Leadership Above and Beyond

 As Citizen Sailors, we tread a unique path between military and civilian life. We have positions and interact daily with our local communities, but, one weekend a month or more we don the uniform of a US Navy Sailor. This means we are both part of the many, our civilian brothers and sisters, and we are part of the very few, our fellow Sailors.

 As our civilian brothers and sisters wrestle with the many “ism’s” that plague our society, we have come to learn that regardless of race, religion, gender, orientation or socio-economic status, we are all Sailors unified by the oath “To support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.” Consequently, our nation is calling upon us to lead them in ways in which we are already very familiar.

America wants to know if all people, regardless of how they identify themselves, have a shot at success. In the Navy we have been led by all types in arguably the most demanding circumstances anyone can find and we have succeeded where others may have failed. We have demonstrated to our civilian brothers and sisters that our diversity is what makes us strong, especially when unified towards a common goal.

This does not mean that we don’t have different opinions, argue or even yell at one another. Quite the opposite. The Navy has always celebrated the independent mind as it is part of the very fabric of our culture. Think of the Commanding Officer on an independently steaming vessel and the decisions he or she needs to make regarding the ship, the mission and lives of those who are entrusted to him or her. Despite different opinions, despite the noise or “fog of war”, the CO has always been asked to make the right decision for all concerned. As leaders in our military or civilian lives, our Nation is asking us to do the same.

Our Country is asking for all of us to rise above the noise, the vitriol, the divisive speech and lead them forward. The Nation needs to know that diversity is OK. In the Navy, we know we are the world’s “melting pot” and that we are better off for it. We demonstrate this daily in all of our missions around the world. Although we haven’t always been the best at respecting one another, we have learned from our mistakes and we continue to grow and challenge old assumptions.

As Citizen Sailors, let’s share the lessons we have learned. Let’s show America that it is ok to have a different point of view, but, at the end of the day, we are all bound by the same mission. What is the mission? Well, it’s the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, of course.

Over this Fourth of July weekend as we are celebrating with family and friends. Let us not forget that the United States still represents the World’s greatest experiment. Unlike other Nations, our Military takes and oath to support and defend an Ideal, not a person or party. Unlike other Nations, we are not bound together by a single religion, race, or particular ideology.

We are bound together by the rule of law and the concept that all people are equal in the eyes of that law. Let us also not forget that we have taken an oath to support and defend these ideals and when we confront those who wish to destroy them, we do so with the strength of our brothers and sisters behind us.

A Perspective on Managing Work Life Balance


I’m so glad I didn’t join the Army, we’d do this all the time.


Like many transitioning Navy-types, I had grand notions of having a successful civilian career in the inland rivers industry.  I also fancied maneuvering through the Naval ranks and progressing to the highest ideals of the Navy Reserve.  Enter kids, family, mortgage, 24/7 civilian job operations schedule, wife’s home business, church, etc.


Life takes on a life of its own, and you hold on with white knuckles and wait for a break.

As I floundered through my first years of reserve time, I thought “How the hell do people make this work with a private industry career that goes 24/7?”  I simply don’t have the time to make the commitments for longer terms of mobilization, ADT, ADSW, etc.

Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail.

There are only 24 hours in a day, and family and civilian careers are my primary focus, so how do I become successful in the reserves?  My civilian career wont support my taking lots of extra time to go to schools, extended DWE’s, etc.  We’ve got a business to run, and they need to be able to depend on me all the time.  They’re supportive of me being in the reserves, but they’ve hired me to work at their business, not use their business as a lilly pad between Navy jaunts.
Well, crap.  Everyone’s going to look at my record and see a skater who is just doing the minimum to get a retirement.  Why am I bothering with this reserve stuff anyway if I cant be dedicated, make a difference and do stuff that matters?

Fail again.

Why does this look like a Che Guevara T-Shirt? Sailors for the Revolution?

First, lets look at three approaches to the Navy Reserve.  There are basically three levels of reserve commitment. The Professional, the Seasonal and the Minimal.  These are directly related to your civilian job and the aspirations you have in both your civilian and military careers.  

The Professional: There are people out there that I call “Professional Reservists.”  This is a great way to approach a reserve career almost like a government contractor.  If you work for a large defense company such as BAE, BOOZ, L3, Lockheed, etc.  You can park your civilian career here, and then mobilize or do ADSW essentially as many times as you want.  These huge organizations have enough people to continue operations while you go off and play Navy.  Consequently, you also can more intensely focus on hitting the specialized wickets in your Naval career such as command,  schools, etc.  You open yourself up to the best probability of advancement by doing lots of Navy stuff as a reservist as long as you do it well.  You’ll be seen as a team player and a company guy.  

