By George Lammons, NAVIDFOR Public Affairs
STENNIS SPACE CENTER, Miss. (NNS) -- Capt. Robert Witzleb, Deputy Oceanographer of the Navy, will step into unfamiliar territory when he assumes command of the Defense Intelligence Agency/Navy Component (DIA/NC) on May 27 as the oceanography officer below the rank of rear admiral to lead a non-oceanography command.
His assignment is a benchmark for naval oceanography officers, another stage in the integration of Naval Oceanography with the Information Dominance Corps (IDC). The IDC is composed of information professional officers (IP), information warfare (IW) officers, intelligence officers (INTEL), oceanography officers (METOC), space cadre, aerographers mates (AG), cryptologic technicians (CT), intelligence specialists (IS), information technicians (IT) and Navy civilians.
Although the other ID restricted line officer specialties have been cross detailed since the 2009 inception of the IDC, the process for oceanography officers and the Oceanography community starts with Witzleb.
Another part of that integration starts this summer when Capt. Russell Smith, Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center Intelligence Department head and an intelligence officer, assumes command at Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center (FLTNUMMETOCCEN), an Echelon IV command under the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command (NAVNETOCCOM). FLTNUMMETOCCEN has never been commanded by an officer who was not an oceanographer.
"This cross-detail moves the ball way down the field of IDC integration. By diversifying select CO assignments, we enhance our contribution to and impact on joint fleet operations," said Rear Adm. Tim Gallaudet, NAVMETOCCOM commander.
Vice Adm. Ted Branch, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Dominance and Chief of Naval Intelligence, said cross detailing was part of the plan for the Information Dominance Corps from the beginning and is necessary. Branch has been the implementer of much of the IDC development, including the establishment of Naval Information Dominance Force (NAVIDFOR) late last year.
He said the point of cross-detailing is a stronger IDC and better support to the fleet.
"Our goal is to make sure we get the right officer into the right leadership opportunity, regardless of his or her source community. This matches our desire to transition from a multi-disciplinary force to an inter-disciplinary corps that can deliver the full range of ID capabilities to the fight," Branch said in the Jan.-March 2014 issue of CHIPS magazine.
Naval Oceanography's only experience with cross detailing has been with an intelligence officer assigned as the NAVMETOCCOM Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Department (N2) head.
Cmdr. John Smaha, NAVMETOCCOM N2 and an intelligence officer, says the system has worked for him.
"For an intel officer, our key career goal is to serve as an N2. A new commander gets to be an N2 - that's a great deal," said Smaha, who was promoted to commander just before he became the NAVMETOCCOM N2.
His predecessor in the billet, Capt. Jason Ansley, also an intelligence officer, was promoted to captain during his tour at NAVMETOCCOM.
Capt. Stephanie Keck, the Information Dominance (ID) and Foreign Area Officer Assignments Detail Division director and Information Warfare detailer, said that for the present, the cross detailing emphasis IDC-wide is on O-6 commanding officers, although there are some exceptions.
Capt. Ron Shaw, the Oceanography detailer, said in addition to picking top, experienced officers to cross-detail, Oceanography detailers assign O-5s from within the Oceanography Community with successful command experience as the executive officer, although it is not an IDC-wide practice.
"I feel we have positioned them for success," he said.
Nevertheless, the ID leadership is taking extra care to ensure the practice doesn't hurt mission readiness or command effectiveness.
Capt. Keith Williams, former NAVIDFOR deputy operations officer and an oceanographer, said most of the actual operational work - forecasting and analyzing - is carried out by more junior officers and senior enlisted, even in commands lead by Oceanography officers. Williams, who recently assumed command of Fleet Weather Center Norfolk, pointed out that most Oceanography officers spend a tour or two away from operations and often away from the Oceanography Community on staffs and/or in other commands.
Said Lt. Cmdr. Christi Montgomery, Oceanography community manager and a former executive officer: "The E-6s and the O-3s are adept at handling the subject matter - operational forecasting in meteorology and oceanography. These billets (commanding officer) chosen for cross-assignment are least dependent on oceanography subject matter expertise and most upon being a leader."
The lesson is not lost on Smith, the Intelligence Officer and prospective commanding officer of FLTNUMMETOCCEN.
"Everyone tells me what a fantastic team I will have the privilege of leading at FNMOC (FLTNUMMETOCCEN). With their brilliance and the leadership skills the Navy has provided me, I am confident that we will be successful. At the end of the day, leadership is leadership, no matter the tribe," he said.