Which competences should be a Marine officer have?

A M4B candidate (Vice Admiral ret) tells about a successful career of a naval officer in the Royal Navy (KM)...

A naval officer is a generalist and particularly operational oriented officer. In addition, there are technical and administrative officers and officers of the Marine Corps.

The career normally starts - after advanced High School prior education - with a practical oriented versatile 5 year study at graduate level at the Royal Institute of the Navy and the Royal Military Academy. This includes an one year practice, during which the basics of sailing on a ship at sea are imparted. This may be on board of larger vessels, but also aboard a submarine or a mine action unit.

After this training, there is a shipping period of eighteen months to two years in which the young officer learns to bear responsibility as a watch officer on the bridge, where safety for ship and crew are entrusted to him. During that time, after additional training, he can sometimes already functioning in the operational heart of the ship as a helicopter management officer or as an auxiliary diving officer. He learns how to deal with people, older colleagues and older NCOs lower in rank. He also gets additional tasks in the ship organization, in which he gains further competences, eg running the ship's store. After this period, they specialize. This could be in navigation, artillery, communications, mine etc. This usually takes another year. Secondary specializations such as Fighter Controller can also be applied.

Of course this is followed by a shipping period and applying the newly acquired competences. During this period he supervises several people he should guide, coach and judge. Sailing periods at the RN take several weeks to more than half a year. It is not unusual for a naval officer on board of sailing units to be away from home for 4 or more half-year-periods. Also, this could include several major operations, like patrols in the Arabian Gulf, anti-drug operations in the Caribbean or anti-piracy off the African coast.

Now the naval officer is around thirty years old and during his next shore placement of usually three years he can do staff preparatory work or end up in (operational) education. In any case, he is now in a three-month training which makes him more qualified to operate at this level. Sometimes he accompanies suspects in their transit to the military court, in the role of attorney. The pattern is clear. Some sailing periods alternated with periods ashore. As a 35 year old in shore jobs, you can get a lot of responsibilities in negotiating in various working groups of NATO and EU.

Late thirties, early forties, there will be a postgraduate sabbatical year. Professors from universities or from their own military area offer him mind-opening lectures on public administration, politics or higher military science. After this year, a first command of a larger unit can follow. Put out to sea with a capital ship with 200 people on board and fully accountable for all common affairs. Especially if this occurs during serious operations this will require a lot of "manhandling" capabilities.

After such command, a mainly shore job will follow for most officers. Only some will get a second command or command of several ships in national or international context. In shore positions this could be abroad on NATO or EU staffs, or affiliated to an embassy as a military attaché. In the Netherlands, at a higher level, you arrive in the Hague staff or the staff of the Commander Naval Forces in Den Helder. This may also include the assessment of accidents which requires thorough knowledge, even in the legal field. The Den Helder staff mainly has operational featured positions. In The Hague, the older officer for example is responsible for the provision of future needs of the armed forces or the related money distributing process. It can also involve working at the material organization to achieve plans and negotiate with national and international industries. In these activities, one is confronted with political reality. Eventually we noticed that politics - often only in financial terms - indicated the limits. The last 20 years has led to drastic cuts across the armed forces and officers as described are also responsible for designing solutions and implementing major reorganisations. Obviously, then you have to operate in field of wishes, possibilities, what the unions want, etc.

Outstanding sea officers progress through to flag officer positions, where there are more really sensitive issues around. Ultimately, this can lead to accession to the Admiralty Board (the Board of Directors) of the RN or at a higher level in the Hague area. This leads to major responsibilities. It means managing billions of euros and thousands of people. In the case of putting troops into action in case of serious operations, this also means advising the Prime Minister and politics, but also the responsibility for people deployed in hazardous areas.

Not everything is dealt with, but a naval officer with such a career path will certainly (should) have the following competences:

  • director / manager
  • conflict solver / mediator
  • negotiator
  • change manager
  • analyst
  • financial manager
  • practice diplomat
  • organizer
  • security awareness