BY LT. CMDR. MICHAEL VALLE, SC, USN, INSTRUCTOR
NAVY SUPPLY CORPS SCHOOL
The course of my career can best be described as atypical. I enlisted in the Navy at 31-years old with a wife, two children, and bachelor’s degree, and I consciously took a 65 percent pay cut in order to do so. After hearing this, most people look at me dumbfounded or shake their heads and chuckle. There are many reasons my wife and I made this decision, but very few of them are an interesting read. It is, simply put, life.
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Lt. Cmdr. Michael Valle
When I originally thought about joining the Navy, I had applied to Officer Candidate School (OCS). In return, the Navy sent me the kindest rejection letter I had ever read. It contained words to the effect of “…consider enlisting. Many of the Navy’s top enlisted performers are selected each year for a commission through various sources…” I filed it away. A few months later, as life was continuing to make its impact, a recruiter called me out of the blue. I remembered the words from the rejection letter and seriously began to consider enlisting as an option.
In hindsight, many people can pick out crucial moments from their lives. At the point of enlisting, September 7, 2001, my wife and I both knew this was one of those moments as it was happening. On December 19, 2001, the Navy became our reality. I left for boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois, and the next couple of years were definitely interesting, to say the least. I enjoyed being an electronics technician (ET), but a third class petty officer paycheck doesn’t go too far for a family of four. It was time to execute “The Plan.”
After receiving a couple of enlisted evaluations, I began working on another application to OCS. In certain aspects, it was much easier because I had some assistance with the application, but it was also frustrating due to the bureaucracy and administration that goes with an organization as large as the Navy. Between making corrections and routing via the chop chain, which took some significant lengths of time, the application took roughly 14 months to reach OCS in Pensacola, Florida. My OCS package actually reached Pensacola without Supply Corps as one of my selected designators. Supply was accidentally removed from my application as it was thought that I didn’t qualify since I was an ET. Though, knowing full well that I was qualified, I hadn’t figured out the Navy-way of pushing back and standing my ground. Since it was the third choice on my application, I let it go. A phone call from the accessions department at OCS corrected the omission. The gentleman kindly hand wrote Supply Corps on my application – thank goodness!
At OCS, and even during Basic Qualification Course, I still wasn’t sure about being a Supply Corps officer. I became more comfortable as I witnessed so many talented and intelligent men and women excited about being a part of the community. It wasn’t until my division officer tour that it “clicked” for me. There was no epiphany or sudden moment of acknowledgment, per say. It was a collection of experiences and interactions that really brought around the revelation that the Supply Corps is my home, my community.
Early on, it was because I could see an end to the repetitive, mundane requirements of my surface warfare brothers and sisters. Once I qualified Surface Warfare Supply Corps Officer, bridge and combat watch was a thing of the past. Those tasks tended to stay with the young SWOs. That being noted, the responsibilities that we hold as SUPPOS are not without repetition as weekly food service spot checks come to mind. But, I suppose this bothered me much less because my civilian work experience entailed much of this so it was familiar, and it wasn’t tied to a specific length of time as is a watch.
As I developed as an officer, it became clear to me that what I love about the Supply Corps isn’t so much the pubs and instructions, though I do have an affinity for them. It is that we have the opportunity to develop and practice leadership more so than other communities, in my opinion. Much of this comes down to time. We are rarely tied to specific watches that eat up much of our day and keep us tethered to an area that many Sailors may not be familiar with or have easy access to. We, as SUPPOS, have the ability to, more often, manage by walking around. It is something we preach and teach in each curriculum here at Navy Supply Corps School. I believe this bit of extra time affords us the opportunity to develop into effective leaders if we so choose to take advantage of it.
My biggest opportunity to put this into practice came as a department head on a DDG in Yokosuka, Japan. Compressed certification cycles, being underway frequently, flexing schedules and numerous meetings on top of very short deadlines, test all that enter the fray. What I found, however, is that among all the pressure, stress, and unknowns, was an incredible opportunity to connect with Sailors across the ship.
As the SUPPO, we have the ability to lead across the ship, not just our department. Most junior enlisted are temporarily assigned as food service attendants under our care and supervision. First and second class petty officers are work center supervisors who interact with us through S-1 as customers. In the duty section, they follow our lead as we assume the role of command duty officer. During an operational tour, there is hardly a time when we are not leading personnel. I had as many non-supply personnel to lead as I did in my own department. It is the uniqueness of our designator that affords us this opportunity.
The biggest lesson I have learned so far about leadership is this: one has to give thought to it to be even moderately successful. There are times for motivational speeches, rolling up one’s sleeves, pitching, and ordering someone to do an unpleasant task. If no thought has been given to how to approach these instances then flailing or failing is likely to be the outcome. A bit of forethought on how one would proceed given certain situations is the beginning of the long journey that is leadership.
Now 15 and a half years into a military career, four children, and a Master of Business Administration on the horizon, I am more convinced than ever that the Supply Corps is where I was meant to be. Ship driving is cool. Missile shoots are awesome, if they don’t get cancelled. But participating in all functions across commands by actively engaging in our support role is exactly where I want to be. There are few with shoulders broad enough to carry billion dollar war vessels. Those few are the Supply Corps men and women with whom I am proud to serve.