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110825-N-PM781-002 ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 25, 2011) Operations Specialist Seaman Rickey Robersone receives direction from the officer of the deck, Lt. Michael Ordonez, aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1). Wasp, along with twenty-seven other Naval Station Norfolk-based ships, departed the area to avoid potential damage from Hurricane Irene. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Arif Patani/Released)

How Do Junior Officers Inspire Innovation?

This week, the Surface Navy Association is hosting its 25th annual National Symposium in Arlington, Va., with the theme “Answering All Bells: People, Technology and Innovation.” Navy and Surface Force leaders will discuss innovative solutions to today’s issues and tomorrow’s Surface Warfare challenges. One of the sessions is a junior officer round table. So, we asked junior Surface Force officers, “how does leadership at the junior officer level inspire innovation and new ideas in the Surface Force.” These are some of their responses. We encourage you to answer the question by commenting below.

LTJG Natalie FerbezarLTJG Natalie Ferbezar – Pensacola, Florida
USS Gravely (DDG 107)

Junior officers in the Surface Fleet inspire innovation through their actions. As a link between the senior officers and the enlisted personnel, junior officers work with personnel from almost every level of the chain of command. The variety of people a junior officer works with and the variety of knowledge they gain enable them to develop a robust view of life on board a Navy vessel. Having a well-rounded view of how the ship operates enables a junior officer to look for new ways to attack a problem. They do not get stuck in a “we have always operated this way” mentality. Personnel within the chain of command can see this and are in turn inspired to solve a problem in new ways. The junior officer’s actions have a ripple effect that inspires others in the Surface Fleet.

LTJG Morgan O AuburgLTJG Morgan O. Auburg – Burkeville, Texas
USS Shoup (DDG 86)
Training Officer

A junior officer, or JO as we call them, are your typical new kids on the block. Even a seasoned JO has something to learn and discover about his or her leadership style. However, in a world full of customs and deep-rooted traditions – yes, I am referring to the Surface Force – being “the new kid” is the biggest advantage a JO has to inspire innovation. The leadership style at the JO level can be a true inspiration to new ideas in the Surface Force because of the “fresh” state of mind a JO has. This state of mind is dependent on the background of the individual. Today, junior officers come from different aspects of society through different avenues into the service – be it the Naval Academy, Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, Officer Candidate School or prior enlisted. Having a “fresh” mind brings a new perspective to the table, and quite possibly, an avenue never tried. The willingness to try something new and think outside the box is a junior officer’s key to inspiring innovation. The impact this has on a Sailor, fellow officer, and/or entire crew can have lasting effects. Their ideas can spread throughout commands simply by word of mouth. Innovation and new ideas from a JO can be a breath of fresh air. A curious JO, who is constantly learning, will always try to think of something new.

ENS Sean PalmertreeENS Sean Palmertree – Navarre, Florida
USS Gravely (DDG 107)
Strike Officer

From day one, young junior officers are supposed to be leaders when they come on board the ship. This can be a daunting task, due to the high amount of information that they must intake, process and utilize in such a short amount of time. Part of the learning is the process and procedures that the Navy has developed over the years, and our way of business. Being new and eager gives a new set of eyes on processes that have been around for a while. Having this unbiased and untrained outlook can add to new ways of improving and adding innovation to how we do business. Sometimes, it takes someone new to look at a procedure and a way of doing something to ask why do we do it that way, is there a better way of doing this? This can lead to the more senior or the junior person to take a closer examination, and determine if the previous way is truly for the best. Although the Navy is steeped in proud traditions, sometimes the answer of “We’ve always done it this way” is not the right one. Every junior officer is taught to have the questioning attitude, to think outside the box, and to help make our Navy better, and sometimes all it takes is a fresh pair of eyes on something.

LTJG Crystal L GrahamLTJG Crystal L. Graham – Fort Lauderdale, Florida
USS Nitze (DDG 94)
Training Officer

Working on the deck plates with Sailors on a daily basis is the greatest responsibility of a junior officer. Our position demands that we guide Sailors to their optimal potential, personally and professionally. Because we are on the deck plates, we see the flaws that “trickle down through the ranks.” While we are a Navy rooted in tradition, our finest resource is the diversity in which we are comprised. As junior officers, our Sailors bring innovation to us everyday with the ideas that they have; thus all we have to do is listen. Our positions demand us to improve the well-being of our Sailors, since they are our greatest asset. Our Sailors’ inputs allow us to create new ways to implement change that directly affects morale and, ultimately, retention. Innovation allows us to empower our Sailors and drive the future of our Navy; Sailors’ voices and opinions should inspire us to implement change, not only for the Surface Forces, but America’s Navy.

