Charting a Course - How to Make Flag

By Captain Kevin Eyer, U.S. Navy (Retired)

If you have aspirations to make flag you need to start right away. If you excel in your first sea tour, you may be presented with an opportunity. The easiest (but not only) example of a “right” first shore tour would be selection to the personal staff of a surface warfare flag. There you will discover— and it will be discovered —whether you possess the right stuff or not. If you do, your admiral has the power to start the ball rolling on your behalf. If not, it is unlikely that you will ever find your way onto one of the so-called “watch lists.”

The Navy does not like to discuss or even acknowledge these watch lists because their existence is, technically speaking, illegal; they are secret records. Circulated at the surface three-star level and above, they are used primarily to ensure that appropriate officers in the 0-4 to 0-6 range are identified for special handling in the detailing process.

This should not surprise you. Indeed, it would be naïve for you to imagine that the community would not want to concern itself with the active husbanding of those perceived to show the greatest promise. You need to be on one of these lists, even if you will never know whether you are or are not.

First, you must convince your flag that you are a highly competent professional. You must also be invariably positive and cheerful. You may never be angry, impatient, or flippant, which may be thought of as the metaphoric equivalents of self-inflicted head wounds.

Second, you must be fully supportive of Navy policies, whatever they may be. Cynical compliance will not be welcome. Actually, cynicism of any sort is unwelcome. You do not want to be identified as one of those poor souls who simply doesn’t “get it”: More than one promising officer “died” by perversely (if sensibly) opposing the Littoral Combat Ship.

Third, you must execute your job with unfailing enthusiasm, even in the face of what may be surprising expectations. It might be too much to say that you could not find an officer who made flag in the 1990s who didn’t walk some former admiral’s dog, but the point should be taken. Smile and neck it on down (though it would be better were you to just smile naturally rather than fake one).

Still, even consistently great performance in prestige jobs doesn’t make you a lock for flag. There are simply too many variables involved, and only a fool believes that rank luck isn’t one of them. However, following these rules should get you into the discussion, which cannot be said of that other superb performer who chose either to labor in obscure fields or was freer in the expression of his or her views.

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.




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