This however is not my situation.

The Seasonalist: These are the civilian occupations which have a natural ebb and flow to their work cycle.  Farmers have a large part of winter off after harvest.  Teachers and professors have a large chunk of time for summer.  Paving construction crews and landscapers have a slow season in the winter, etc.  These types of professions have a giant blank space where people can take a 90 day set of orders and not miss too much.  You get more credit for doing more Navy stuff, but you cant dedicate ALL the time to it.

Again, not me

The Minimalist: As a minimalist, I love the Navy and being part of the military.  If we go to war, I want to play a part and do something important.  However, I’ve got a civilian career that I work 60-80hrs a week, every week.  People like me fall into the category of small business owners, family business owners, sales reps working on commission, real estate brokers, etc. We like being part of the team, but we can only dedicate the minimum requirement.  If all hell breaks loose, we want the call. We feel strongly about defending our country against threats to our way of life, but short of that we just don’t have a lot of extra time.

So, then what? Are the Minimalists just playing with a huge disadvantage?  

Lets call a spade a spade. Yes, we are.  But…

There are strategies that you can employ to improve your odds.

I had the privilege of supporting a senior officer promotion board, and I got to see how the sausage was made.  What does it take to promote to the senior ranks of the Navy as a reservist?The short answer is that it takes sustained superior performance and leadership. 

This applies both in the reserves and out .

 So easy, even HR can understand it.

Much to my surprise, I had a 1-v-1 mentoring session with the O-8 board president, who also happened to be the founder, CEO and Chairman of his own $100M private business. He gave me two pieces of advice.  

The first was to always apply for and take command billets whenever available. Sustained superior leadership trumps all. Even if you’re just a Minimalist, as the CO of a reserve unit you’re able demonstrate leadership in the space that you can dedicate to Navy work.

The second was how he accounted for all the empty space when stacked up against the Professionals and Seasonals at promotion boards.  He added his civilian experience to his FITREPs and letters to the board.  SPOILER ALERT: Nothing guarantees a promotion to flag rank.  However by telling the board about his executive experience, the board decided he was capable of being a Commander, and then a Captain in the Navy.  He gave them the ammo to vote in his favor.

He said there were years that he did not even do his Annual Training.  He simply didn’t have time.  He also said that no one was more surprised to select for flag than he was.  As an O-6 nearing 30 years, he figured he was done.  He began winding it down, and out of nowhere, he was selected.  He had just made sure the i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed along the way.

Pure, Unbridled, SWOTIVATION. Your day is now complete.


Also, I had the benefit of doing my successive Annual Training back at BUPERS and saw lots of the senior officers whom I knew while on active duty. They are now retirees in their GS jobs sharing cubicles with young O-3’s and O-4’s.  

This provided a lot of perspective for me with regard to the Navy and my civilian career in general.

Its easy to get your identity tangled up in what your career is and what you do for a living, but it is so much more than that.  

No matter what, it all ends at some point.  Whether you do 30+ years in the Navy or 40 years as a towboater on the Western rivers, your career will end.  

The warning that I took was that while my career may end, my family and community would still be there around me.  Take care of your family first and your career second.  You never get back the time that you miss with young spouses before kids or your children while they’re young.  

While it is very important to perform well in your civilian and Naval careers, there’s a slippery slope into workaholism.  Don’t get your identity confused with what you do for a living. 

Remember, you only get to make one pass at this life.

War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges

War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges: This fantastic and timely book investigates our love/hate relationship with War.  Written by a long time war correspondent with a background in theology, Chris Hedges, has put together a book that will challenge any Citizen Sailor to investigate his or her own feelings regarding War in it’s many forms.

Book Review: Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors

Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy’s Finest Hour by James D. Hornfischer is a must-read for every SWO.

  As the Pacific is beginning to stir with saber rattling from China, Japan, Russia, Iran and India, the pertinence of state on state Naval Warfare takes on new meaning as the cycle of history begins to repeat. Reading this account of events in the Battle Off Samar when an overmatched American light carrier group and its destroyer escorts met a fully formed Japanese Battle Group is enlightening and instructive to those of us who call sea power our profession.

  In one of the last major sea battles in history, Last Stand puts you squarely in the shoes of the decision makers where you can see the real consequences of the hesitation in battle as well as the price of duty.  This is a great opportunity to learn from Japanese and American triumphs and failures.  Hornfischer writes the events so that they read like a novel going to the farthest degree to make all the characters human and personable.  Find it Here on Amazon