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NEWS | Oct. 20, 2020

Looking Forward: 15th Chief of Navy Reserve Shares Vision for the Future

By Lt. j.g. Jacob Dirr, Commander, Navy Reserve Force Public Affairs

SLIDESHOW | 1 images | CNR Q&A Chief of Navy Reserve, Vice Adm. John B. Mustin sat down for a one-on-one candid interview with The Navy Reservist magazine staff to talk about his experiences, motivation and early priorities for leading the Navy Reserve.

Chief of Navy Reserve, Vice Adm. John B. Mustin recently sat down for a one-on-one candid interview with The Navy Reservist magazine staff to talk about his experiences, motivations and early priorities for leading the Navy Reserve. Mustin took command as CNR on Aug. 7. After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1990, he served as a Surface Warfare Officer on active duty for 11 years before affiliating with the Navy Reserve in 2001. His recent Navy assignments include being a plankowner and the deputy commander of the re-established U.S. Second Fleet; commander, Expeditionary Strike Group Two and Task Force 29; and Vice Commander and Reserve director, Fleet Design/Force Generation (FdFg), U.S. Fleet Forces Command.

What is your initial message to every Navy Reserve Sailor?

Thanks for the great question. My message to the force is a simple one: my single, unambiguous, laser-guided priority — and the thing that drives my thinking and actions every single day — is warfighting readiness. We’ve got to be warfighting ready.

That said, I feel a real sense of urgency to get after what I view as the necessary transformation of our force to prepare for our future. It’s probably helpful to understand that the way I view the world is shaped by global realities. I get it — it’s complicated out there. Based on historical norms, today’s security environment is increasingly competitive, faster paced, and far more complex than even a few short years ago. We’re locked in a global competition; there is no second place and the margin of victory between winner and loser is razor thin. To address these realities, we are going to design, structure and train our force to be ready for a high-end fight against motivated, well-funded adversaries. So I’m focusing our efforts on generating combat power in every domain in which our Reserve Sailors operate: air, land, sea, space and cyberspace – and at home and abroad.   

As for guidance to each Sailor on an individual level, I’ll never pass up an opportunity to remind our force that your individual performance is built both by competency and character — it’s not enough to be strong in one without the other. To that end, just know I’m counting on each of us to perform at the highest level — as professional warriors, community ambassadors representing our Navy, and as committed family members.

How is the Reserve Force repositioning for its role in the era of Great Power Competition?

Admiral McCollum took on the hard job of beginning the move away from an individual augmentee Force supporting counter insurgency missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places around the world, to one that is able to answer the call in an era of Great Power Competition (GPC). That’s a significant shift in mindset, and an effort that requires structural and operational change — which is never easy. But it’s an absolute necessity, particularly as I scan the horizon to see what we have to do to be future-ready. You’ll hear me say often that hoping to win tomorrow’s wars with today’s force structure, equipment, tactics and thinking is a fool’s errand. So the time for change is now.  

The specific answer to your question is that we’re pursuing, with great urgency, the balance between the critical needs of today, and the necessary investments to create overmatch against our adversaries in a conflict tomorrow — that’s the GPC piece. The good news is that we’re starting from a position of strength, in that our force is the best trained, equipped, and motivated Navy Reserve in the world. We have the resilience and commitment, today, to do our jobs on day one should the nation need us, which is great. And yet the need to pivot to GPC readiness will require a lot of hard work — we have to structure ourselves to address warfighting requirements, even at the expense of some of the historically administrative roles we’ve delivered for the last several decades. There are manpower, training and budget considerations that are non-trivial. And I want to foot-stomp that we have to be ready — NOW. On day one, when we arrive on station. That’s a mandate. We’ve got our best folks on it.   

Can you expand on some of the concepts you will be pursuing?

Ha! Before I even answer, we should probably agree to talk in a year or two and see if what we’re doing then is, in any way, aligned with what I’m about to say!

The fact is, prioritizing the issues to attack early in my tenure is one of my most challenging tasks — because I see so much that I want to lean into. And yet I recognize that my team and I have to assess the relative impact, effort, time and cost associated with any proposed change before we dive in. That work hasn’t been done yet, but at this point I’m willing to share a few pre-decisional thoughts that have my attention. Just know we still have some push-ups to do before any of these are considered a done deal.  

First, we need to double down on the breadth of our Operational Level of War (OLW), specifically the Maritime Operations Center, capabilities — as well as our capacity. Why? Because our Fleet Commanders value our contribution there. And in addition to growing our depth, we need to add structure to what I’m calling an OLW “Center of Excellence,” which will include well-defined training tracks, certifications and qualifications. Those professional quals should be permeable whether you’re assigned to an echelon two 4-star fleet, or any numbered fleet, so you can arrive ready to add value on day one. 

