Saturday, November 19, 2016

Motivating the crew - worth repeating

This is a letter from former Commander, Naval Security Group Command - RDML (at the time) James S. McFarland while I was Officer in Charge of Naval Security Group Barbers Point, Hawaii. I received this note almost a year into my tour (to the day). He sent a note of thanks to all the places he visited and to many of the hot running young Sailors he met along the way. RDML McFarland had just visited our small detachment on a worldwide tour that took him to over a dozen Naval Security Group sites in the Far East and through SouthWestAsia. His hand was blistered and calloused from all the hands he shook of the Sailors he met. When he visited my detachment, he already knew all my Sailors by name. I'm not sure if it was good staff work or simply a great memory.

He corresponded regularly with his Commanding Officers and Officers in Charge. He sent a quarterly letter to the entire Naval Security Group claimancy once a quarter to keep everyone on the same page. On these trips he usually brought a couple of the reps from the CNSG HQ to listen to issues and provide 'on the spot' assistance where they could. On this trip, he brought a recent lateral transfer to the cryptologic community by the name of Andrew M. Singer. You could tell instantaneously that this guy had it all in one seabag. The NSG team had a great visit with my crew. The crew went on to win two Meritorious Unit Citations, one Navy Unit Citation, the National Security Agency's TOP TEN Signals Award and honorable mention for our Sailor retention program. Not to mention - the three RADM G. Patrick March Awards for language proficiency - all presented by RADM March himself.

RDML McFarland's letters served as great motivation for me and my crew. I had nominated one of my linguists (Tim Kalvoda) for a Flag Letter of Commendation for achieving the SILVER level in the Samuel F.B. Morse Award program. RDML McFarland had his awards secretary (Mary Jo Crisp) call me to say, "If you don't mind, RDML McFarland would like to upgrade his award to a Navy Achievement Medal." RDML McFarland was just that kind of man. All of our linguists were dual-qualified (and mostly self-taught) as Manual Morse operators and Tim Kalvoda had achieved a level of expertise that some Cryptologic Technician Collection (CTRs) were not even capable of reaching.

What a great crew ! What an awesome experience! What a great Admiral ! What a great man ! And, I heard that Andrew M. Singer guy turned out to be a pretty good cryptologist - even if he had been a SWO first.


CWO4 Brian Ashpole, USN-Retired said...

RADM McFarland was my CO at NSGA Misawa. I was a very young (19) CTR3 when I checked in in August1979 and had my check in interview with him.

As a direct supporter, I was gone alot. The next time I saw him was at the 1980 Christmas party and he called me by my name (Petty Officer Ashpole) and asked how I was doing. He mentioned my time away and had heard that I was doing a good job.

I checked out in February 1981 as a newly advanced 21 year old CTR2.

During my check out interview, I thanked him for letting me serve (I had matured and was slowly learning the meaning of service)and told him that my original intention was to finish my enlistment and go home. I told him how my chief had provided me with sound career advice and had talked to the detailer for me (he was a good chief who could kick you in the pants one second and pat you on the back the next).

Fast forward to 1988 on USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55). We had recently received one of the first TRDF installs.

RADM McFarland had paid us a visit so that he could see the system in action.

Our division officer was LT(jg) Paul Solis and our Chief was CTRC(SW) Mike Henson. I learned alot from those two.

RADM McFarland came into the space with our Captain. He then went around to each of us asking our backgrounds. He came to me and said "I know what Ashpole has been up to. Glad to see you again."

The look on my CO's face was priceless.

He practiced a form of leadership that is rare these days.

David Spalding said...

Captain L -- this is a great tribute to a man who was clearly a great leader. Though I never worked with him, the picture that you paint of him is inspiring. Thanks for sharing and Happy Thanksgiving.

Robert Maguire said...

I still remember that visit of RDML McFarland to NSGD BPT. He was very personable and obviously interested in his Sailors. That was the "secret" of his success.

I have heard stories of him, completely by chance, meeting Sailors years after their first introduction and still remembering their names and details about their families. I can believe it.

My next interaction with RADM McFarland happened years later when I was CO of NSGA Bad Aibling. I had heard that he was very ill and I asked the activity's Sailors to sign a get well card for him. I never expected to hear from him. I just wanted him to know that we were thinking about him.

Even while dealing with the disease that eventually took him from us (he died soon after), he took the time to write me and the command to thank us for thinking of him.

Very humbling and SOP for a very classy man.

RIP, sir!

Dean said...


I didn't get to read this on Thanksgiving day when you published it. Had I done so, it would certainly have re-framed what came to the front of my memory when recounting things to be thankful for yesterday!

You know well his history with NSGD BPT while he was still in Hawaii serving as the CPF staff cryptologist and DIRNSGPAC. The same crew you took over had received his attention (in mostly postive ways!) before he returned to CONUS.

We probably didn't consider the attention he gave us to be much more than a coincidence of geography at the time. Only after encountering lesser captains and admirals did we appreciate the absurdly high bar Jim McFarland set, and the amazing connections he made between himself and those who represented the missions he was charged with.

I've culled much of the navy paperwork that accumulated over the years. I have a handful of handwritten notes of my own from him: even if not displayed,they are among the most meaningful residue of long-ago service.


Anonymous said...


Tim Kalvoda was my division officer on USS WINSTON S CHURCHILL (DDG 81) in the early 00's and what a great guy, very knowledgeable Cryptologist and a real team builder, the division was more of a family and we were all just kind of on equal footing and did our jobs and had a blast. Guys knew he was in charge, but he was that kind of guy where it was kind of unspoken thing b/c of mutual respect.

- Chuck Brooks
Then (CTO2) Now (CTNCM)

Mr Kingfish said...

Danny K Shepherd here Mike. Nice tribute! Thx for the opportunity to add to the convo. The Admiral was the epitome of a leader whom loyal subordinates affectionately rendered respect by calling him "Skipper," wherever he was in command, that was James S McFarland. A genuine interest in those under his charge, a unique ability to associate action, face, and results to each and every professional in his command, and slackers too, allowed him to personalize each and every conversation he had with his sailors and marines. What better way to inspire his troops than to acknowledge them and their credentials, always seeking input on what he could do to improve their situation or facilitate their mission objectives, and they always responded positively (reenlistments, promotions, extra curricular achievements, professional excellence, etc., all testified to this fact). In operations he always arrived early and was up to speed before the ops boss was even out of bed, and it didn't matter who that department head was, that was his style. And he knew the mission and each and every way his sailors were able to accomplish that mission. He was an operator's operator, an analyst's analyst, a technician's technician because he always took an interest in furthering his understanding of the technical methodology by which we exploited our numerous targets. Off-duty he was equally influential and inspiring. He loved sports and wanted the best from his NSGA teams competing against the myriad of host and tenant commands. His athletes responded by winning many championship accolades for the command trophy case. He was the Naval Security Groups preeminent Ship-Shore sailor emphasizing support to the fleet - always the fleet! McFarland was indeed the greatest leader to ever hold the CNSG title IMHO and the ripples of significant achievement in naval cryptology and personnel development and retention were second to none. An absolute Admiral's Admiral; from humble enlisted roots to the pinnacle of success. God Bless Paula and his adult children; may his legacy live on through them and sailors like us whom affectionately called him 'skipper', mentor, and friend. RIP Admiral!