It seems fair to say that those whose careers have been marked by the greatest success should have much to impart regarding the successful navigation of the rocks and shoals found along any professional naval officer’s career path. Many have heard Admiral Jim Stavridis (Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and prior to retirement, Commander, U.S. Southern Command and Supreme Commander, Allied Powers Europe/EUCOM) speak, and some of us have benefited personally from his counsel. When asked recently, “What would you tell a young officer aiming for command, and perhaps one day, beyond that?” he offered some well-considered advice.
First, master your operational skill, whatever that may be. This is the foundation of your career, upon which all else will be built. But it is far easier said than done, especially as your career will place increasingly complex learning demands on you, many of which will lie far outside your chosen area of expertise. As you become more and more senior, it will be presumed that you know what you’re talking about when it comes to your warfare designator. You should know, in increasingly sophisticated depth, your chosen field.
This learning is a job never done. While a young officer may attain his or her initial warfare qualifications, the universe of knowledge that directly applies requires a lifetime of learning. What is needed—and this is a necessary attribute inside and outside of naval service—is intellectual curiosity. Be interested and active. Even the most casual experience is an opportunity to learn something, and nothing is too mundane as you build your foundation.
Second, read, think, speak, write, and get published if you can. Every one of us has a unique perspective, and as we learn and grow it is equally likely that we all possess original and valuable ideas. You should get those ideas into the mix, because they are not only wanted, they are needed. There are dozens of publications and even more blogs, and whether the subject is better pier security or improved pump maintenance or new directions in strike warfare, your ideas possess inherent value. Nevertheless, you should speak and write about those things you know and understand. Try not to swing for distant, difficult-to-hit fences, unless you genuinely are a recognized expert in the field. If you are, swing away!
Certainly not everyone is a gifted writer, but don’t let that hold you back. Professional forums are hungry for useful content, and they are eager to work with you. Further, writing is a skill that can be dramatically improved with a bit of practice. It’s your idea that’s important.
Finally, the life of a naval officer can be stressful, and if you didn’t get frustrated now and again, you wouldn’t be human. Having said that, never lose your temper, under any circumstances, and never raise your voice. As hard as this may seem, remember that your job is to bring order out of chaos, not the other way around. When you lose self-control, the issue becomes something other than the matter at hand: It becomes all about the fireworks display during which reason was abandoned. Above all, we should be reasonable persons—subject to reason and capable of reason—and the best solution can almost always be found in an intelligent back-and-forth discussion.
Ultimately, we are all here to serve this nation and one another. The paths we each choose in the provision of that service may vary greatly; still, you may rest assured that each of these paths is of equal necessity and value to the long-term success of our Navy. If you are a skilled engineer, work to contribute as a truly great engineer. If you are a dedicated supply officer, your aim should be to be the best of supply officers. In the big tent that is our Navy, your energy is what is most valuable. Find and fulfill your passion, even if that passion takes you down nontraditional roads. Our Navy is hungry for mine experts, linguists, teachers, and academics. We need you in Africa, Asia, and all across the United States. Do what you love, and you will succeed.
Captain Eyer served in seven cruisers, commanding three of them: the USS Thomas S. Gates (CG-51), Shiloh (CG-67), and Chancellorsville (CG-62). He is a frequent contributor to Proceedings.