The U.S. maritime services enjoy proud individual and shared histories. In spite of more than 200 years of challenges, the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard have a legacy of excellence. Many of the changes that have affected our seafaring forces, particularly over the past several years, have been met with a good bit of trepidation. This is to be expected and is beneficial; short of organizational paralysis, debate inspired by apprehension leads to better decisions.
Strong senior enlisted leaders can ensure that we continue to be valued military forces, but success is not guaranteed. In today’s changing society, with waning congressional support and turbulence around the globe, challenges range from political correctness overrunning us to politicians outtalking us, many of them in uniform.
Moreover, the improper actions of a few have resulted in decreased trust and respect for the majority. In this regard, our senior enlisted leaders have the potential to change the tide and take back the esteem and power lost over the years. But it will not happen accidentally.
Enforcing core-leadership traits throughout the services, particularly among ourselves, allows us to set the example for our brethren. Toward this end, we must do certain things, and we must be certain things.
We must be cohesive, actively supporting a single mission. This is the case regardless of the size or type of organization to which we belong. It applies equally to every military branch and rank, and it means that we all do our parts in the larger mission, whether that is a firefight or fighting a fire, recovering aircraft or recovering comrades. Team spirit also means keeping everyone engaged and valuing their contributions. We contribute to the development of junior officers today so that they can become the leaders we need tomorrow. Cohesiveness involves working with and following our leaders, picking them up when they stumble, and putting them back on the right path.
We need to be involved in the missions, tasks, and priorities of our units. If we are charged with training, this necessitates getting on the podium and taking personal responsibility for preparing our relief. A technical mission requires staying up to date on developing targets and technology. When the priority is physical training, this means getting out front and leading. Being involved also entails getting to know the troops so we can prevent problems before they start or identify them quickly when they do. We should be proactive, not reactive. And we must make sure our colleagues are engaged and get them back on board when they stray.
Humility is essential. No matter how good we are or what we have accomplished, there will always be someone better or who has done more. This point is illustrated by recalling a few historical enlisted heroes, such as John Finn, Clyde Thomason, and Douglas Munro, Medal of Honor recipients in the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, respectively.
Finally, we must be loyal and honest. These attributes should be discussed together because we are often forced to choose one over the other, or we may experience a need to move between them. When forced to make a choice, which is more important? The conclusion we reach can impact other facets of leadership. Telling the truth is not always popular. It can reveal deficiencies in others and may be viewed as disloyalty. The options are not always obvious, and each person must make her or his own decision.
An old shipmate recently brought this theme to my attention, and his point was clear. There are many types of loyalty: to one’s division, department, command, or specialty; to one’s warfare community, race, religion, or gender. However, in any situation there is only one truth. We decide for ourselves, but unwavering honesty demonstrates the utmost loyalty to the one thing we all have in common: our oath.
Only through the application of and dedication to core principles will the senior enlisted community remain the most influential leadership group in our services. Fulfillment of our obligations requires us to work together toward that goal. Collectively we must “turn to.” We owe it to our subordinates, our services, and our country.