These are the words used by Rear Adm. Ted Walker (retired 35th Chief of Supply Corps) in response to my straightforward question.
We were attending a large Supply Corps Foundation event. There was a big mix of retired officers with their dates and active duty Supply Corps officers with their dates. Everyone was having fun, as you might expect in a close-knit community like ours. My question to Rear Adm. Walker was, “What makes you so willing to spend your time and resources as a retired officer with those still on active duty? What makes you love the supply community so much?” I asked the question because after 34 years observing the retired Supply Corps community, I had often asked myself if I would have the same enthusiasm and drive as these great folks when I retire. I deeply respected Rear Adm. Walker’s response. It really made me think. A towering man, he bent down and looked at me with his steely eyes and bellowed his reply: “Andy, you dumb *!#!, it’s not the Supply Corps, it’s the Navy I love!”
Here’s my background -- I have never lived a day during my lifetime that I haven’t been part of the Navy. My father was a naval aviator at the tail end of World War II and flew off wooden decks. I remember as a kid, eating lunch in the wardroom of USS Kearsarge (CVA-33). He was commanding officer of a Carrier on Delivery COD squadron flying out of Alameda, California, when I was in the first grade. Eventually, he retired as a commander when I was entering the fifth grade. At the same time, my older brother was entering the Navy Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program at University of California, Los Angeles, where he graduated from, before going to the Navy Supply Corps School in Athens, Georgia. My brother served on two destroyers before he swung the helm to a new course, but he stayed in the Navy Reserves and eventually retired, as well.
We moved around quite a bit in my first 10 years until my father retired from the Navy and bought an insurance agency. Norfolk, Virginia; Oxen Hill, Maryland; Monterey, California; Coronado, California; Alameda, California; and Alexandria, Virginia, six places in 10 years. We almost moved to Vietnam when my Dad was stationed at the embassy there for 15 months. But the war heated up and the MAC flight was cancelled. I remember going to Norfolk to pick up my brother who was flying space-available from college in California -- standing on the Naval Air Station Norfolk flight line watching the plane roll up at the LP-1 terminal. There is a new terminal there now, but the building number is still LP-1. I’ve flown in there many times over the years on CODs, C-12s and C-17s.
The only reason I mention some of my personal background here is to highlight just how deep our Navy roots can often grow. Even today, as I have been working in the Joint community for the last four years, I continue to be grateful for my Navy roots.
I’ve also come across some other excellent points regarding how we look at our personal relationship with the Navy. Adm. Jon Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, refers to “Our Navy.” This point brings up something we learned as junior officers -- ownership. My best lesson on ownership was when my commanding officer on USS Leftwich (DD 984) took me aside and said, “Andy, when you get personally involved in the details, things turn out great. When you don’t, we usually have problems.” He got my attention with that. I remember those words every day.
The other quality of “Our Navy” is teamwork. It reminds me that we are not serving for our own individual successes, but the success of the crew and the mission of the Navy and Joint commanders.
So, if we agree with the concept of “It’s our Navy we love,” how do we operationalize that in a practical way every day? How do we instill a sense of ownership, teamwork, esprit de corps -- and get the job done? What is in our fabric that makes us successful? How will you keep everybody on your team on the same page with you?
First of all, even though we are part of the supply/logistics community, at our foundation, we are Navy officers -- Navy officers and logisticians. We are operationally oriented to get the job done. In fact, in many cases, the entire operation may be all about logistics. We are Navy officers and operators who contribute to the mission of our commands in truly significant ways.
Here are the four things that guided me and my leadership team on USS George Washington (CVN 73). These were the four principles we had everyone in the department memorize and internalize so they owned them and they could describe how these principles applied to them -- and how they performed their jobs.
Safety. Shipboard logistics is dangerous. I’ve seen forklifts driven over the side, mobile cranes fall off the ship, fires in storerooms, halon inhalation, cuts, burns and electrical injures in the galley. Think about it. The list goes on … conveyor ops, hazmat, temperatures (hot or freezing), and loading stores. Follow procedures. You have to speak up if you see something wrong. I remember once, we stopped loading the garbage barge in order to put a harness on the Sailor we had throwing bags onto the barge from the hangar bay. It looked unsafe. He could easily go over the side. In fact, that Sailor did go completely over the side. The harness saved his life.
Service. As logisticians, we are always in a supporting role. We are in the service business. We can do the jobs nobody else wants to do. We do it professionally and with the full knowledge that we are not the center of attention. If you don’t like serving other people, then you might be in the wrong business.
One of the best examples of a service oriented officer I ever came across was the example of Kurt Kunkel. He had the service business down. He took on the job of being the services officer on an aircraft carrier -- probably the toughest job in a carrier supply department. The principal assistant for services is typically not the job folks consider “fast lane.” But if you step back and look at the big picture, Kurt later became a carrier supply officer himself -- and later a flag officer. Unfortunately, we lost Kurt to cancer. He is my gold standard for a service oriented attitude -- but Kurt is also an exemplary example of an officer who truly loved the Navy.
Accountability. When we go to the Navy Supply Corps School we are taught about accountability. It is drilled into us. We are accountable for the pennies, the books, the storerooms, the laundry, coffee and beans. We are called on to be ethical and efficient in all business conducted. It is part of our underpinning. But the concept of accountability is not just for the supply officer, it is a concept we should help others understand -- all the way down to the deck plates. The concept of accountability at the deck plates is what keeps processes and procedures working properly when you are not around.
Over time, our logistics processes, systems and policies have improved vastly from when I came in the Navy 34 years ago. We need to keep on improving. But the principle of accountability is still the same. When officers and Sailors are taught accountability they always seem to grasp and embrace it and thrive brilliantly in their jobs. More often than not, they will not disappoint. They want to be successful and excel in their service. And they want to move on to greater responsibilities.
Mission. It is important that everyone has a clear picture of the mission of your command and they must know how their position contributes to mission success. Every job is important and must be valued for its contribution. If officers or Sailors cannot explain how they contribute to the mission, they will be lost from your team.
As logisticians, what is the one thing you never want to run out of while conducting any mission? Food? Ammunition? Fuel? Clearly you don’t want to run out of any of these, but the one thing you don’t want to run out of is options. The operational commander always wants options. It is our job to avoid limitations on the options available. Understanding potential single points of failure and developing a set of potential courses of action is part of our job description. Help folks see how they fit into the mission. They will play a key role in never running out of options.
Wrap Up. I will end where I started by addressing the roots of our love for the Navy. Again, we are Navy officers. We work hard and have great friends through having worked and lived beside them. We understand mission, business, finances, logistics and options. We understand what it means to be “Ready for Sea.”
I discussed my father and brother serving in the Navy, but I also have two sons now serving. One is an aviator like my dad (they have the same name). The other is a physician going into dive medicine. The last time my oldest son was home (he’s the E-2C NFO) he conveyed to me what he is thankful for. I thought his words were profound because they captured how I should view where I am at this time of my life.
He said he was thankful for the four “Fs”—Friends, Family, Faith, and Freedom.
I agree with him completely, but I added a fifth “F” to be thankful for -- the FLEET!
Lastly, keep improving, keep up the great work. Thanks for all you do. Always remember the words of Rear Adm. Ted Walker.
By Vice Adm. William A Brown, SC, USN; Deputy Commander, U.S. Transportation Command