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