Achieving Success in the Navy Supply Corps … How you Train when Nobody’s Watching

Cmdr. Kristin Acquavella

Cmdr. Kristin Acquavella

    The Supply Corps Office of Personnel has initiated a series of interviews, focusing on Supply Corps (SC) career management and what it takes to achieve success in Supply Corps careers. Our fifth article in this series is “How you train when nobody’s watching.” Lt. Cmdr. Jay Ramsey, SC, USN, Supply Corps Career Counselor (SC CC), interviewed Cmdr. Kristin Acquavella, SC, USN, Supply Officer PCU Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78).

SC CC: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Cmdr. Acquavella: I’m a 40-something who grew up with a very tight immediate and extended family. Perhaps because we’re Italian, we are very stereotypically in each other’s business … I guess we’ve coined that intrusive leadership in the Navy. My father retired as a Navy dentist after almost 30 years and was still on active duty when he commissioned me in 1993. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, who always saw the glass half-full and could pack up our household and move with a moment’s notice; She never missed a beat and taught us to embrace the “it’s not just a job, but an adventure” cliché. I have one brother, a banker, who currently lives in Hong Kong. A typical Navy family, we saw several duty stations throughout our youth and being close in age (13 months apart), we were always each other’s best friend as we moved every two to three years having each other as our one constant. I took to soccer at a young age, probably heavily influenced by our family being stationed in Gaeta, Italy in the early 1980s. I would say growing up in team sports has had a major influence on developing my leadership style. Certainly having the privilege of playing soccer for a legendary coaching staff/program with some of the most incredible female athletes in the world, shaped the way I approach life. Anson Dorrance, (head coach at University of North Carolina (UNC) for the past 34 years) was driving to work one day and observed one of his players, Mia Hamm, drilling on a hot, humid summer morning in Chapel Hill. He watched her train for a moment and went back to his office and wrote one of his famous quotes, “The vision of a champion is someone who is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion when no one else is watching.“ That mentality of training to the point of exhaustion, regardless of who is watching, tells a lot about a person.

SC CC: You have been the SUPPO onboard the PCU Gerald R Ford for about a year now and I am sure there are many challenges that you face on a daily basis. However, if you had to pick one thing, what has been your greatest challenge in your current capacity?

Cmdr. Acquavella: The PCU environment is awesome. Capt. Michelle Skubic had shared her USS Bush (CVN 77) experience with me and that was a huge factor in me wanting to be the first Supply Officer on Ford. You only get one chance to create the right culture of the crew and the PCU environment is a constant reminder to build the ship you always wanted from the ground up … that is our greatest challenge and my greatest passion. It is also the intangible piece of our job that sets the ship up for success (or failure) for the next 50 years.

SC CC: How has your leadership style changed as you have become a senior officer?

Cmdr. Acquavella: Ha … some would say it hasn’t! I’ve always approached everything with a lot of energy and passion … the gas pedal is always to the floor, but some very wise mentors have taught me to be a bit more patient in my approach.

SC CC: Ethics should be front and center of every decision that we make as Supply Corps officers. What do ethics mean to you, and would you care to share an example of an ethical challenge that you have faced?

Cmdr. Acquavella: We all have been taught since we were ensigns in Supply Corps School, that we have to be absolutely pristine in our approach to ethics. There is no room for interpretation and remove any gray areas. As officers, and especially as Supply Corps officers, we have a lot of real accountability … be it funds, product, material, influence, etc. I always tell folks to ask themselves, “Do I gain any professional or personal benefit from that decision?” That has been a great guide for me throughout my career and has helped keep things very clear. Another piece of advice – when in doubt, ask the Judge Advocate General (JAG), as we certainly don’t know all the rules. A recent example that happened to me, I received a thank you note from a Ford commissioning committee member who worked for the late President Ford. In the box were a handful of coins from our ship’s sponsor, a hardbound book of President Ford’s memorial tributes delivered to congress, and a few DVDs on President Ford’s life/legacy. I turned them over to the ship’s JAG so she could determine their value. The general rule is you can accept a gift from an outside source valued at $20 or less, provided the total value of the gifts from the same person is not more than $50 in a calendar year. She assessed their value, made a note for the record and ensured I did not accept anything I wasn’t allowed to accept.

SC CC: You have great tour quality. Of your assignments, which one (or two) stands out as being the most rewarding?

