Achieving Success in the Navy Supply Corps … The Energy to Lead

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 10th article in this series is focused on innovation. Captain James C. Goudreau is the Director of Policy and Partnerships in the office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy.

 

SC CC: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

CAPT James Goudreau

CAPT James Goudreau

Capt. Goudreau: I was fortunate enough to come through college courtesy of the Navy. I managed to get a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps scholarship and went to Norwich University, the Military College of Vermont, and headed out into the Fleet after I left the Supply Corps School. I was able to use the Navy once again to obtain my master’s degree from Troy University and to complete the Tuck Executive Program at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. I have benefitted from a number of other smaller courses that the Navy sees fit to fund and I believe the Supply Corps does a remarkable job of getting all of us at different stages of our careers to various shorter courses for professional development and education. I certainly encourage folks to continue educating themselves wherever and whenever they can.

Over the course of my career I’ve done a lot of different things. I’ve had the opportunity to be exposed to a tremendous amount of communities: surface warfare for a number of tours; aviation logistics for a number of tours; and expeditionary for one of the tours. Now I’m lucky enough to be working in the policy arena in DC inside the Pentagon. Each one of those jobs has been interesting and challenging in very different ways, but put together, it’s led to a pretty exciting and varied career that I’m grateful for. My shipboard tours consisted of: USS Reasoner (FF 1063), which I decommissioned; USS The Sullivans (DDG 68), where I was a plank owner; and USS Nimitz (CVN 68). During my tour on that great ship that I had the interesting experience of taking her around Cape Horn just after 9/11 with a homeport shift from Norfolk to San Diego. My last operational tour was my Commander Sea Board job as the N41 at Expeditionary Strike Group Seven headquartered in Okinawa, Japan.

SC CC: Having experienced both a traditional and a nontraditional operational tour – what would your advice be to an officer desiring an expeditionary tour, and what would your recommendation be as far as timing of those tours?

Capt. Goudreau: I think it is definitely worth having one of these tours since it allows our officers to learn a skill set that they might not normally develop, one that is valued by our Joint partners. The timing for the tours, I think, can’t be taken in isolation from timing issues with your family. Each one of those tours, whether it’s a traditional shipboard tour as a department head or one of the expeditionary logistics jobs, comes with its own challenges and demands both on you as an officer and also on your family. For those decisions, there’s never a perfect time and there’s never a completely bad time for any of these jobs. You simply have to take it in context of where you’ve been and where you think you want to go as a family and as an individual. There’s no single template for success. We lay out a career development plan and we lay out a notional path for officers to succeed, but what is success? Only the individual officer can define that. There are a lot of different ways to get to your version of success, whether that’s the rank of Captain, the commanding officer of a fleet logistics center, achieving Flag rank, or serving as a carrier SUPPO. You’ve got to know enough about yourself to figure out how you define success, and that’s really the first step in trying to figure out where and when you should do these non-traditional tours. In addition to the timing, an officer should think about how many non-traditional tours they want since that will also have an impact on your career planning.

SC CC: In your current role as director of policy Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, what do you see as your greatest challenge?

Capt. Goudreau: I think the greatest challenge in my current job is one that is a pretty standard challenge for all of our leaders across the Navy. It’s trying to change behavior. Change is inherently one of the most difficult things to make happen. For example, energy issues and climate issues are impacting our capability to generate and sustain readiness across the fleet. Those energy issues are endangering our ability to support forces as we change the force structure and as we operate more aggressively for longer periods of time across the Pacific and across other areas of the world.

People have to understand why we even need change which means as a leader you have to communicate the need for change and you need to be able to lay out that case in a way that is compelling and leads an individual to do something different on a daily basis. That’s an incredibly tough challenge. If it were easy, there wouldn’t be thousands and thousands of books on change management and on leadership. Recognizing the need for change and then successfully executing it is really what sets us apart from so many other professions.

We value the ability to take a look at the reality of a situation based on data and current situations as opposed to what we would like to think it. Our job is to think beyond the next quarter, look beyond the next year and keep our eyes focused on the horizon; otherwise you are never going to be able to chart a course that’s going to get you to where you want to go.

