JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA –
I was a twelve year old on a drizzly overcast morning in Southern California looking out the window of the family car, listening with anticipation as my parents spoke about my upcoming experience at the Naval Sea Cadet Basic Training Program. Being a “Navy Brat,” I was well versed in sea service lingo, tradition and culture. However nothing could prepare me for the events and lessons to come as I transitioned from the civilian to military life style.
Over the next seven years my journey included training with the Naval Sea Cadets, Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) and a year at New Mexico Military Institute (NMMI). Finally I found myself standing on deck as Swab Patron about to attend yet another military indoctrination training program; this time for the United States Coast Guard Academy. In classic military fashion, I was immersed in a comprehensive four year training program. I graduated practically bleeding the mission of the Academy with a “sound body, stout heart and alert mind.” Nevertheless, no amount of training could prepare me for the life lessons I am learning as a Junior Officer.
Although top-notch accession programs such as the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Officer Candidate School, Direct Commission Officer Program, Chief Petty Officer’s Academy or Enlisted Basic Training do an outstanding job of stressing the importance of and instilling the Coast Guard core values of Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty; they simply lay out the foundation and establish the expectations for all Coastguardsmen. Additionally, these institutions outline the roles and responsibilities for officers and enlisted.
While these values are deeply ingrained, they are not truly tested until a person finds himself or herself in a situation that challenges character. With no coaching or guidance and only the distant echoes of past lectures, the individual has to make a decision based on his or her judgment. The consequences of such decisions, positive or negative, impact the success or failure of leadership. These personal collections of achievements and failures (more so failures) mold the character of an aspiring leader - a character that encompasses perseverance, attitude, compassion, confidence as well as skill.
Overcoming the feelings of exhaustion, discouragement or insecurity cannot be taught. Individuals who are resilient through tough times serve as an example for others. They provide a glimpse of encouragement to those currently enduring the seemingly never-ending, uphill battle.
In my opinion, the leadership quality most appreciated by junior servicemembers is empathy. Naturally, a leader must hold true to standards but taking the time to understand perspective and apply past experiences certainly pays dividends.
Training is essential. However, the lessons provided in a classroom are only useful if they can be applied in day to day interactions and challenging moments.
What I have learned thus far in my career is there are times when a straight forward concept may become a more difficult decision than originally anticipated. As a leader, rely on your experience, remember the lessons learned the hard way and make decisions based on the overall situation.