I read LCDR Haag’s post regarding consequences of large amalgamated commands and subsequent diminished command opportunities with both agreement and concern. Agreement, because I remember not long ago that possible duty stations spanned the globe in more and smaller commands, presenting myriad possibilities for adventure and advancement. I was fortunate enough to be stationed aboard one of these, NSGA Menwith Hill, before she decommissioned. I remember also the stories my respected seniors would tell of days at Sabana Seca, Athens, or any of the other gone but not forgotten locations memorialized by Station HYPO. I read with concern, however, because while I agree that our community can better advance professional development of our senior most junior Officers, large commands already offer tremendous opportunity to Department Heads to tackle the challenges noted by the LCDR.
Section 3.5 of OPNAVINST 3120.32d (SORN) lists the authority, responsibility, and duties of a Department Head, and it is replete with freedom of action. Admiral Greenert’s Navy Leader Development Strategy (NLDS) from 2015 describes O4s as “Motivational Leaders” who “anticipate requirements and act independently,” and who are “adaptive leaders and team builders.” Admiral Richardson’s Navy Leader Development Framework (NLDF) from 2017 states that top leaders, “…study every text, try every method, SEIZE EVERY MOMENT … They ceaselessly communicate, train, test, and challenge their teams.” Assertive and aspiring junior Officers should look at the words of the SORN, NLDS, and NLDF as a challenge granting them their first “command,” and more importantly, they should see those words as a dare – “we dare you to do better than those before you.”
Granted, Department Heads and Division Officers have nowhere near the legal authorities afforded Commanding Officers, but I think LCDR Haag gives less credit and opportunity to the title of Department Head and the rank of Lieutenant Commander than they deserve (something about Old Fuds, Young Studs, and Lieutenant Commanders), and I think this is where his argument loses credit. There is a combination of statements which I think exemplify where the LCDR’s perspective is too narrowly focused on a perceived problem rather than inherent opportunity, and perhaps a slight misunderstanding of the limits of his rank or role.
First, the assertion that “The cryptologic community thrusts Captains and Commanders into leadership positions … and somehow Commanding Officers are expected to build the right team to take care of every Sailor.” One wonders why an Officer selected for command would be surprised by the concept of team building. Yes, Captains and Commanders are expected to build strong teams, and they should expect their Department Heads and Division Officers to do the same. Again, while I agree that more and smaller commands are a better construct, I think this statement does disservice to the training, academic and real, that junior Officers get along the path to command. As a Division Officer, under the guidance of a Chief, you should learn how to build your deck plate triad of you, your LCPO, and your LPO. This is in fact the proscribed time for a junior Officer to learn how to build a team to take care of every Sailor, using your First Classes, collateral duty leaders, and hopefully mentors in the Wardroom. Your Chief and your Department Head have failed you if this doesn’t happen.
Second, “The Navy used to prepare Officers for this role by having small commands, where junior Officers could execute their command responsibilities over small groups of Sailors, learning how to command over their career…” This hasn’t changed. I’ve been in the Navy for 24 years and I’ve been in the Mess for 13, and I’ve been managed by a great many people and led by very few, and those few always understood that their obligation was to lead at maximum capacity all the time, to find the limits and redefine them. Department Heads have the leeway to act as leaders of their own organization, their own command, in their own right. Of course they are still accountable to the CO for operations and the XO for administrative matters, but within the defined scope of their Department, they are in command, just as a CO is in command of the defined scope of his unit, but still subject to the direction and regulation put for by the ISIC. Each Department comes with its own experts, its own mission, and its own triad; the junior Officer in charge of the Department is expected to maintain their own triad. Ensure you and your LCPO have read the SORN and the NEOCS and that they understand their role relative to you, and you to your Division Officers. Make sure your Division Officers execute their missions but treat them with the same trust and autonomy that you should be trying to earn from the XO. This is how the Navy still prepares Officers for a command role in our community, and in every community; it in fact gives them small commands, to the extent possible within a community with fewer units requiring commanding officers. Every privilege to lead a department should be made into an experiment in leadership styles, using mentorship from the Wardroom and experience gained building a team as a Division Officer, with the Department Head always attempting to execute and improve upon the CO’s vision with style and efficiency.
Finally, “…thinking that somehow our junior officers would magically learn the nuances of command…” The Navy not once saw itself as Hogwart’s, with Officers as pupils. It does, however, expect us as leaders to be aware of the regulations governing our ranks and rates, and its expectations of us as individuals, and it expects us to act on them, to “seize every moment.”
Its understandable to think the smaller number of commands in our community seems to have shrunk the pool of leadership opportunities. Realistically, learning to rely on your mentors and your Chiefs as a Division Officer building a small team, learning to function as the leader of a network of teams with direct access to the Commanding Officer, and working yourself into the cherished position of trusted Department Head and direct protege of a Captain or Commander is itself part of a rich tradition in our Navy, and one that is both present and more vital than ever, and what a leader can take from this does not depend on whether there are four commands or 16. I agree with LCDR Haag that challenges persist and command titles are few because of larger commands, but I also know that leadership opportunities abound, and the more familiar we are with both Navy regulation and tradition, the more we can recognize and grasp these opportunities.
CTICS(IW/SS) Adam Shucard enlisted in 1994, graduated Persian-Farsi at DLI in May 1995, served tours in Maryland, Bahrain, the UK, Afghanistan, Texas, Georgia, and Rhode Island. He is currently enroute NIOD Kaneohe Bay for duty as SEL.