By Cmdr. Kati Hill
VP-9 Commanding Officer
A few days ago, I had the privilege of notifying several VP-9 Sailors of their selection for promotion. I was one of those “Old Salts” who advocated for early release of advancement results to the chain of command, prior to public release via social media. I have seen the comments on Facebook and know that the change is not universally popular, but I wanted to take a minute to say thank you for this policy change and to explain, as a commanding officer, what I learned from getting to personally deliver good news to some deserving Sailors.
Prior to the release of the results, our command triad talked about how we would make sure the results got out to our Sailors. We felt it was important to personally notify anyone in danger of reaching high-year tenure as a result of non-selection before we started congratulating Sailors selected for promotion. That conversation with my command master chief, my executive officer and my career counselor was a chance for us to discuss our command’s career development board process and what we were doing for our people who were not reaching their career goals. It was also an opportunity to learn about the manning issues in some of our rates, as our community and the Navy change to meet the challenges of the future. Though I get the monthly reports like every commanding officer, thinking about telling Sailors that their future employment in the Navy made career development much more personal for me.
Once the results came out on BUPERS Online, my command master chief and I poured over the list, making sure we accounted for people on day check or night check or liberty. The first person I notified was our mass communication specialist, because we planned to immediately put her to work taking pictures of her shipmates getting their good news. Being able to call a hard working Sailor “petty officer” for the first time is an experience that shouldn’t be missed.
One of my favorite memories of the day was delivering the news to three of our aviation machinist’s mates. They were all out on the flight line, conducting daily inspections on our P-3Cs. On one aircraft, we had an aviation machinist’s mate second class, an aviation machinist’s mate third class and an aviation machinist’s mate airman select, all working together with no idea that they had all been selected for promotion. In a rate where team work is so important, it was incredible to have three individuals share such a great moment of professional accomplishment. Advancement is a team sport; no one makes it alone.
By the time we had notified a handful of Sailors, the entire command was caught up in the excitement and closely following our progress around the hangar. Word quickly got around that “Skipper has the results.” After weekly professional military knowledge training taught by our First Class Petty Officer’s Association, many hours of work on evaluations and awards and a lot of genuine concerns for shipmates, advancement results became an event for the entire command, not just our 31 selectees.
The process did not go completely smoothly. One of our selectees is a prospective gain, on leave enroute to our squadron from another command. When we contacted her sponsor, we found out that no one had yet talked to her and we did not have her contact information readily available. After some diligent effort, we were able to track down a cell phone number and leave a message for a future Golden Eagle and second class petty officer. I am actually grateful for our difficulties; they helped me understand how difficult it is to track down a prospective gain and what our sponsors have to go through to reach out prior to a new check-in’s arrival. This experience reminded me that our command climate programs like the sponsorship program need attention on a regular basis to remain effective.
One of the hardest parts of the process was seeing the faces of hopeful Sailors fall as they realized that I did not have congratulations for them. Going through every shop delivering the news made the advancement results personal for me and made me think about what we could be doing better to make sure that next time, we help even more Sailors achieve their goals. Walking around, calling your Sailors by name and taking a hard look at how you could have done better is a humbling experience. I think that I will be a better leader for it.
As a commanding officer, one of the things I hate to hear is “Skipper, I know you are busy.” I spend a lot of time in my office, chopping through blue folders and answering email. I am always afraid that the large number of “administrative distractions” inherent in my job give Sailors the impression that I don’t have time for them as individuals. Personally delivering advancement results gave me the opportunity to demonstrate that, even in a busy deployed command, there is time for the commanding officer to get out from behind a computer, look the real people who get the job done in the eye, and say “Congratulations on a job well done.” Saying that your people matter is one thing; having the opportunity to show them by your actions takes it to another level.