In Other Words

Few people stay at the same post for 25 years. Fewer still exhibit the passion they did when they first showed up. Fred Rainbow, editor-in-chief of an influential military magazine, is one of the few.

Outside the military world, the Naval Institute's Proceedings magazine may not be quite as popular as Time or Newsweek, but it has quietly shaped what is today's Navy. The Naval War College in Rhode Island, for example, evolved from articles in Proceedings.

The Institute, a nonprofit organization that is independent of the Department of Defense, launched the magazine 130 years ago. In time, it became a forum for officers to critique problems in military procedures, such as commanders selecting their own weapons, and to propose solutions. The Institute has now branched into book publishing and symposiums and boasts a sizable non-military membership.

Rainbow grew up in western Pennsylvania in a military family. His father was an Army fighter pilot in World War II, and Rainbow recalls being impressed with the people his father brought home. "They were an example for me," he says. Rainbow wanted to follow in his dad's footsteps, but his eyesight curtailed his dream, he says. Instead, he served as a naval intelligence officer editing classified material and unwittingly began the training for his lifetime career as editor-in-chief, periodicals director and, currently, acting chief executive officer.

"It's hard to know the impact [of Proceedings] now," Rainbow says. "It requires time to reflect."

The subjects that surface in Proceedings range from profiles of military figures to a review of the lessons learned in the war in Iraq. The review is typical of the publication's style, which provides substantial technical information combined with frank analysis.

Dr. Milan Vego, professor of military operations at the Naval War College, praises the flexibility and professionalism of combat commanders but warns that "the trend toward excessive centralization and micromanagement" could negate these qualities.

Rainbow says he sees his role as a custodian to ensure that Proceedings lives up to its reputation. "I help people say things better, make it clearer." Many of the contributors are not writers, so the material that comes in is not always punchy, he explains. The job also demands a thick skin, particularly when high-ranking military officers read articles that are critical of military operations. For example, in a recent edition, two officers call for eliminating commands within the Naval Reserve, which is not a popular notion with everyone.

Rainbow acknowledges that there have been times when someone "whose ox got gored" called for him to be fired. "But I survived," he says. He not only survived but was given the Distinguished Public Service Award in 2002. Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thomas Collins lauded Rainbow because "he has consistently fostered an open exchange of ideas, which is at the heart of the Naval Institute's mission and comprises the bedrock on which the United States was founded."

But the editor would rather give credit to the contributors who have the nerve to put their thoughts on the record. "It is a risk," Rainbow says, "because someone's going to criticize." The willingness to commit ideas to paper "separates the talkers from the thinkers," Rainbow says. "There's not enough of them in the United States." Reading the letters to the editor, often a missive fired off by an angry reader, is one of Rainbow's favorite tasks. "There's a lot of passion there," he says.

To Rainbow, an angry response is better than no response. "If it sinks like a rock, that's not a challenge for anybody," he comments. The responses can also help educate readers or clarify misconceptions. The toughest part of the job is making the call on what lands on the cutting room floor---the Institute wants to balance the interests of the services so Rainbow cannot always publish what he likes.

In a recent Proceedings column entitled "Dissent is Not Disloyalty," Rear Adm. William J. Holland, Jr., observed that "innovation usually results from ideas generated from the middle, not from the top." Rainbow agrees. "They're hungry, they're tired, they're not equipped right---these problems force innovation. If there's a flaw, you want it to be found," he says, noting it could be the difference between life and death.

Ann Marie Maloney works in downtown Annapolis. Her passions include writing, road trips, Cajun food, and the Terps.


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