Recently, a group of Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) students embarked on an effort to invigorate the university’s student body with professional development and mentoring opportunities by forming a National Naval Officers’ Association (NNOA) Monterey interest group, with the goal of becoming an official chapter of the association. In their first major effort, the group held an inaugural NNOA Speed Mentoring event, hosting 11 senior NPS leaders for mentoring sessions with 25 junior officers on campus, Nov. 5.
The NNOA’s vision is to support the Sea Services by strengthening a diverse senior officer corps to enhance operational readiness. These mentoring sessions served to help bring that vision to NPS, in NNOA fashion, where a corps of diverse senior officers could take intentional steps to develop and strengthen the next generation of leaders.
“NPS is a great place for mentorship, for you have all the services and even international officers who have something to give back to the next generation of officers,” said Marine Corps Maj. Bruce Manuel, one of the interest group organizers. “Senior leaders here recognize they can pour out their knowledge and experience on so many things, from professional development to personal ethics to leadership honesty – these things are the framework of this association.”
The mentors consisted of NPS senior officers from all military branches, including NPS President retired Vice Adm. Ann Rondeau, NPS Chief of Staff Navy Capt. Philip Old, Senior Army Representative Col. Lamar Adams, Senior Marine Corps Representative Col. Randy Pugh, Air Warfare Chair Navy Capt. Edward McCabe, and Air Force Element Commander Lt. Col. Matthew Garvin to name a few.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to ‘pay it forward,’” said Rondeau during her opening remarks. “These younger officers we pay forward will pay it forward tomorrow. One of the absolute precious parts of our profession is investing in those who come after us who are our reliefs. If we teach good culture it creates a healthy profession that can lead the country.”
Rondeau acknowledged the diverse pool of mentors with unique talents from the different branches. As the mentor with the most experience and seniority, she gave some advice to every mentor and mentee about leadership.
“Leadership is about being able to teach one another so we are better after we’ve had an encounter,” said Rondeau. “Leadership is about becoming stronger and better as a team. Every individual new power a person gains is a new capability and possibility to contribute to the higher good.”
According to Lt. Cmdr. Shamire Branch, interim president of the NNOA Monterey interest group, the event encapsulated more than 33 decades of military experience. The interest group thought that if junior officers could take the advice and wisdom of senior officers, they would likely develop into senior officers who could become mentors themselves.
“I did the calculation; we have 330 years of experience here in this room,” said Branch in his initial event remarks. “We have active, reserve, and retired servicemember experience here. We as the student body are really hungry for what these senior officers can teach us in furthering our professional development and careers, so this event is about getting every bit of information we can from their leadership so we can use it for the rest of our careers.”
As the event title implies, the speed mentoring sessions were designed to be a brisk 10 minutes each with the junior officers introducing themselves, summarizing their educational paths and any immediate plans upon returning to the fleet, before receiving advice from the mentors.
“It’s difficult to overstate how important it is to get feedback and guidance from folks who have done something that I was planning to do in the future,” said Lt. j.g. Jacob Garrett, an NPS electrical engineering student. “My community is a little bit smaller than the others here at NPS, so I gained a lot more perspectives today than I usually do.”
Mentors and mentees also got to share experiences between different branches as they found similarities between each other and how to work with each other as an interconnected force.
“I’ve had a great opportunity to hear the perspective of four different senior officers from four different branches of the service,” said Marine Corps Maj. Matthew Bowman. “They each provided insights on leadership development, personal growth and command climate.”
In addition to career advice and building personal networks, mentors also shared potential pitfalls and mistakes so the junior officers could avoid having to learn them the hard way.
“I talked about some of the mistakes I made, such as yelling at my department head to the point I thought I was headed to Captain’s Mast,” recalled Navy Capt. Clark Bone. “It was not the right way to solve that problem. But the fact is, senior officers haven’t done everything right. We’ve learned the hard way on how to do some things, and if I can help somebody else about how to do something and get a leg up, it not only makes better officer for the community as a whole, but a better force for the entire Navy.”
While the junior officers had a short time to spend with each mentor, the seeds of leadership were planted with great potential for growth. With this momentum, Branch intends to keep pushing for professional development opportunities and events while working with the national NNOA leadership to bring NNOA Monterey into the fold as an official chapter.
Contingent upon chartership with the national NNOA leadership, NNOA Monterey plans to organize and host leadership panels, STEM outreach events for high schools, and a workshop to guide servicemembers through their career.
“There is a whole support network outside the chain of command that you don’t see every day,” said Manuel. “This association is about strengthening our force, and we can do that here at NPS through deepening our network of connections, and developing relationships with those willing to invest in the success of junior officers and help position them to be influential.”