Second, I see us plussing-up our expeditionary logistics capability. This is an area that supports the evolution of our warfighting capability in/around our USMC partners and the implementation of Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations. There’s a real multiplier effect in providing this kind of capability, which frankly supports our ability to control the sea. So it fits squarely within my “increase lethality” guidance. 

Third, we’re doing some great work within our SurgeMain enterprise today, and there’s a high likelihood we’ll increase our depth within the maintenance community as well as our afloat support capability. With a number of new platforms like the Light Amphibious Warship (LAWS), coming on line in the near future, I see a potential concept of operations that would enable us to return some seagoing ratings to our RC force.  Along those lines, I’m looking at options that span everything from our hospital ships, to LAWS, to even --— perhaps — a Reserve Littoral Combat Ship division. Again, lots of push ups remain, but I’m encouraging some creative thinking here as long as valid requirements exist and we can service them predictably, cost-effectively and safely. 

Fourth, we need to be able to flawlessly execute a mass mobilization on short notice. Our current structure and process is optimized to address about 3,000 mobilizations each year, but I want to validate that we can do 15 times that — in a month — if necessary. Today there are many stakeholders in the processes that activate, mobilize and then demobilize our Sailors, and we need to simplify how it works, then scale it to increase throughput. I see a future where our regional Reserve Component Commands, and a few other local area coordinators, have organic mobilization capability.  We have to take this on. 

Other areas that have my immediate attention can be bucketed into a category I call “New Capabilities.” In this bucket I’m lumping unmanned autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, machine learning, predictive analytics, data visualization and a few more of the things associated with the gig economy. Our Reserve personnel bring expertise in these areas from their civilian experience, and I want to explore all of them. Again, we’re looking for validated requirements, but I can see many exciting opportunities in our future.   

One final comment on all of this, so everyone understands how and why we build the units we have, and plan for those we need. As a Reserve force we service “validated requirements,” meaning we listen to the fleet commanders, type commanders, systems commands and other active component leaders to determine where we can contribute. Then we rack and stack the capabilities, importance, value and cost to determine what we build — that process is called “Force Design.” In some cases we design and build “Reserve only” capability, meaning there’s no active equivalent force, and in some cases we build additional capacity to create bench strength to existing forces. The key takeaway is that we won’t build anything that isn’t needed, but more importantly, we won’t build anything that isn’t valued. 

How will your civilian experiences have an impact on your role as CNR?

Like each of the CNR’s I’ve known in my career, I bring my civilian experiences with me to the job. Admiral McCollum was a senior Walmart executive, which prepared him perfectly for the strategic analysis that we required, and he led, during his tenure. In my case, I hope the skills I developed over the years as a business owner focused on corporate strategy development and brand messaging will contribute to designing the right force for today, even as we evolve to develop the right force for our future. And we also need to be able to effectively communicate our value, strengths and challenges to the diverse universe of audiences that are important to us.   

Keep in mind, my team and I routinely engage with Pentagon leadership, component and fleet commanders, type and systems commanders, Capitol Hill policy makers, our Reserve Component Commanders, Navy Operational Support Center staffs, and the Reserve Sailors reading this interview — to name only a few. And each of those constituents has a different level of understanding of our challenges, and more importantly our value. To communicate effectively, we need to be adept enough to speak to each on their own terms, which is interestingly similar to my civilian work.  

Along those lines, the spectrum of discussion is interesting and diverse. That is, every day we deal in terms of near-term operations and capabilities, AND of long-term vision, future force structure and budgets. That’s right up my alley. But I don’t want to minimize the complexity of what we’re talking about. It’s an energizing challenge, but a challenge, nonetheless. 

Sir, is there anything else you would like to add?

This — we have much to be proud of. We’re doing great work in many areas, in every theater of the planet, and our Navy is stronger as a result of what we bring to the fight. And yet we don’t have the luxury of resting on our laurels. As we embark on our second century as a force, I’m excited by the work ahead to prepare for our future. And I’m inspired to unlock the vast, untapped potential I see every day in our great Sailors. To do that, we’re going to tackle with urgency the hard, systemic, structural issues that constrain our flexibility, responsiveness and lethality.    

Let’s wrap up with an ask. We’re at a time of transformation and I’m seeking innovative thinkers with good ideas. If that’s you, and you have something to offer to improve our force, please reach out to your leadership, or send your ideas directly to me through our Ready to Win portal. We have a lot to do. Now, let’s get busy.