Think of it as Alternative Success

The Navy trains all services’ EOD techs, at a school in Pensacola, FL, and a pretty good job they do, too. For the last ten years, EOD along with the SEALs has been among the Navy’s biggest contributions to the wars. I mean, an Ohio-class sub is all well and good, but you’re not going to sail it up the Helmand and drop a Trident on an enemy sangar.

Or maybe you will. It is budget time, and services do silly stuff. But a team of guys who can render IEDs safe — well, let’s just say their utility is clear.

And they take their mission seriously, or maybe with a little black humor. But this doesn’t sit well with some elements in the Navy, such as underemployed admirals (the Navy doesn’t have more admirals (216) than ships (285), but if you count only surface combatants (122) there’s a lot of extra flag officers).  Specifically, RADM Michael Tillotson has a beef with the EOD school’s motto, “Initial Success or Total Failure.”

 PENSACOLA, Fla. — The school where bomb technicians from all branches of the U.S. military learn their craft has been ordered to remove the unofficial motto “Initial Success or Total Failure” from its classroom walls.

Rear Adm. Michael Tillotson told school leaders this month that the motto could be viewed as disrespectful to the hundreds of Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians who have died in the line of duty.

“The motto itself holds potential insensitivities and implies that our fallen and wounded EOD Warriors have somehow failed,” Tillotson, who is based in Norfolk, Va., said in a memo to the Florida school.

via Navy Bomb School Told to Remove Unofficial Motto |

So let’s get this straight. RADM Tillotson, who comes across as a product of tee-ball, social promotion, and scoreless soccer, wants us to think that the guys who got blow’d up trying to render-safe enemy ordnance didn’t fail. That’s far too offensive a word for a Navy that’s fixing to scuttle 30 to 50 of its too-few ships, but hang on to all 216 of its too-many admirals. In Tillotson’s world, wherever it is, those guys didn’t fail and it’s “disrespectful” to say they did.

RADM Tillotson, words have meanings. Perhaps some, perhaps many of those deceased joint services EOD men succeeded in their mission despite failing in their secondary mission of staying alive. And the nature of life and death being what it is, they can’t come back from the other side and tell us how they feel about it. But we know a bit about men at war, and we think that they’d be cool with the motto. They’d protest any change, particularly any change — like RADM Tillotson seems to want — that waters it down. “Look at us,” they would cry, “see why you must always be confident and correct, for there is no coming back from an error in our line of work.”

EDIT: See UPDATES below.

Perhaps their shades hang around the classroom in Pensacola, wishing they could speak to their brothers and successors who come out of the Navy’s fine school. But if you could speak to them, and ask them if they had achieved initial success, or total failure, they would hang their heads and tell you the truth, and if anything, they would urge the training cadre on to new heights.

Because being dead may not be Total Failure. But we know better than to let some well-intentioned desk skipper relabel it with euphemisms. “Hey! Sorry you’re dead. But hey, don’t let it get you down. Think of it as alternative success.”


Before EADM Tillotson made his media appearance, the servicemen painting over every example of the slogan, and even the officers directing the matter, had no idea who had ordered the motto’s Orwellian erasure, or why. The following is a sanitized version of the instruction as receive in email by the school’s instructors:

I need… either the [Division Officer or NCO/Petty Officer in Charge]  to personally inspect all spaces under your cognizance. This includes training areas (e.g. IED huts, BC labs, PT areas, ice house, class plaques, ceiling tiles, etc) and any place that this phrase may possibly reside. If, for example, you find a wall with the phrase, don’t just take a can of spray paint to it. Annotate it and add it to the list of places you found the phrase and we’ll work with facilities to get it painted over to make it look nice.

If/when I find out more about the driving factors I’ll get back to you. If you have legitimate complaints and/or your instructors morale is negatively affected save your concerns until next Tuesdays Divo meeting or come and talk with me personally. I need confirmation this has been completed by 1100 Friday 10 Feb.

Of note, this does not apply to personal memorabilia that individuals have on display at their desks or in their PERSONAL work areas.

It was signed by the school’s Training Officer. The poor wretch clearly didn’t know why he was ordered to nuke a school motto that’s been used since the 1970s and quite probably earlier. As memos go, it’s not quite Initial Success is it? Good job that we’re now whistling past the other side of that saying,


Naturally, there’s a Facebook group (or whatever Facebook things are), Keep “Initial Success or Total Failure” in EOD School. On the page, there are some grim suggestions for Tillotson-friendly new mottos: “Initial Success or …here’s a hug, go ahead and try again” …. “Initial Success, we’re all winners”


Looking at RADM Tillotson’s official Navy bio doesn’t suggest a guy who’s unaware of, or indifferent to, EOD culture. He’s qualified as an EOD officer and has spent most of his career commanding EOD units. Same bio, we think, but different photo here.

His Command Master Chief, Farris Foresman, is also an EOD guy with the Combat Action Ribbon. This just doesn’t suggest a couple of guys who would be numb to how the bomb techs think. Is the media — ourselves included — teeing off prematurely, or did they simply botch the rollout of this initiative?  Reading RADM Tillotson’s and CMC Foresman’s bios, we wonder if we’re off base with the snark, and being unfair to a good Naval officer.

Heck, we’re Army anyway. The Navy will sort this out, and it may be that the EOD techs go on to brag about being old timers, who went to school when failure was still an option, albeit a very unappealing one.

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