Yesterday, under a beautiful sky and with the Navy Memorial in downtown Washington, D.C. as back drop, hundreds of uniformed officers, Navy civilians and members of the retired community gathered to say goodbye to an American icon–Mr. Trip Barber. Mr. Barber bid farewell to the Navy he loved with a simple ceremony–no pomp and circumstance–and one that was commensurate with the manner in which he conducted business in the halls of the Pentagon over the course of his 41 year career. They say that in any organization, no one person is indispensable, but Trip Barber will be hard to replace.
Trip has been the Navy’s shepherd for the last 26 Program Objective Memorandum (POM) cycles. In short, the POM is the final product of the budget process or programming cycle that dictates how we spend the Navy’s money. Executing 26 POMS is an absolutely amazing statistic and Trip Barber has done so with tenacity and steely-eyed determination over the years. As analysts go, he’s the best of the best. In his humble remarks, he thanked some of the great Senior Executive Service (SES) Civilians like Mr. Ken Miller or Mr. Irv Blickstein and one of the finest uniformed officers in the realm of programmatics–the late Admiral Don Pilling–for teaching him his tradecraft. In my opinion, Trip joined the ranks of these giants in the Planning, Programming and Budgeting and Evaluation (PPB&E) world long ago and we learned much from him
Before becoming a Senior Executive himself, Trip enjoyed a highly successful career in the Surface Navy, culminating in his stewardship and command of one of the largest Fleet Concentration areas in the world–Naval Base, Norfolk, Virginia. That is where I first met him, while I was in command of an SSN on the waterfront. Trip’s leadership and management skills were highly effective at sea or ashore, so it is no surprise that he rose to be one of the most respected and revered SES in the Department of the Navy.
In his farewell address, Trip made a statement that was an inspiration to all of us when he said, ” I did not come to N81 to be a faceless bureaucrat, I came to build a team that could analyze with technical rigor and operational skill how to make our Navy better, and I intended to be as relentlessly forceful as that team’s spokesman as it took to use their work to roll over any obstacles to making the Navy the most capable that it could be within the funds it had.” That statement is the very essence of what Trip Barber stands for and he leaves an important legacy in his wake for all of us to follow.
Trip trained and mentored 10 different Admirals in the last 12 years as the Deputy Director of the Assessments Branch, N81. I was one of the fortunate recipients of his training, mentorship, and friendship. There were many “Trip-isms” that will live in infamy after his departure. RADM Herm Shelanski relayed one today that we all subscribe to in the makings of a good briefer and the mark of a good brief. First, the Senior Leader (and recipient of the brief) should remain in the room for the duration of the brief. Second, under NO circumstances should there be any “back-up” slides included in the brief. Third and finally, if the brief is “stand-alone,” then there should be NO follow-on taskers associated with the brief. ‘Nuff said.
We ALL emulated this model, but few of us could ever get there on our own… Trip would often say in our morning meetings, “That’s OK, HARD is authorized!”
Trip didn’t train just the Admirals, he trained scores of the best Operations Analysts and Operations Researchers ever to wear a Navy uniform. He said, ” I see it as my duty as the senior continuity in N81 and as the Navy’s senior analyst to nurture a culture of intellectual excellence and energy in all who work in N81, to focus us on the right issues, and to provide a logical structure to our efforts.” When I served with Trip at N81, I used to joke with the young officers going into their first encounter with Trip to present a briefing that they believed was ready for scrutiny by our venerable Deputy. I would say, you are about to make your first trip to the “Barber” Shop, and you won’t go in just once. This was an iterative process and part of Trip’s training and mentoring of future analysts. Graduate school doesn’t teach you everything and being the best at what you do requires on-the-job training and experience under the watchful eye of a good mentor. If the briefing was really really good, you might just get a “trim.” If it needs rework, you might end up with a “high and tight.” If the brief just doesn’t pass muster, you could get “scalped,” but Trip always did so with a grandfatherly touch. His aim was to make us better. We all learned so much from him.
Trip opined that when he came to N81 over a decade ago, he found an organization that operated behind closed doors with a very high opinion of itself. He evoked the memory of Admiral Sam Locklear, one of his former bosses, who put N81 on a different path that he called “Excellence without arrogance.” Trip, Admiral Locklear and the N81 team embraced and inculcated this new approach. Trip eradicated the term “honest broker” from N81’s vernacular, because he thought it implied that others on the Navy staff were somehow dishonest or unwilling to face the truth–just simply not the case. Trip preferred the mantra that N81 was “dispassionate” because although N81 does not own programs, it has a duty to analyze programs with all due rigor, so that the Navy gets the best bang for the buck, and dollars are precious nowadays.
By his own choosing, Trip is departing the pattern here on a high note. He could have stayed and continued to be very effective, but he recalled the words of his MIT classmate and NASA astronaut, Jay Apt, who described the standards in his community as follows, “90 percent is just not good enough.”
If you run the risk of running out of new ideas and becoming just another part of the bureaucracy, it’s time to go.
So we say goodbye to a great American and a patriot. Once upon a time, CAPT Trip Barber worked alongside CAPT Jon Greenert in the “Bullpen” of OPNAV N80, and so it was fitting that Admiral Jon Greenert shared the dais with SES Trip Barber at the Navy Memorial today. Admiral Greenert’s remarks were moving and appropriate to honor a man who has given so much to the nation and our Navy.
Fair winds and following seas Trip. Enjoy your well-earned retirement! You’ve earned it!
Ladies and Gentlemen, the “Barber” Shop is now officially closed.