In the "Letter to My Former Self" series, USNA graduates lay out the advice they would give themselves as midshipmen based on their experiences as junior officers in the Navy or Marine Corps. This week's letter was written by ENS Gee Gee Greene, who is serving on board USS Gettysburg (CG-64), based out of Norfolk, Va.
After tossing my midshipman cover at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in May of 2013, I immediately drove down to my hometown of Columbia, S.C., and spent my basket leave at home with family and friends in relief after four tough years at USNA.
Basket leave quickly flew by and I prepared myself to report to my first duty station as an adolescent Ensign. My path was quite different from many of my classmates as I was temporarily assigned to NAPS before reporting to my ship.
After complaining for several years at the academy I soon realized how much I took for granted. You do not have the luxury of free housing in Bancroft Hall, three free meals a day are no longer served, laundry becomes self-service, and respect is not given, but earned.
Responsibility is earned as well. Standards increase tremendously, and you are expected to be on time and execute your job. Nevertheless, you will enjoy the freedom of going home after a long work day, as opposed to being confined within the walls of the Yard.
After coaching football and standing CDO for a few months with midshipman candidates, I was notified that I would be flying to Bahrain to join my ship, USS Gettysburg (CG-64), in the midst of their nine-month deployment. After having a great experience at NAPS, I knew the real work was about to begin as I started my journey to become a qualified Surface Warfare Officer (SWO).
On Nov. 28, 2013, I found myself in Norfolk, Va., proceeding to my flight to the Middle East. Reporting to USNA was the first time I had left my home state, and four years later I was flying out of the country. I felt as if my life had changed so much in so little time.
I was very nervous, and did not know what to expect once I reported to my ship. All I could think about was all of the terrible SWO stories I had heard, and pictured myself on the negative end. I was flown over to my ship in which I was surprisingly greeted by smiling faces. To top off the hospitality and encouraging nature of the crew, I soon realized that the great command climate was a direct reflection of my inspiring Captain.
After meeting Captain Cooper and expressing my goals and aspirations, a plan was put in place to obtain my SWO pin, and it was time to put in the necessary work. The academy helped me quickly adjust to my ship’s schedule, from early reveille to standing watch throughout the night. The biggest difference was the fact that I was no longer reading my general orders and protecting the p-way of 8-0 in 26th Company. Instead, I was conning a 9,600-ton U.S. warship.
As an example of the responsibility you will quickly assume, on just my third night standing watch, I was ordered to position our ship at 3,000 yards and 170 degrees relative to an aircraft carrier for HRU (Horizon Reference Unit).
I have seen, experienced, or have been a part of almost every surface evolution the Navy has to offer in such a short period of time. I am grateful to have had this opportunity. I stayed the course and studied hard day in and day out until I received my SWO pin in a remarkable eight months, two of which were in Norfolk at the Basic Division Officer Course (BDOC).
Although I have my pin, I am still learning everyday. Listed below are a few qualities that helped me on my long road to becoming a SWO:
ATTITUDE: Having a positive attitude is very essential to getting through the day aboard a ship. With so much going on, people being away from their families, and conflicting interest amongst peers, a positive attitude is the only way to avoid frustration. If you start the day off with a bad attitude, I can assure you it will carry you throughout the day. Having a negative attitude forces you to lose focus and limits your ability to act coherently and lead.
HUMILITY: You will not know all the answers, and it necessary to ask questions if you are ever in doubt. In most cases you will be leading Sailors that have been doing their job for several years, and it is completely fine to ask, “What is going on?” Leaders, as well as subordinates, gain more respect and trust for you if you ask a question as opposed to assuming that you know -- when in reality, you don’t. It shows that you are interested and eager to learn what is going on. Having humility early on will definitely help you in the long run. Embarrassing moments will come as a SWO. Handling humiliation will only make you stronger. Humility builds character.
SELFLESSNESS: Realize that we joined the armed services for a greater purpose. Family, the ship and the well-being of our Sailors are far more important than you. Keeping this in mind and instilling this mindset throughout your day will encourage you to be a noble person and, more importantly, an encouraging leader.
TEAMWORK: In most cases you will join your ship with several other ensigns, and it is important that you all work together. If you acquire information, it is imperative that you share this information with your peers, and you should expect the same from them. This will only make you as well as them better. You will gain their trust and build sustainable relationships throughout the command. Your teamwork will transfer over to important evolutions and watch standing and eventually become a true friendship.
COMPETITOR: Along with being a team player, a competitive edge is also important. Being a competitive person, I want to be better than the next guy. You must set yourself apart from the others and aspire to be the best.
REFERENCES: It is good to be a technical expert in a certain area or for a particular system, but it is more important to know where to reference. In many cases I don’t have all the answers, but I do know what pub or reference to use. Utilize Rules of the Road and know your CO’s Standing Orders (“they are written in blood.”) Also, sometimes, it’s just good to know which person to talk to.
RESPECT: Treat everyone as you would want to be treated. Despite rank or status you should treat everyone with respect, and in turn they will reciprocate. In addition, you have to respect the process and realize you are only facing what others have met.
GOALS: It sounds so cliché, but set short term, intermediate, and long term goals. You will never accomplish anything if you don’t challenge yourself let alone finish a race if you don’t know where you’re going.
ACCOUNTABILITY: Hold yourself as well as your Sailors accountable for their actions. We are all grown and should act as such. Unlike USNA, you will not receive a slap on the wrist for committing an offense. You will be charged in accordance with the UCMJ. The MIDSYSTEM no longer exists, and you will be held responsible.
ORGANIZATION: With so much going on within the Plan of the Day and the ship’s long term schedule, it is necessary to purchase a calendar planner and keep track of daily, monthly, and even yearly events. Do not allow events or tasking to sneak up on you. Be on top of everything. Know your limitations and capabilities, as well as utilizing your personnel to accomplish goals.
HARD WORK: Some may feel this is self-explanatory, but it is not. Hard work is the foundation of every successful person I know. Many feel like they are working hard, but there is always someone working harder. I measure hard work based upon my peers, and whatever they are doing, I try to be two steps ahead. No one can coach, train, or teach hard work. It is about you looking within yourself to put in extra time and ethic to accomplish specific tasks or goals.
I hope my experience has put things in perspective or given you guidance to help you excel as an officer in the near future. Before I got to my ship, I was convinced that my time aboard Gettysburg (now a recipient of the Carrier Strike Group 10 Battle ‘E’ and 2013 Battenburg Cup for “Best Ship in the Fleet”) would suck – but it has been the complete opposite.
With that being said, it is tough, but anything worthwhile requires perseverance. I’ve had my ups-and-downs as a SWO, but overall it has been a great experience – words or feelings I believed I would never personally express. After reflecting on the last few years of my life and career, if I could go back in time, this is what a letter to myself would have said.