VADM John C. Harvey, Jr.

VADM John C. Harvey, Jr.

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Then of course they repealed the law [laughter] but I am very glad I made the choice I did.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.

Posted by Jeffrey Withington in Navy

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  • VADM J. C. Harvey, Jr USN

    One correction for our readers – while I very much enjoyed my conversation with Midn Withington and greatly appreciate his enthusiasm, I would like to remind eveyone that my correct rank is Vice Admiral.
    I’m very honored to have been nominated for promotion to Admiral, but that advancement must await confirmation by the Senate and my relieving as CFFC, should I be confirmed. So there are a couple of significant steps left to go.
    In any event, I continue to serve as Director, Navy Staff in the grade of Vice Admiral and am very proud to do so. All the best, JCHjr

    PS I think my entry is a long-winded, Flag Officer version of the old saying, “What do you call a LCDR (Select)? LT!”

  • jwithington


    Thank you for pointing out my error! The title and references have been corrected.

  • Byron

    That’s OK, VADM, we dont’ mind giving you an early promotion 😉

  • P. Withington

    OK, I should take the hit here. Jeff asked me the proper way to address VADM Harvey and I gave him bum gouge. I’ll blame it on too many cocktails downstairs at the Cubi O’club.

  • You know, here in the Blogosphere, I am quite powerful. I could authorize frocking in this situation and absolve Midn Withington of all culpability.

  • Fouled Anchor

    There are some good lessons on mentorship in this post. I always appreciate when a senior, successful officer reflects back on his or her most significant mentor, and that mentor was a Navy Chief. In VADM Harvey’s case, a Senior Chief.

    Junior officers need to understand that one of the DUTIES of a Chief is to develop Sailors. That doesn’t mean enlisted Sailors, that means all Sailors, specifically, junior officer and enlisted Sailors.

    I’m glad Senior Chief Neil had such a positive and memorable impact on the admiral’s career. It is important that junior officers hit the fleet with an open mind and a willingness to learn from the CPO Mess. It’s equally important that senior officers, particularly COs and ADMs, remember this and support their Chiefs in this DUTY. Chiefs take great pride in developing their JOs and seeing them succeed.

  • Byron

    VADM Harvey, I’d pay attention to what Maggie’s saying if I were you, she has lot’s of friends in low places 😉

  • Reactor Todd

    I was an MM2 in Commander Harvey’s Reactor Department in 1985 (USS Nimitz). While I was qualifying Feed Pumps (the lowliest of watches). Another MM2 and myself were grilled for 45 minutes by the Commander. The thing I remember most about the ordeal was the respect he paid to MMCM Willingham (SP?) an enlisted legend on the Nimitz, by telling me (not the other guy…. he made a few too many mistakes, both in formality and in knowledge) that I should be using him (MMCM) as a role model and that some day I could be MMCM…. (it was not to be…did my six years and moved on).

    But Commander Harvey’s attitude towards the enlisted mechanics was special; he only qualified/maintained about 8 Chief Reactor watches during his tenure – but their competence was unparalelled. We performed at a very high level under his leadership. With that said, I do not think he was loved (or feared) by his men, just highly respected…. the way it should be.

    Anyway it is of no surprise to the old Nimitz Reactor Department that John C. Harvey will be moving up to Admiral.

  • Timothy Harvey

    I’ve been in the Navy as a Hospital Corpsman, on July 24th will be 14 years and that will be my last day in. Due to the Navy cut backs or reduction in force I will be seperated from Active Duty, which I will truly miss! I have served in the combat zone with the Marines and deployed several times with the Marines. I have a question for Admiral Harvey but I know just being a junior sailor will never get to him. I really hope the Navy will streamline the advancement better, I missed one exam due to deployement, people who cannot pass the PRT are advancing and a certain command has an electronic wt scale set at 10 pounds under so passing the wt standards is eaiser and all I can do is record it on my phone which I did everyone at the command knows about it! I work hard by mentoring to junior sailors and saving Marines and now I am handed a a small check and no medical benefits after serving 14 years as of July 24th 2009. Admiral Harvey if you asked me to goto Iraq with a Marine unit for my last 6 years I would be ready to deploy tomorrow, I love our Country and the Navy and uphold the highest respect for our Superiors. TY for your time.

    Timothy D. Harvey
    18 days til kicking and screaming discharge from the U.S. Navy, also a video at youtube about the wt scale scam

  • John, you may not remember me but I photographed you and your crew aboard the USS Long Beach, once off shore of San Diego and finished up in Subic Bay, much to your amazement that I could navigate that distance and catch up to you. You then got command of the David R Ray and again, I rode out with you to photograph your sailors for their cruisebook. I tried to get with you on your cruiser but that didn’t work out. Congratulations on your continued career and the promotions that came after I last saw you as a Commander. This was all back in 1992 or 93 and as I remember, you and your wife had a small child. Hope to hear from you.
    Jim Howell

  • ADM J. C. Harvey, Jr USN

    Jim, I do indeed remember you and it’s great to hear from you – where are you and what are you doing? You can find me in Norfolk most of the time. Come on by for a cup of coffee! All the best, JCHjr