It was an honor to e-interview Adm. Jim Stavridis about Destroyer Captain: Lessons of a First Command. I hope you find this book as interesting as I did. A must read for anyone aspiring to command at sea. Many thanks to Adm. Stavridis for making this interview happen.
Why did you decide to keep a journal and how did you ever find time to write in it as commanding officer of the USS Barry DDG-52?
I felt that taking command of a ship for the first time would be something I’d always want to look back on and remember. Also, for me, the physical act of sitting and writing has a tendency to crystalize my thinking and learning process; so even as I wrote up what happened each day, and what I did, and the decision process — I reviewed, understood, and learned.
What are some of the lessons you convey in your book?
Certainly the majority of what I learned was about myself — especially my own failures, challenges, and responses. I found the limits of my ability, but in doing so liberated myself from fear of failure. I also learned a great deal about what it takes to lead a ship successfully, which includes above all the ability to encourage and trust your crew. People, in my experience, will almost always become what you convince them they are — so if you are encouraging and positive in your approach, they tend to respond in overwhelmingly positive ways. I also found a great deal of value in spending time walking the ship and engaging in dozens of small but important conversations each day with as many crew members as possible. Finally, I found a real enjoyment in trying to teach the younger officers in the wardroom what I had learned along the way about shiphanding, tactics, and leadership. Fundamentally, a Captain is a servant and a teacher to the crew; what I learned was how to balance those two things.
Can you tell us a little bit about your 28 months in command of the Barry?
In very broad strokes, it was a very operational time from early fall of 1993 to December 1995 — we were underway almost 70% of the time. We deployed first off Haiti to participate in a U.N. blockade; then went on a forward deployment that began with the 50th annviersary of D-Day off the coasts of England and France. Next was the Mediterranean, again for U.N. missions under “Sharp Guard” the maritime blockade around the Balkans during the wars there. We were then pulled into the Persian Gulf to respond to a potential invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein, along with the aircraft carrier GEORGE WASHINGTON.
After returning home and a very short yard period of 6 weeks, we were back at sea for very intense oprerational training and preps for a January 1996 deployment. Incredibly busy and the time seemed to fly by.
What is command at sea like?
Exhilarating, exhausting, educational — all at the same time.
Who should read Destroyer Captain?
I like to think anyone who has ever asked the question, “what is command at sea like,” see your question above. There is certainly a built in, long term audience for the book of young officers who aspire to command and want to know what it feels like from the inside; but I think anyone would be curious. It is hopefully a book that takes the reader deeply into the mind of a Captain — not a perfect one, by far, but hopefully an honest one. As I’ve always said about the book, I’ll let others decide if it is a good book, but I truly believe it is an honest book.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Just thanks to you for taking the time to read the book and write about it. And thanks for your service in the Coast Guard — I’m an enormous fan of the USCG and close friends with Thad Allen, Bob Papp, Rob Parker, Joe Nimmich, and many other contemporaries in the CG.
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