I received word yesterday of the passing, far too young, of Archie Clemins. He passed after a two year battle with cancer.
Upon hearing of this terribly sad news I was overcome with a rush of memories, some of which I want to capture here for their valuable leadership lessons, Including lessons in enterprise technology and operational intelligence.
I first encountered this great leader in 1986. I was a young intelligence officer at an operational intelligence center in Kami Seya Japan (FOSIF WESTPAC, the Fleet Operational Intelligence Center Western Pacific). While on a late watch, I saw a wide variety of reports from multiple sources my team and I concluded that something was up with a particular unit in the PRC Navy. It could have been minor, and I was not sure anyone would really care, but I drafted a message and sent it to organizations that consumed our intelligence (our readers). About 20 minutes later one of our classified phones started ringing. It was from then Commodore Archie Clemins, operational head of all the US Submarines in the Western Pacific (CTF 74). For context, this is the first time anyone that senior had ever called asking to speak to me. He read my message and had a simple question. Was the unit going to stay in-area or deploy, because he was going to make huge decisions either way but needed to know what it was going to do.
I still recall my answer. I gave Commodore Clemins more insight into the data I had, told him what we did not have, and then said “I think he is deploying, but would like to call my boss in to look this over.” His answer: “Thanks, you do just that.” I called my boss (Captain Frank Notz) at home. He came back into work, reviewed everything, agreed with my conclusion, and he spoke to Commodore Clemins to close the loop.
That early interaction drove a few things home for me. It underscored that the operational insights we were producing in our center really could move the fleet. It also led me to realize there are two types of leaders. Those that care about intelligence and have a thirst for it, and those that think it is an extraneous function to be ignored. Archie loved intelligence.
Years later I would work for him as a member of his staff at 7th Fleet. I was on the N2 (Intelligence) team starting in 1994, and had just shown up on the staff two weeks before he arrived. So I had gotten there just in time to see the huge way he started changing things.
There were already computers onboard the 7th Fleet flagship (The USS Blue Ridge). Of course the intelligence center had plenty, and we had some primitive connectivity via classified circuits to the shore based intelligence community. There was also a LAN of computers on the 7th Fleet Staff, but most people wondered why they were there. Who cares if you could send an email from office to office or share a spreadsheet?
Then our new Commander showed up. Vice Admiral Clemins. One of his first actions was to move the computer in his flagship office. The previous Admiral had it on a side table against a far wall. Admiral Clemins moved it to the center of his desk. This was unheard of. But guess, what? That single move caused every one of his senior staff to move their computer to the center of their desk. The revolution was under way!
Admiral Clemins immediately started taking action to increase bandwidth to the Flagship. The first step was something the communications officer was very excited about, the ability to have real phone lines while afloat. Since I was a bit of a nerd at the time I was able to get one of these four lines for use by the intelligence team. I used it to demonstrate something that had never been done from a warship at sea before. I accessed the Internet. I connected a computer using a phone in my stateroom to this new satellite phone system, which got me to a ground station in Hawaii and from there dialed into Compuserve. From there I was able to send email, access bulletin boards, read news and access information while afloat. I used this proof of concept to help my friends in the staff communications section (the N6, led first by Captain Tim Traverso and then Captain Dave Weddel) explain the kinds of things that could be done for all with more bandwidth. Archie and the N6 were great at getting more bandwidth, and soon all of the senior leadership team were up on email on and off ship while we were at sea.
Our intelligence center already had some pretty cool computers that had been provided with Joint money so we were probably the most modern space on the ship. We also had enough bandwidth afloat to get some data and small images. But it was really not modern till Archie got involved. Early on I gave Admiral Clemins a tour of our spaces. I showed him the tech (mostly Unix boxes) and how we were using our systems to communicate with shorebase intelligence centers. One of our intelligence specialists gave him a demo of a computer. Like everything else on a seagoing Navy ship at the time, it was secured for heavy seas. In this case, it was held in a solid steal, welded shut frame. But Admiral Clemins noticed something no one else did. He saw the sailor sitting in an incredibly awkward position because the keyboard and mouse were in positions hard to use and the monitor could not be adjusted. He turned to the sailor and asked him: “Son are you comfortable in that position?” The sailor replied “No sir, this is not comfortable at all.”
From that one conversation Admiral Clemins led us through a total redesign of the entire intelligence center. Eventually he got significant plus ups in money and teams of engineers from the Navy’s engineering centers to come and design an intelligence center that allowed us to reconfigure the spaces and support multiple scenarios while enabling our workforce to better interact with the computers. This included new workstations that were secure for heavy seas but adjustable and focused on the needs of users. All of this came from him noticing the awkward discomfort of a sailor who had a hard time using a computer. Sure was another leadership lesson there. In order to really lead you need to know when to serve, and at that time, Admiral Clemins was serving the sailor.
