By Rear Adm. Scott D. Jones, Commander, Naval Air Force Reserve
Often, I will hear someone harken to times past when the Navy was so much better than it is today. It is my opinion that this look into our past is viewed primarily through the lens of nostalgia without a clear-eyed remembrance of the full story about who we were only four decades ago. When I enlisted in the Navy as a seaman recruit in June of 1982, the nation’s wounds from the Vietnam War were still fresh. The Navy I knew then as an organization was almost unrecognizable in comparison to the professional institution that we know the Navy to be today.
Hazing and drug use were rampant and an accepted part of our organizational culture. There was no mechanism to ensure Sailors treated each other with dignity and respect. There was not yet a Command Equal Opportunity (CMEO) program, or a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program, the urinalysis program was present but not yet enforceable, and the list goes on. Needless to say, we had a lot of growing up to do as an organization.
Over the past 39 years, I have seen our Navy evolve into the highly capable and lethal force that is today’s standard. With each passing year, leaders have taken deliberate steps to align the efforts of our naval forces in pursuit of our nation’s strategic goals, and Sailors have risen to the challenge every time.
Looking at the landscape of today’s Navy, it is evident that we are once again faced with an opportunity for growth in our professionalism and strength as an organization.
With a rise in extremism and division in our country, along with the current global landscape, it is more important than ever that we continue to focus on cohesion and look for ways to strengthen our Navy as a team.
Last year, the Chief of Naval Operations encouraged us to have more open and honest conversations between shipmates with diverse backgrounds to help us better understand the unique challenges we each have faced throughout our careers.
For many of us, these conversations have been an eye opening first step into rarely traveled territory that helps us better relate to, and care for our fellow Sailors. For others, it was an opportunity to be heard by their shipmates and explain the many burdens they’ve endured throughout their lives.
This internal work is critical to the future success of our Navy. We are a volunteer service that represents a diverse nation. Without the diverse, brave few who answer our nation’s call, we would have no Navy. All Sailors are equally valuable members of our team — period.
We must also recognize that differing perspectives bring unique insight to innovate and problem solve in a complex and rapidly-changing world. With the global power competition looming, we will need to put these problem-solving strengths to work with a powerful, intelligent and cohesive force as we move forward. Mentorship and coaching down and in, as well as leading up, need to once again become the norm and not the exception.
This focus is not unique to our active duty counterparts. The Navy Reserve is designed to mirror and supplement the capabilities and core competencies of the Navy. In the context of cohesion, this is an opportunity for Reserve and active leaders to work together as we face these new challenges at home and around the globe.
To this end, I cannot overstate my faith and trust in the strength and resilience of our Navy team and Sailors’ ability to grow and adapt to keep our institution at the forefront as a professional fighting force. I have witnessed firsthand the amazing things we are capable of. Looking back on how far we have come as an organization, it is exciting to imagine how much we can achieve in the next 39 years.