Why do we need to change our approach to energy? The simple truth of the matter is we have to procure and deliver 1.25 billion gallons of fuel every year to train and operate the Navy and Marine Corps and that simple act of delivering the fuel, whether it’s a convoy on the ground in Afghanistan or an underway replenishment in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, always has inherit risk and has always been a limiting factor to our ability to operate and perform the mission. The equipment that we are bringing on line all have tremendous capability for the warfighter, but are typically consuming more energy and making it tougher and tougher to actually sustain that force during deployed operations. So we have to think now. We have to realize that it’s not a situation where we can either be efficient or capable; instead we have to deliver capability and efficiency. Efficiency itself becomes a capability when we take a look at forces operating in the Pacific where they fight the tyranny of distance every day.

SC CC: In light of Secretary Mabus’ recent establishment of Task Force Innovation, would you care to share how you feel that we as a community can help to harness the creative ideas of our fellow Sailor and civilian team mates?

Capt. Goudreau: Absolutely. I think the Supply Corps has always done well in this area. This tends to be a strength for us because within our community, we’ve always been taught to challenge assumptions and to ask questions. That’s the foundation of innovation. Why are we doing things a certain way? Why do we have to do this as opposed to something else? We do that from day one as ensigns until the day that some of our officers retire as 2 and 3 star admirals. Modeling that behavior is one of our strengths as a Supply Corps. Being able to get our troops to also ask the question why and to challenge the assumptions, I think, is one of the things that we can do most effectively.

The real trick is actually listening. As we have those discussions, we all need to be able to stop and listen and hear some of the uncomfortable truths and then deal with those as the reality that needs to be addressed. I think that’s one of our strengths in the Supply Corps and that certainly is one of our responsibilities as leaders. Task Force Innovation, at its heart, is about getting people across the entire Navy to ask why and to challenge assumptions on a daily basis so we can put the right solution in place. So for us, this is a continuation of what one of our core strengths is and has been.

SC CC: As a mentor, what advice do you typically share with perspective mentees? What would your advice be to a JO who gets conflicting information from more than one mentor?

Capt. Goudreau: This happens all the time, doesn’t it? As I encourage junior officers to talk to as many senior officers as possible, I tell them right up front that they are absolutely going to get a different answer from every single one of us. It’s not a situation of if they are going to get conflicting advice; they are guaranteed to get conflicting advice. When we are talking to a JO, each one of us is recounting our story of where we’ve been and what we’ve done. Those experiences shape our opinion of the most positive and negative issues in career management. What I view positive may be something horrible to someone else.

I’ve moved all over the world and until I came to DC, I didn’t have a back to back tour in one location, and as a matter of fact most of them were either moves all the way across the country or overseas. This would be horrible for someone who wanted to stay in a particular area because of family issues. Our officers need to keep in mind all the advice we are giving them is based on our experience and the JO needs to find what works best for them. They have to come back to what their version of success is, what they want to achieve with their family, and what’s an acceptable sacrifice. If we say this is a good job that you should go to, that probably means you’re going to be working pretty hard with some long hours and time away from family so you need to be able to balance out the value of that tour professionally as well as the impact of that tour personally.

When they do make those decisions, they should always make them with their eyes wide open and understand what the effect may be. For instance, for someone who takes difficult job after difficult job after difficult job in order to try to get selected for different competitive programs like the 810 program, to be a CO, to be selected for a sea board billet, or even to try to make Flag, all of those different jobs come with a cost. Is the cost acceptable for that officer? Only the officer and his family can answer that question. If an officer involves his or her family in that discussion up front, then there should be no unpleasant surprises that it may be a tough, arduous job and that there is an impact on the amount of time spent with family.

Conversely, if you make the decision that you want to stay in a certain area or you’re going to take a job that maybe doesn’t have competition or isn’t as visible as some other jobs, you should take those jobs understanding the risk you are taking from a career perspective. If you are doing it because of family issues and because that’s what is right for you as an individual, then that’s fine as long as you are honest with yourself. You may not get selected or you may not get picked up for a program and that’s ok as long as you understand the decisions you are making. Once again, knowing your definition of success will help guide those decisions.

The unforeseen risk is that sometimes as we progress through our careers as junior officers and mid-grade officers, we might be making decisions of which we won’t understand the impact until later in our career. In my case, I got passed over for commander. If you take a good look at it, one of the biggest reasons I was passed over was that I didn’t break out in relevant competition before I zoned for commander. Many of us face this challenge. We go to a lot of jobs where as JOs, we are one of one. Another common scenario is that the last time we may have competed was at our first shore tours as a lieutenant. By the time you are lieutenant commander in zone for commander, that competition isn’t really as relevant anymore. I was very fortunate to be passed over for commander when I had just come off my tour on the Nimitz and was already at Naval Inventory Control Point in Philadelphia. I was in probably one of the few places in the Supply Corps that you can get well within that one year and have a shot at making it above zone because I dropped into a spot where there was competition as I worked in a challenging and visible job. Things turned out okay. It was an interesting year though. It forced me to take a look at myself in the mirror very hard and say, “Why am I doing what I’m doing for a career?” When you do get passed over, you go through something very similar to the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While this isn’t nearly as significant as losing a loved one, the same type of feelings are involved in different intensities and eventually you deal with it.

