As I had posted previously, I was given the opportunity to interview Vice Admiral John Harvey, Director Navy Staff. I covered his views on social media/Web 2.0 earlier. In the following excerpt of the interview, VADM Harvey discusses service selection choice, his time as company commander under then-Capt. Krulak, and mentorship in the Navy. My questions are italicized, with the admiral’s responses in normal font.
I have four or five months now until I put in my service selection choices and I am still struggling. You went nuclear surface warfare and what led you to choose that? Any favorite memory?
Well, first and this is most important to say you have a wonderful problem and you have a lot of really great choices. People should have such problems.…
I was always predisposed to surface following my 3rd class cruise. I found that I really enjoyed being at sea and being part of a ship. I just responded very viscerally to that and I sort of got on that track and stayed with it. We chose 1st class year, in the late fall/early winter, one of the things which drove me to surface nuke–now remember this is late ‘72 early ’73…a law had been passed under Title VIII saying that all new construction on warships of a certain tonnage, I think it was 8000 tons or greater, had to be nuclear power. So I am just sitting there in my room in Bancroft Hall, just trying to put this all together and I thought “I want to be surface and I want to be part of the future here.” I didn’t know if I was going to be in for five years or fifty at the time, but…if you did stick around and be a part of this is clearly you had to serve in nuclear power warships… I went in, did interviews, and the rest as they say is history.
Then of course they repealed the law [laughter] but I am very glad I made the choice I did.
Did I understand correctly that Capt. Krulak was your company officer?
Yes, then Capt Charles Chandler Krulak, USMC was our company officer for about 2 ½ years at the Naval Academy and later became the 31st Commandant of the Marine Corps. I’m proud to say I stayed in contact with him over the years after he was our CO and it’s been a great personal and professional privilege to have had a relationship with him over these years.
And you were company commander I think sir?
Yeah 2nd set. Back then you had 3 sets (fall, winter, and spring “honor set”)….In the winter set I was 5th company commander, my moment of glory.
Small world! To think that my company officer could go on to become Commandant of the Marines or CNO…
Yeah you never know what can happen with the men and women you spend a lot of time with. He had lots of energy, was charismatic and very engaged. In fact, we graduated 20 out of my company. 10 of them went into the Marine Corps; I think it was driven by [him].
Yeah we had a [Marine] company officer my plebe year and now 32 firsties are graduating and I think 15 are going Marine Corps; it’s an incredible ratio.
Now I note that of the 10 that went Marine Corps none of them stayed in past their service obligation [laughter]. So number of us who went into the Navy stayed in it for awhile. I’ll leave that to the reader [laughter].
Speaking of Company officers and mentor… The Navy places particular emphasis on mentorship; I was just wondering if you had any particular mentor as a midshipmen or junior officer?
I mean, yeah, I was very, very fortunate I think. I graduated in June ’73, I started nuclear power school in June—went right to power school. Got right to prototype in January ’74. I was on my first ship, USS Enterprise, in July 1974. It was just a fabulous tour. Looking back on it, one of the reason that ship–and I was a little hesitant to a carrier first, big ship, big wardroom , little ensign, you’re just going to get lost in the crowd so to speak—but…I didn’t have an appreciation for the fundamentals of leadership on that ship. A number of the officers I worked very closely with in reactor and engineering departments, felt a great responsibility to mentor the junior officers. There were a lot of us, but there was a great number of them and they were really quality individuals who I will remember vividly to the day I die, who invested a lot of their time in our professional development.
To me that really set a pattern that stayed with me as I went through Enterprise, had great associations there with the people I worked with and for, and that has been true on up to today. You don’t think as a 3rd star admiral, “Who’s your mentor,” but I’ve got them at the flag rank. I have retired senior officers who are still in touch, I talk about things we are trying to do with them, and I got advice from them. I have had the benefit of this kind of intense engagement on every ship and ever shore station I have been to. I am not just exaggerating to make you feel good—it’s just a fact of my career…
You come to those decision points, everyone has them: “Do I stay or do I go? What’s the right call for me [and] my family?” One of the things which has weighted me towards making the decision to say is the very, very positive experiences I have had with the people I’ve served with–the people who were interested in getting John Harvey to the next step in the rung. The most powerful mentor I’ve had, in terms of impact on me, was Senior Chief Machinist Mate Robert D. Neil, from Riverton, Wyoming. He was my first chief on board the Enterprise. I think he had more an impact on how I turned out than any individual in my life with the exception of my father. And Senior Chief did it in just two years. He was a very, very remarkable individual. Very wise man, who really knew his business, his profession, his people and was intensely interested in making sure his junior officers had the best chance to succeed as possible.
I’ve been very fortunate on both sides. On the senior enlisted side—people who have given a lot of themselves to help me, and on the officer side as well.
John McCain once mentioned he learned everything about leadership from a chief petty officer. It seems about right?
Well, there is a lot to be learned from everyone you serve around. There’s a lot out there, take advantage of all of it and things will be OK.
For further reading on mentorship, check out this article from a recent Proceedings issue. Authors Dr. Johnson and Mr. Andersen confirm much of what VADM Harvey had to say, and further explore how the Navy can foster mentorship more effectively.
Former/current service members: How did YOU decide upon your MOS/service selection/specialty?
Post was edited to correct VADM Harvey’s current rank.