There are a couple important themes here. First, it is the duty of a leader to allow Sailors to excel. We cannot hold back on giving opportunities when we can and when they have been rightfully earned. Second, and most important—and borrowing a bit from a famous quote by President John F. Kennedy—ask not what you have done for yourself (or even for the Navy), ask what you’ve done for others.
By serving others we serve our Navy, and in return we unselfishly serve ourselves. It is the personal gratitude of another’s success by which we garner the most satisfaction. It is these achievements that are the most rewarding and everlasting. It is through the success of others that we ourselves have been successful.
Strangely, that shipmate who gives me more credit than I deserve is the one who deserves the credit. In giving that Sailor an opportunity he thought would never again be available, I was in fact repaying a debt that he refuses to admit existed. It was in the course of developing a mentor-protégé relationship that the mentor gained the most. Whether by intent or luck, the trust that developed resulted in a relationship where both Sailors benefited.
I decided to share this personal story (with an uncomfortable use of personal pronouns) because I hope readers will share it with young Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, and others. They need to know what those of us with longer service learned along the way: there is no more important person in your professional life than the man or woman standing beside you.
The words of Relieve the Watch—spoken at Navy retirement ceremonies—gently hide a simple truth. While each of us stood the watch, none did so alone. We stood the watch with a shipmate, a fellow Marine, a brother guardian, and many others. Through service to country and shipmates we built undying relationships. The most magical thing about military service is the friendships that stand the test of time. In few other careers will you find people with whom you can bond so closely and then so effortlessly pick up with after years apart. It is the shared and often unspoken respect, as friends and professionals, that makes us true shipmates.
Long after the uniform is tucked away in a seabag, long after the medals are hung in a shadow box, and long after people stop referring to you by rank, it is these relationships that most closely keep you connected to your service.
Whether you helped someone once or followed them through a career, their face will tell the story of your success. Never miss an opportunity to help a shipmate, and always remember that the little things count.
It is on the faces of others that you find your most cherished accomplishments.