Through the course of my year, one of the first reactions was “Well this isn’t fair. How could this happen? Did I just waste the last 12, 13, or 14 years?” I realized I hadn’t because the jobs that I had taken made a difference to people. I had the opportunity to serve my country; I had the opportunity to take care of Sailors around me; and as a Supply Corps officer, our service matters to the nation but our individual service matters to the people around us on the ship. Ensuring their pay is right, getting them good food, receiving the parts that they need to actually have their equipment work so they can do their job; these things are incredibly important.

And so early during that year, I realized, “You know what, okay, I didn’t get selected. I’ve got a lot of friends in the corporate world who didn’t get the positions they wanted to get either but they kept working and doing their jobs. I had been very fortunate that for the previous 14 to 15 years I showed up to work every day at a job that I liked where I felt it made a difference.” Lots of people go through their lives without having that feeling a single day in their jobs. I had been lucky enough at that point to have that sort of satisfaction for just about every day of 14 years. This made the wait a little bit easier for me because I looked back on it and said “Okay, what I’m doing matters, get over your ego. It’s disappointing but there’s still a job that has to be done and you can’t take the pack off yet because you’re still in a job that matters and you still have to take care of the Fleet.”

Coming up on 25 years of service now, it’s a lesson that I learned over 10 years ago that still has value to me today and one I try to share with other officers who have been passed over. It’s a punch to the gut. You get that call or read through the message and you’re thinking, “Hey wait a second, my name is supposed to be right here, and it’s not.” That’s tough to deal with because we grow up with a certain expectation that if you go to the jobs that the detailers send you to and you work hard, then you’ll get promoted. What we don’t realize as we are going through our careers as junior officers is that going and doing a good job at what you’ve been assigned to isn’t necessarily going to get you selected. The selection is a discussion of how well suited you are for the future assignments. We have a lot of talented officers in the Supply Corps, more than we have spots for in the next paygrade and we have officers that fail to select. It’s not that there is a smoking gun or that you are a bad officer or you didn’t do a good job. It’s just a decision made based on the jobs that you took, your grades and the writing in the FITREPS. Maybe there is no indication on how well you would perform on the more complex, demanding jobs that detailers have to fill with captains and commanders. We have so many tremendously talented officers that it doesn’t take a bad FITREP to get you passed over. From a Navy perspective, it’s great that we have so many brilliant officers but that also means some folks get left behind who probably could have done well in those next level jobs.

Another piece of advice I give to junior officers is when this stops being fun for you – get out. Life is too short to be doing this if you don’t want to do it. This is not an easy life for us. As a Supply Corps officer, typically we are in a supporting role. It’s not the most glamorous job out there but it’s absolutely critical to getting the mission done. So if you need to be in the spotlight and if you need to be the person who’s getting the glory, the Supply Corps isn’t necessarily the spot for you. Maybe you need to be out flying a jet. But if you are willing to perform a life of service and support the people around you, and to take pride in that and excel in that – this is a great life – and this is a great adventure.

SC CC: What do ethics mean to you, and would you care to share an example of an ethical challenge that you have faced?

Capt. Goudreau: Obviously this is a big topic for us and for the Navy at large. I’m a simple guy and it comes back to a fairly simple approach – just keep doing the right thing each day. We have got a lot of guidance, regulations, policies, procedures, and we can kind of get caught up in some of that. This comes back to “Are you doing the right thing?” Are you taking care of the Navy, of the command and of the Sailors? If you are, and you are not damaging the reputation of any of those in how you do it, that’s probably the right thing. We talk plenty about the big ethical challenges and what would we do in those situations. I think the challenge for us is even tougher, though, when you look at the daily business – we manage money and inventory and we interface with a lot of different folks. It’s the daily decisions that you make that the Sailors watch. They are always watching and if they see you are willing to cut the corner, then they’ll know that within the operation it is okay to cut the corner. If they see that you don’t necessarily do the right thing, they will say “Well, if it’s okay for the boss to do that then it’s okay for me to do that.”

