homework–like an archive rat would–before making assertions, because unsupported assertions can be misleading. I will close by stating that the opinions I’ve expressed are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of RDML DeLoach, the Naval History and Heritage Command, or the United States Navy. Thank you.
    Very respectfully,
    Bob Schneller

  12. Dear Mr. Nichols:
    How do you know that all the responses to your initial article were posted by men?
    Very respectfully,
    Bob Schneller, Ph.D., Military History, Duke University, 1991.

  13. Bob: The two comments I deleted were from, I assume, men. (I know Dr. Schindler is.)

    And since we’re on the subject, I just have to point out that I understand your comment about “forward-looking history,” but I think it’s still a contradiction in terms. You write:

    “How can we produce new and variegated history and heritage ‘knowledge products’ to better serve policymakers, warfighters, force providers, Sailors, etc. (the broad range of our primary audiences)?”

    I find that simply remarkable, since in my experience, the average military officer barely has time to keep up with Proceedings, or JFQ, or other professional publications. When there are piles of moldering documents stacked to the rafters, worrying about “helping the Navy” seems to be focusing on the wrong priorities for a historical center.

    My guess — and it is only a guess — is that like so many other flag officers, retired or otherwise, who are posted to a new job, there is an irresistible tendency to “do something” to show immediate “relevance” and assistance to the warfighter, and other kinds of attention-seeking behavior meant to raise the new boss’s stature.

    At NWC, we’ve been fortunate that most of our Presidents understand that education arms our officers with a greater set of skills and abilities that they will bring to the rest of their careers. But now and then, we encounter someone who says: “Everything you’re doing is wrong, and you’re not helping the Navy right now.

    When I hear “knowledge products” to “serve policymakers,” I cringe. Maybe my Washington experience is a little out of date, but I don’t recall policymakers being fascinated by 19th century history when trying to solve immediate problems. Preserving the past is a crucial job in itself. Why guild the lily — and “disenfranchise” the civilian historians and archivists in the process?

    Shortly after this post was put up, one of my War College colleagues told me that many years ago he literally told RDML DeLoach to get out of his office after listening to the admiral — who had no background in education — explain why everything at NWC was wrong and why it had to be changed. If that was the approach, I guess I can see where things got kind of difficult at your shop. If not, then I don’t understand the IG’s language in the report.

  14. I am a man – born, not just living that way.

    Dr. Schneller (you keep calling Tom “Mr Nichols” but I will not extend the same discourtesy to you): You doth protest too much. Not exactly a secret that the Navy has “issues” with its history. As a PhD in that discipline, and sometime Naval officer, and even Naval history doyen of a subdiscipline, I have some grasp of the issues – though certainly not as painful (sorry “detailed”) look into NHHC as yourself.

    Now remind me again how putting flag officers with zero knowledge of the subject matter in charge of Naval history makes things better.

    I have actually met a few flag officers who were very supporting of, and interested in, Naval history – as a hobby thing. Great guys (and, since you’re doing routine gender inspections, all guys), but not the sorts whould would wind up at NHHC.