I also recall Admiral Clemins as a reader. We had early web browsers on our intelligence systems at the time, which were really just ways to click on links like the first browser invented by Tim Berners Lee in 1990. But Archie shared a book with me. The title was something like “Mosaic, the new way of reading the web”. I recall wondering why anyone would write a book about being able to click on links, duh. And why would an Admiral be so interested in that? But once again he was incredibly prescient and realized this was not just about clicking links but about making all information needed by warfighters accessible at any time. I also recall him reading a history of Lewis and Clark, and being able to weave analogies from that book into examples for the pioneering journey into the future we were all taking.
There were so many other lessons at 7th Fleet. When it comes to IT modernization, he told us all, even when times are tight, that our approach to IT modernization will be “there is always enough money to do the right thing.” We were told to articulate our requirements and he would find the money for them. In intelligence there is a tight connection to senior headquarters intelligence organizations (in our case the Pacific Fleet N2) and to other Joint organizations (like the intelligence center at Pearl Harbor, JICPAC at the time) and national level organizations (like Office of Naval Intelligence and the Joint Staff J2 and the Defense Intelligence Agency). So we intelligence types did what we could to get money from just about any other organization. We also got support of senior intelligence leaders from the shore based establishment and got approval for capabilities like secure video afloat. Less than a year after Archie had been there, were were doing full speed two way live video, fully encrypted, with intelligence centers around the world.
There are so many other technical lessons from Archie, but the biggest lessons I remember are how he used information to drive decisions. In every crisis situation he tasked his intelligence team for insights.
A great example is how he used intelligence to drive decisions around a major crisis involving China, Taiwan and the US in 1996. This is almost two full years after Admiral Clemins has been at 7th fleet. In those two years he had not just modernized the flagship’s IT and given us enough bandwidth to get intelligence from external sources, but he had reinvigorated every portion of his staff. He had been putting the staff and all subordinate elements through joint exercises and had been helping us all better understand his information needs and decision-making style. Meanwhile, our N2, Captain Eric Myers, had been building relationships with any intelligence organization that could serve our mission, including all national intelligence agencies, all area chief of stations, every defense attache and many counterintelligence and law enforcement agencies (Eric was also a visionary in technology and had tasked me to “architect for a fight” when it comes to intelligence systems).
A key lesson for me as an intelligence officer came during this China Taiwan crisis. China had announced an intention to launch missiles around key areas of Taiwan, to prove a point that Taiwan was, and always would be, theirs, and that Taiwan’s recent moves to shy away from the “one China” message would not be tolerated. The Blue Ridge was at sea at this time. Admiral Clemins, a great consumer of intelligence, had frequent meetings with Captain Myers. I saw Eric leverage the network he had been building. He spoke via classified circuits with experts in China from intelligence agencies and from our embassy.
Meanwhile, at Admiral Clemins’ direction, the USS Independence was steaming south from Japan to be in the crisis area at the time China said they would launch missiles. In a staff meeting, Admiral Clemins asked Captain Myers for his assessment on what China was going to do. Eric replied something like “Sir, I’ve read everything I can on the situation, have spoken to the intelligence agencies in DC, spoken to the chief of station in our embassy, spoken to our senior defense attache, who also happens to have a PhD in china studies. None of them can tell us with any confidence what China will do. But I’ll tell you what I think. My assessment is that China expected you to move the Independence down from Japan. If you really wanted to surprise them you would do something like move the Nimitz back from its transit to the Persian Gulf”
Admiral Clemins immediately turned to his director of operations (the N3) and said “get the Nimitz.” The N3, pissed that an intelligence officer was causing the Admiral to issue operational orders, said “Sir, you can’t do that, the Nimitz has already transited through our area of operations and is heading to the Persian Gulf.” Admiral Clemins said “I don’t care.” The N3 said, we don’t have the power to do that, it would require at Joint Staff Warning Order” Admiral Clemins then said “Then get a Joint Staff Warning Order, but meanwhile call the Nimitz and tell them to turn around.” (Soon after we received a Joint Staff Warning Order, which was good, because the Nimitz was heading back!).
There were a few lessons there for me. One is that Eric Myers had always said intelligence should drive ops, and this was the perfect example. Another was the lesson similar to my first call with then Commodore Clemins so many years ago. He had a thirst for intelligence and was going to use that and expected intelligence professionals like Eric to tell him what they think.
Admiral Clemins went on to help drive the modernization of the entire Navy and he also rose to the rank of four star and would soon command the US Navy in the Pacific (PACFLT). I later got a chance to work for him again. After I retired I worked at TRW and Northrop Grumman and then later for the Defense Intelligence Agency. After my job at DIA was complete and I left government Archie became a mentor and boss again. After he retired he and his wife Marilyn formed a company called Caribou Technologies (with my friend and long term associate Chris Ward). Here he taught me so many other leadership lessons in being an independent consultant.
Fair winds and following seas Admiral Clemins. Wishing peace and love to your family and all you have touched through the years.
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