Disclaimer: This is a slight rework to a post I made on www.informationwarriors.net and our Community Facebook page.
As one who takes the role of mentor (and mentee for that matter) very seriously, I consider myself privileged to be sought out by juniors for career advice. Recently, I was approached by a fellow Officer who was fortunate enough to be preparing for his upcoming tour as a Carrier Strike Group Cryptologic Resource Coordinator (CRC), which is our most coveted career milestone for our sharpest Lieutenant Commanders. Like those of us with enough humility to admit we may not be optimally prepared for the next growth opportunity in our personal and professional development continuum, he asked for a bit of advice that might help him better prepare himself for the challenge ahead. When he asked, I was immediately transported back six years when I was asking a mentor for similar insight on my way to the very same operational milestone. To this day, I remember and covet the advice given to me which has helped me to minimize (though not eliminate) the many lessons I continue to learn the hard way. Fact is, as daunting as it is for most of us to step into the next stretch assignment, whether it be afloat or ashore, the same advice applies. In fact, the same advice applies to every job any of us have as Naval Professionals, officer or enlisted (or civilians for that matter). If we simply collaborate, integrate and educate, we will enjoy great success. Likewise, if we find ourselves less than proud of our contribution level on the back end of a tour, we clearly did not do one or more of those things well during our tenure. Though the advice uses CRC as the example, it could just as easily been Executive Officer, Department Head, Leading Chief Petty Officer Officer Community Manager, OPNAV Action Officer, COCOM Operational Planner, or civilian equivalent.
Collaborate - None of us show up fully prepared for our next job. As a new CRC, I distinctly remember leaning on the other CRCs on the San Diego (and even FDNF) waterfront who were anywhere from three months to 23 months ahead of me in the training cycle. My first waterfront conference took on a similar tone to that of an Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting..."Hi, I am (insert name), I am a CRC and I don't know what I am doing." After we all admitted we had much to learn and nothing to hide, the tone on the waterfront quickly changed to one that was reminiscent of some classes at USNA..."Cooperate to Graduate" (though in this case it was not about graduation, but about contribution). OPTASKs, SOPs, message shells and training plans were being cross-decked, refined and tailored with the ultimate goal of standardization. The point is, the sooner we acknowledge we arrive with much to learn, and feel comfortable leaning on our peers, juniors and seniors (and respond to the needs of others who lean on us), the more quickly we grow, contribute and ultimately further our profession.
Integrate - As a CRC our job is to support each and every Warfare Commander across the Carrier Strike Group (and sometimes beyond) as a part of the intelligence team. Each Strike Group and Warfare Commander arrives with a preconceived notion of what happens “Behind the Green Door." And just as in our world the "Green Door" is more than a metaphor, the notion of our personal integration being critical to our ability to lead the cryptologic team under our charge is more than a mandate. If we are to contribute operationally, add value as staff officers and truly lead our Sailors, we must first demonstrate strong personal initiative and seek every opportunity to be seen as the "Go To" Officer on the staff. This is done only by getting involved and demonstrating great confidence (not arrogance) in our abilities (and of those who make up our team), by creating opportunities to integrate, thereby creating our place within the larger organization.
Educate - Our most demanding jobs (CRC is clearly one of them) and therefore our greatest growth opportunities are often times “1 of 1” (e.g. our performance is not overtly measured against our peer group), and as such, it is incumbent upon us to educate the rest of the staff on the contributions of the IW/SIGINT team afloat and the extended reachback capabilities (national, theater and organic) we are able to leverage on behalf of the Operational Commander. Some of us get lucky and our Strike Group Commander, Warfare Commanders or Staff Leadership are already believers in the value Information Warfare and Cryptologic Professionals provide. If not, it's time to initiate a public affairs campaign and educate them on capabilities you and your team have at your disposal, both locally and through the extended enterprise.
What attracted many of us to the Navy is the same thing that separates our service from the others. It is our sense of community, our individual commitment to continual improvement and the interest each of us takes in the development of our Shipmates. Each time a fellow Naval Professional asks us for advice, we should be appreciative. Not because it validates our roles as mentors (which we all are), but for the opportunity it provides each of us to reflect on and share the many things we have experienced and learned over time. Regardless of our current paygrade, there remains much to be learned from our Shipmates, past and present, senior and junior; all we need to do is ask. And for those of us who recognize we have something to offer, we need not wait to be asked, we simply share...