LTJG Danielle SmithLTJG Danielle Smith – Port Royal, South Carolina
USS Gravely (DDG 107)

The role of the junior officer in the Surface Fleet has evolved over the years. The junior officers have become more of a bridge between officers and enlisted, which helps strengthen the backbone of the Surface Fleet. Junior officers provide the Fleet with fresh insight on how to combat different issues and create new ideas. Providing a deck plate presence allows junior Sailors to discuss various ideas, enabling an avenue of communications that could help influence change throughout the Fleet.

Today’s generation of junior officers were brought up through the technological era and they use that to their advantage by trying to make things more efficient on their ships or stations. They take what they’ve learned from other junior officers to their next duty station; the trend continues to grow. The great thing about junior officers is that they are not afraid of doing things differently. Some Sailors are stuck in the mind set of “that’s just the way we do things” or “it’s always been done that way” instead of trying new things. Junior officers help the Navy break out of that mind set and encourage the Navy to lean towards new ideas that will eventually better the Fleet.[e]

LTJG Bryce McLaughlinLTJG Bryce McLaughlin – Charlotte, North Carolina
USS Rentz (FFG 46)

Leadership at the junior officer level has a significant impact on each and every Sailor beneath you. Sometimes in order to inspire innovation all you need to do is have an open outlook and an open door policy with your Sailors. If your Sailors feel like they can easily approach you, sometimes they will just come straight up to you with a new idea, which turns out to be astounding. If you are not an approachable junior officer, many great ideas from your Sailors may never be unearthed.



LT George KuntharaLT George Kunthara – Austin, Texas
USS Freedom (LCS 1)

I think junior officer leadership provides a new twist to the phrase “leadership by example.” I only have one other ship experience to compare serving on USS Freedom (LCS 1), but comparing what I do on Freedom to a junior officer’s role on a traditional CRUDES ship is like comparing apples and oranges.

On my cruiser, you wouldn’t find a single junior officer (including myself) helping to clean, move boxes from the pier to the ship, take down lifelines for a gunnery exercise, or even clean their own plate and flatware.

I think working side by side with bluejackets, senior enlisted, and other officers doing these simple but absolutely necessary tasks builds an even more cohesive unit. When I help my Boatswain’s Mates move shackles from anchor windlass or my Operational Specialists write messages, not only am I helping accomplish a task to further the mission of the ship, I’m simultaneously building rapport and a stronger working relationship with my Sailors.

I have not found that this becomes an expectation on their part, but actually serves to further the mutual respect between enlisted and officers. Now, when my Sailors see me cleaning the ship, moving boxes, and still standing watch to the best of my ability, they have an example to follow which can be all too critical on a minimally-manned ship.

LT Austin HenneLT Austin Henne – Winterhaven, Florida
USS Freedom (LCS 1)
Main Propulsion Assistant

I recently attended a LCS PMS summit headed by Rear Adm. Gale  The conference was focused on establishing clear informational objectives required prior to making a decision on the balance between LCS contractor preventative maintenance vs. ISEA based preventative maintenance.  I was extremely impressed by the individuals representing SURFOR, NAVSEA, Lockheed Martin, NAVSES, LCS Squadron 1, and various entities.

While they expressed insight into their specialized fields, I quickly realized I was the only individual in the room who was currently serving on a LCS.  When given the chance to speak, I made every effort to tell the story of the blue shirts on the deck plates who strive valiantly every single day to work hand-in-hand with contractors to ensure that LCS is a viable fleet asset to perform sustained operations at sea.  However, the number of hours that ship force was spending on contractor maintenance was going largely undocumented. In short, the following week a request was made to ship force to document the man hours that ship force spent on contractor maintenance either tagging equipment out, operating machinery, or escorting personnel in secure spaces.  I am very satisfied to know that the enormous effort that LCS Sailors are making are being more accurately documented.

How does leadership at the junior officer level inspire innovation and new ideas in the Surface Force? Let us know by commenting below.

Speaking of innovation, we’ll be live streaming sessions from the symposium.  Click here to watch during the scheduled times below:

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