Tuesday, May 14, 2024

20 years ago I was pulled into the Secretary of Defense's staff to become the Staff Director of the Detainee Task Force - my final assignment in a Navy career that spanned from July 1975 - June 2006.  In fact, today (14 May) is the 20th Anniversary of my first day in that office.  I was in the Secretary of Defense's office at 0530 a.m. to meet Donald Henry Rumsfeld with MGEN Mike Maples, Special Assistant Preston M. Geren and my (soon to be) assistant (a Presidential Management Fellow) Sarah Nagelmann.  For the next two years, we would make a trip through hell and back.  It was an unpleasant and painful journey for all of us - Secretary Rumsfeld endured the worst of it.  He was accountable for the sadistic behavior of soldiers he led six or seven levels down the chain of command.  Everything that happened in the Department of Defense (good or bad) was his responsibility.  The hell of the Abu Ghraib scandal was the worst possible thing to occur on "his watch" and he suffered immensely for policies he inherited from others.  Every bad policy in the military services during his tenure as Secretary of Defense was attributed to this singular human being.  He offered his resignation to the President twice during this period and the President did not accept it.  It was a privilege to be in the same room with this man.  In my 30 years of service in the United States Navy, this letter was the highest honor I received. 

Monday, May 13, 2024


I was a year and 4 months into command. when I received this letter from the Chief of Naval Operations. It came out of nowhere and gave me a motivational boost that carried me through 8 more years and two promotions.  Personal letters have meant 1000 times more than any medal in my career.  I proudly left assignments on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense's Staff at the Pentagon with NO awards.  How about you?  What has meant more to you?

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Motivating the Crew - Flag Correspondence


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 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.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

What I told my CO. Ensigns don't try this at your command. My boss and I were the same paygrade.

This is a summary of my 360 degree feedback to a former commanding officer.

Skipper, there's no doubt you're going to be the leader of this community; these things may help you. You are a great speaker. Be careful not to lose the feeling behind the words. Words have meaning; actions have con­sequences.  Ensure your actions match your words.  Some Sailors actually listen to every word. They can sense any hint of insincerity.

  • Your command philosophy should be written down and distributed widely in the command. This is a huge reason for the CNO's success in the Navy. We all know where he's going and we talk about it. The command wants to follow you. Tell us where you want to go. 
  • Respect our time. Typically, ten or more people are always awaiting your late arrival at some function (staff meeting, wardroom meetings, dinners, graduations, etc). If people believe that you are willing to consistently waste their time, they will stop feeling guilty about wasting yours. 
  • Be consistent with your administration of military justice. It's easy to punish junior members in the command for trivial violations. Applying the same standards across the board does not always work. In fact, the more senior the individual is, the more accountable they should be held for their action or inaction. Everyone is watching and judging. 
  • When senior officers visit the command, maximize their exposure to the junior Sailors of the command. They will benefit the most. 
  • Take your junior officers, Chiefs, and Sailors to lunch or simply go have lunch with them in their mess. Everyone will learn a lot, especially you. 
  • Invite your key command leaders to your home for a social event so they can see how it's done. Juniors need to see how their seniors do this. It's part of the learning process. 
  • Share information with your department heads. It is astounding how much information a commanding officer is exposed to and that is not shared with the department heads. Distributed information is enormously powerful. Your department heads can keep a secret if there is a requirement for secrecy. Trust them. 
  • Don't play favorites with members of the wardroom. It hurts the wardroom and it hurts you. 
  • Focus your calendar on the command 's mission. Ceremonial events and public relations are important, but your time should be spent on those areas the commanding officer can directly influence for the greatest benefit to the command's mission. 
From my January 2007 PROCEEDINGS magazine article "360-Degree Feedback: Can We Handle the Truth?"  You can subscribe to PROCEEDINGS (the professional journal of the U.S. Navy) HERE.