Cmdr. Acquavella: Tough question. Every tour has had its own rewards and lessons. I have two nieces and a nephew and if asked who my favorite was, I’d sincerely say all three of them. I have to punt on that question, but bottom line, you get out of it what you invest into it.

SC CC: What considerations did you take into account when you were selecting your assignments?

Cmdr. Acquavella: In the early stages of my career, it was all about location and I mostly went to places I wanted to live … Japan, Sigonella, Pacific Northwest. I got lucky that they also just happened to have competitive billets, but as a junior officer, I wasn’t really in tune with what jobs were considered competitive. As I became more senior, I listened to a lot of great mentors, attended SC Road Shows, asked a lot of questions and learned how to balance my personal life with my professional life. Let me answer this another way … what I never took into account was my timing nor my relative seniority arriving to a command or who else was at the command. I took jobs that seemed like a good fit for me regardless of trying to play the timing game of who else was at that command and when they were leaving. I tell folks don’t overthink your career so much that you’re missing out on performing. It’s important to have a healthy understanding of milestones, billets and career path but never to the detriment that planning your career is a priority over executing your career.

SC CC: Integration of Women in Submarines (WIS) is one of the Chief of Naval Operation’s major priorities. What advice would you give to young officers who are interested in participating in this program?

Cmdr. Acquavella: I would tell folks to talk to one of the pioneering SC women who have completed, or are on their submarine tour. Lt. Melissa Gonzales comes to mind immediately as a rock star junior SC officer who recently finished her tour on USS Maine (SSBN 741) and can give credible, first-hand advice on the Women in Submarines Program. If WIS would have been available to me when I was a lieutenant, I would have been at the front of the line. I have always viewed things like this as awesome opportunities to change the status quo and shift paradigms.

SC CC: What guidance would you provide to officers regarding records maintenance in preparation for an upcoming board?

Cmdr. Acquavella: Records maintenance is important because a board is bound only by what is in your record. A 14-year career can be briefed in less than 20 seconds. Ensuring it is up to date and reflecting the work you are doing, will ensure the board has your complete picture. It’s not about filling up white space for the sake of having no white space; rather it’s about ensuring your record reflects the quality of your work. If you don’t have a good understanding of how the board works and what they look at, please sit down with one of your mentors or someone who has sat on a board. OP has some awesome tools – roadshows, It’s Your Career, It’s Your Record, etc… – that dive into the details of Officer Summary Record/Officer Data Card/Performance Summary Record maintenance and how you can update every block. We choose our SC Career Counselors very wisely and they are a great resource for understanding board record maintenance among other things. Another important thing to understand is the Navy Personnel Command usually pulls your “board” record about 30 days prior to the convening date. That translates to any updates you do within about a month of your board, probably won’t make it to the board record. It is important to understand cut-off dates as those will drive your decision to send in updates (fitreps, awards, AQD’s) as correspondence to the board or not.

SC CC: What is the “secret sauce” to success in the Supply Corps?

Cmdr. Acquavella: Lots of garlic, bacon and crushed red pepper … just kidding. I think there are some pillars to success that have stood the test of time: integrity; selflessness; teamwork; persistence; attitude; and effort to name a few. My current commanding officer says it perfectly when asked what matters: the content of your character and the quality of your work.

SC CC: Who or what inspires you (military or non-military)?

Cmdr. Acquavella: I’m inspired by the athlete who maybe isn’t the quickest, fastest, or strongest but plays with the most heart. Translate that to my Navy career, I have a lot more respect for the Sailor or officer who may not have all the talent but gives their very best every day, versus the Sailor or officer who is very capable and talented and yet doesn’t translate that talent into max effort.

SC CC: How did your experience as a collegiate athlete at UNC impact your leadership and teamwork?

Cmdr. Acquavella: Playing at UNC was a defining time in my life. My freshman year, first practice (August in North Carolina can be brutal), we all had to pass “The Cooper” test … basically it’s 7 ¼ laps around a track in under 12 minutes. It’s the first recorded assessment of your fitness going into the new season. There was a senior named Tracy Bates (former National Team player) who darn near ran the fitness test backwards, cheering folks on, going back to get them and doing everything in her power to bring as many of her teammates across that line in 12 minutes that she could possibly drag with her. That made a huge impact on me … unconcerned about her own success to ensure the team succeeded.

* Special thanks to Cmdr. Acquavella for sharing her time, perspective, and experience. *