Doing the right thing really just comes down to those little decisions every day; and that’s tough because we get busy. Because the COs are pushing for greater performance or different things, sometimes it takes that tough discussion with the CO, “You know what … what you want to do, we just can’t but let me find another way

to do it ethically and legally. Let me get to a yes.” That daily discussion and those daily actions are tough to maintain because of the pressure, the tempo, the pace of where and when, and how we operate, but we’ve got to do that. If we don’t then we certainly run the risk of going down a path where those big decisions are made wrong. An example is based on my experience as a young supply officer. I had a commanding officer who smoked cigarettes and was always too busy to pay. He would call down from the bridge and tell the store operator “bring me smokes,” and there really wasn’t any way around it even though he didn’t have cash in his uniform. I couldn’t have those leave the store and compromise accountability from my operator so I would end up buying the cigarettes and running them up to the CO and then he would settle up with me weeks down the road. He might have been in the middle of operations, and I couldn’t just ask my store operator to just hand over cigarettes. It could have been easy during an underway period to say just run a credit account and we’ll get to it, but that just wasn’t going to work. How do you find your way to a yes and how do you do it in a way that’s ethically and morally right? It can be challenging. On a given day there are 200 things to do and you only have time to do 100. We just have to pay attention to some of those details and keep your mind there and stay in the game. The other thing to keep in mind is that we’ll get some of these small daily decisions wrong. How we react afterwards, though, will help set the standard. Fixing the problem in an honest, forthright manner will allow you and your operation to continue without creating a crisis. Admitting and fixing mistakes are tough to do, but that is our only option if we’ve gotten into that situation.

SC CC: Of your assignments, which one (or two) do you feel provided you the greatest opportunity to have the most impact? Why?

Capt. Goudreau: I really think two jobs have provided that opportunity. One was the tour that I had at Okinawa as the assistant Chief of Staff for logistics on Expeditionary Strike Group Seven. We were doing the mission every day and no deployment went as planned for any of our amphibious forces because there was a constant series of unanticipated missions associated either with actions by certain countries in that region or with disaster relief operations. Every single year that I was there, we had multiple disaster relief operations that our folks were responsible to execute, and our role in planning and executing theater level logistics operations to support relief missions made a difference. Our Sailors and our Marines saved lives in those responses. They helped real people who had real dangers and real risks and our presence, our professionalism, and our execution saved lives. That is incredibly powerful. On the family side of that, it was a two year unaccompanied tour, very challenging from a personal standpoint. It was a very challenging tour from a professional standpoint because of the pace of operations and the complexity, and I walked away from that job thinking we made a difference. I talked to people when I was boots on ground and I understood the difference that our Marine Corps and Navy team can have all across the globe. That sort of impact makes it easier to deal with some of the personal sacrifices associated with a demanding billet assignment.

I think the other opportunity for impact has been the last several years on the Chief of Naval Operations staff and on the Secretary of the Navy staff working energy policy issues. It’s been challenging and rewarding while trying to understand what are the risks to our future force, how do we have to change as a Navy and how do we blend the right investments in technology, partnerships and behavior in order to achieve our goals. Behavior change in requirements determination and acquisition of force structure, along with changes in tactics training, and procedures are needed to maintain our role as the strongest Navy in the world. We are looking at issues 10, 15, 20, 30 years down the road or longer and influencing policy discussions within the Department of the Navy as well as influencing policy and resourcing decisions in Congress and across other government agencies. Participating in these discussions to shape policy and contributing to those decisions is tremendously rewarding … very challenging, but tremendously rewarding.

SC CC: If you could go back to the BQC, knowing what you know now, would you make any changes to the career decisions you made? If so, what would you do differently?

Capt. Goudreau: I thought about this a bit, and this probably ended up being the toughest question to answer. Even with the challenges that I’ve had in my career, I don’t know that I would have made any of those decisions differently. The life experience that I had along with my family was a result of where we were and when we were there. That whole journey has created the people we are today. Some of those experiences were tough and some of those experiences were fun but I don’t know that I would change it. There are a lot of different ways to succeed, and the path I took is what turned out to be the right one for me. I think being able to look back and be grateful for what you have done and the way you’ve done it is pretty important. My wife and I had always agreed that if this stopped being fun, then it was time to get out. It just never stopped being fun so we kept going and the path led us here.

SC CC: If you could convey just one thought to a JO reading this … just one idea that you wish you would have known as a young officer, what would it be?

