Guest post by CDR Brian Schulz, Commanding Officer, Navy Information Operations Command Yokosuka, Japan.

When football pundits talk about the “great” head coaches, their assessments turn to championships and then inevitably to the “coaching tree.” This idea of a coaching tree is identifying what former assistant coaches under a head coach went on to their own success as a head coach.   Bill Parcells, one of the all time greats (I said “one of,” don’t stop reading now out of Giants/Patriots/Jets/Cowboys hatred), has a coaching tree that includes Bill Belichick, Sean Payton, Mike Zimmer, Anthony Lynn, Doug Marrone, and Todd Bowles…all former assistants under Parcells and now all pretty successful head coaches (or former, in Bowles case) in their own right.

With the recent announcement of the FY21 Captain Selection Board results, I was reflecting that three more Officers from my initial Wardroom at NSGA Kunia (2002-2004) were selected for Captain this year.  That moment of reflection turned into an afternoon of research and realizing that  from that NSGA Kunia Wardroom, the tree has grown to 15 current or former Commanding Officers and 15 Officers selected for Captain in total!  Trees don’t get much stronger.  But in the weeks following, I have not stopped thinking about WHY?  What made that group so successful in the following 15 years?  Was it luck that brought an exceptional group of Junior Officers together, or was there something more that altered the individual trajectories of many of us to a path of future successes?  I firmly believe it was the latter, largely based on the efforts of the Commanding Officer, CAPT (Ret) Sandy Brooks.

CAPT Brooks was the Commanding Officer of NSGA Kunia from June 2002 to June 2004.  For those who have never had the pleasure of making her acquaintance, allow me to describe… She had served in the Navy for 25 years at that point, was a shade over five feet tall, spoke with an unforgettable southern drawl, drove a Jeep Wrangler with the top down most days, had a deep love for CCR, and is held in the highest esteem by all of us who were fortunate to call her Skipper.  It was her leadership and mentorship that provided the foundation of success that many from that Wardroom have enjoyed in their own careers.  CAPT Brooks was on the leading edge of Talent Management long before it was mainstream in business and military culture.  Here is a look at some of her efforts in Talent Management:

  • Back in 2002, the KRSOC (now NSA Hawaii) Commander was dual-hatted as the NSGA Kunia (now NIOC Hawaii) Commanding Officer. As such, CAPT Brooks enjoyed great flexibility in moving the Naval Officers around inside the Command.  Many of us were fortunate to spend that initial tour split between the National Watchfloor Mission and the Tactical Direct Support Mission.  Exposure to both, in a single tour, was common-place, even expected, at NSGA Kunia.  But I have come to appreciate the uniqueness of that opportunity.  That was not the case at other Commands in the enterprise, nor is it the case at NIOC Hawaii now due to the reorganization of the Command structure in 2006.
  • In addition to the typical Watchfloor and Direct Support missions, CAPT Brooks found incredibly unique TAD and ADHOC duty assignments for NSGA Kunia Officers supporting the myriad of on and off-island customers across the Pacific Theater. Many Officers spent part of their tour embedded with a JIATF element on Island, embedded with PACFLT, deployed in support of the C7F N39 (back when Information Operations was an emerging warfare area), among the other standing requirements of the Command. Officers benefitted from exposure to three-star and four-star operational staffs and the interagency, which also strengthened the overall Wardroom when they brought this experience back to the Command.
  • Starting in 2002, Navy Individual Augmentation deployment opportunities to Iraq and Afghanistan began. The Command allowed ALL volunteers the opportunity to deploy, despite the loss of talented Officers to the Wardroom. The individual Officers benefited from these opportunities, but moreover the lessons learned in combat made the NSGA Kunia Wardroom stronger as a whole.
  • In 2002, Cyberspace Operations was an emerging field. CAPT Brooks hand-selected Officers from her Wardroom with the right educational background or identified aptitude to help create the Joint Office at KRSOC as well as augment USPACOM and PACFLT to support this effort.  This early exposure to the developing field of Cyberspace Operations provided an incredible foundation for a number of Officers who ultimately drove Navy Cyber Mission Force development in follow-on assignments.
  • CAPT Brooks was often more focused on competence over collar devices. The KRSOC Senior Watch Officer (now NSA Hawaii SOO) position was an established O3/O4 watch position, serving as the 24 x 7 representative of the KRSOC Commander to the Pacific Theater.  However, CAPT Brooks hand-selected various O1/O2 Officers to pursue the qualification and stand the watch position.  The Command placed significant trust and confidence in these relatively junior Officers, empowering them early in their careers.
  • NSGA Kunia emphasized both an official and unofficial mentorship program, which matched every newly commissioned or new accession Officer with a senior Officer or “saltier” prior enlisted Mustang. There was a phenomenal Mustang Officer cadre at the Command, with Officers like Denver Cain, Lou Collazo, Ray Fredericks, Matt Griffin, Norm Kendrick, and Pat Kistner bringing significant fleet experience into the Wardroom.  The formal mentorship program filled the gaps and seams of an underwhelming community qualification program, where the informal sessions provided the ideal forum to glean lessons-learned from decades of service… and drink some good coffee.
  • Finally, CAPT Brooks deeply invested in every Officer’s follow-on tour decision. Her prior experience as the Senior Detailer gave her unique insight into the billets available and vast understanding of career pipelines and progression. As such, every Officer made calculated and career-progressing follow-on tour decisions.  She championed graduate education and follow-on tactical assignments, even allowing Officers to PCS early to align to these career-enhancing opportunities.  Her involvement prevented Officers from taking a follow-on tour misstep and optimized every tour available to her Junior Officers.

In 20 more years, I wonder which one of our current Commands will boast a tree like the one from NSGA Kunia?  Are the right Officers placed in the right jobs?  Are they properly developed?   Do Officers get exposure to all our core mission areas?   Emerging mission areas?   Are our Officers challenged?  Empowered?  Do we properly value our Mustangs?  Are there enough Mustangs to provide the mentorship our new accession CW Officers need?  Do we prioritize that mentorship?   Are we ensuring that Junior Officers make follow-on tour decisions that provide the right career trajectory?  Is it clear what that trajectory looks like?  Time will tell…

2002-2004 NSGA Kunia Alumni who went on to Command (Name & Command)

  • CAPT (Sel) Dave Barnes (CO JTS)
  • CAPT Chris Eng (CO IWTC Corry Station)
  • CAPT (Ret) Diane Gronewold (CO NIOC Suitland)
  • CDR Seth Lawrence (CO CDA 64)
  • CAPT Dom Lovello (CO NIOC Whidbey Island; P-CO NIOC Georgia)
  • CDR Thor Martinsen (CO CID Monterey)
  • CAPT (Sel) Tom O’neill (CO CWMA 61)
  • CAPT Marc Ratkus (CO NIOC Colorado; P-CO CIWT)
  • CAPT Josh Sanders (CO NIOC Bahrain)
  • CDR Brian Schulz (CO NIOC Yokosuka)
  • CAPT Chris Slattery (CO CID Monterey; CO IWTG Norfolk)
  • CAPT Julia Slattery (CO NIOC Bahrain; CO NCDOC)
  • CDR (Ret) Chad Smith (CO IWTC Corry Station)
  • CAPT (Ret) Ty Ward (CO NIOC Misawa)
  • CAPT (Ret) Ken Weeks (CO NIOC Misawa)

Additional 2002-2004 NSGA Kunia Alumni who went on to promotion to Captain

  • CAPT (Ret) Mickey Batson
  • CAPT (Sel) Jose Berrios
  • CAPT Bill Daniels
  • CAPT (Sel) Larry Kempista