Capt. Goudreau: I’d wish I had understood just how important competition was and what do we really mean within the community by tough visible jobs. As leaders, we use that phrase a lot but I am not sure we always do a good enough job explaining that to our young officers. As an ensign or lieutenant or lieutenant junior grade, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything to you. It’s a code that you have to break. As you stick around for a longer period of time, you begin to understand what that means because you go to some of those commands like a fleet logistics center, Philadelphia, Mechanicsburg. I wish I had understood what that meant and what that meant in decision making for tours a little bit earlier. Like I said before I still wouldn’t have changed the decisions that I have made but I would have liked to have least understood the impact of those decisions more. That’s a big deal. And another thing I would say is that folks need to understand that they shouldn’t confuse action with accomplishment. We get caught in that trap because we say “wow I’m really busy, I’m doing a lot of things, I’ll write a fitness report or I will describe the value that I bring to the organization by the amount of work that I do.” That’s not nearly as important as the accomplishments associated with that. What is it that we changed? How did we make the Navy stronger? How did we make the Navy better? How did we take better care of the people around us? That’s something that you have to ask yourself every day. It’s not how many travel claims did I do or how many meals did I serve, but what did I accomplish with it and how could I have done that better? Could I have changed something to make that better to either deliver a better product to the customer or to deliver the same product with less resources? Whatever particular challenge you’ve got, focus on the accomplishment piece of it and don’t get sucked in to the common mistake of looking at what you do in terms of action because action doesn’t necessarily change anything.

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

Capt. Goudreau: Service to me has always been the main motivating factor for what I do. Being able to do something, do it well, and to impact someone around you and make a difference in their lives. That’s incredibly powerful. When you do this job well, you can see that. When you are out in the fleet, you can see it in a Sailor’s eyes; see it in an officer’s eyes. And when you don’t do it well you can see it. Being able to get that feedback, understand that not everything is going to go perfectly, and to face up to what went wrong by coming back and making it right and doing it better, that’s a pretty fun challenge. It’s addictive. When you know what you do makes a difference to the people around you, you just want to keep doing more things that are going to help the fleet and help the folks who are on your team. That’s always been one of the big factors for me.

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

Capt. Goudreau: I’d have to say flexibility and finding a way to yes. Everything I’ve done across the course of my career and everything that my peers have done is different – it’s not good or bad, it’s just different. Being flexible enough to move across different communities, being flexible enough to move to different areas of the world, being flexible enough to adapt to changes and operational schedules, and being flexible enough to try and support your family at the same time you are trying to do your job. When I was a JO, one of the phrases you always heard was there’s no such thing as a bad job. I think that is very true. As a guy who was passed over, I can tell you that there is such a thing as two or three jobs in a row that won’t lead you where you want to go. One individual job is not a bad job; it’s how do you build that within the context of your overall story. Now if you are flexible and you are willing to do some different things, then you can succeed. My example, before I went to Nimitz, I had orders to a completely different command, and I had personal property shipments already scheduled. We had already picked out the neighborhood we were going to move to and my wife knew what grad school she was going to apply to. At about 6 ½ weeks before the move my detailer at the time, called and said, “hey, you know what Jim, you can’t go to this job. If you go to this job, you’re a dead man walking. You need to go to the Nimitz instead because if you don’t do a tour like this you aren’t going to learn the skills that you need and you aren’t going to get picked up for commander.” I said, ok, let me call my wife. So I talked to her and within 24 hours we turned on a dime to a completely different tour, totally different challenges, not what we expected at all. That was a turning point in my career.

Without that phone call from the detailer saying I should probably go do something else, I would have made a bad decision. However, my family was flexible enough to say ok let’s do it, and it all turned out for the best. That flexibility was a set of orders. It is important. I’ve got a number of friends who throughout the course of their career really, really wanted a job but didn’t get that job and instead got something else and they just went with it. It turns out they had great tours with fantastic COs, and tremendous operations. I’ve also seen officers who were not very flexible, got the only job that they wanted and had a horrible experience due to any number of other factors. Being able to take what you get and make the most of it is an incredible enabler.

That’s really the secret sauce for us. As a Supply Corps we do that as a community. We go into multiple communities and we serve a lot of different masters. I think the Joint world values us because we can move in and out of different situations with different partners and different end users, adapt to it and find our way to a solution. Our entire career is based on flexibility. Success within our community, I think, has always been and will always be based on flexibility.

Special thanks to Capt. Goudreau for sharing his time, perspective, and experience.