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NEWS | Nov. 23, 2022

NEPLO Skillset Recognized by Flag Officer Promotion Boards

By NEPLO Public Affairs

WASHINGTON D.C. – Sometimes those who break away from the pack have a clearer path to move forward.
The Navy Emergency Preparedness Officer (NEPLO) program has quietly become an unexpected path to becoming a flag officer. With a dozen leaders now promoted to flag ranks, this milestone stands out for a wardroom of only about 100 officers serving in NEPLO billets at any given time.
NEPLOs surge to American communities as crisis responders. When an area is hit with a natural disaster like a tornado, hurricane or earthquake, NEPLOs are on call to help.
They are a Reserve-only force, staffed by senior officers selected by the APPLY board. NEPLOs come from designators across the Navy. Even though NEPLOs may start their tours without emergency management experience, their careers in the Navy Reserve prime them for this mission.
Working through a joint program managed by U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, these emergency response liaisons connect a hard-hit community to Department of Defense resources. When civil authorities request these resources, NEPLOs are the Navy’s team to facilitate Defense Support of Civil Authorities.
“NEPLOs create an immediate bridge to help communities struck by catastrophic events,” said Robert Gulley, the NEPLO program manager headquartered with Commander Naval Installations Command. “Our NEPLOs know the vast resources that the Department of Defense has, and they help those communities quickly access what they need.”
From coordinating helicopter support to finding cots for evacuation centers, NEPLOs work with civil authorities providing emergency response.
“NEPLOs make things happen,” said Navy Capt. Scott Wright, who is currently serving as the director of the entire NEPLO enterprise. “And we get it done quickly.”
This role as a connector during an immense crisis prepares leaders for the responsibilities shouldered as a flag officer.
"The further we progress in our careers, the further we get away from the warfighting skills central to our original career path. Pilots aren’t flying, submariners aren't diving and surface warfare officers aren’t driving ships anymore,” began Rear Adm. John Saccomando, who led the NEPLO enterprise as its director from 2020 to 2022.
“Serving as a NEPLO, and more specifically at the headquarters of the NEPLO/DSCA enterprise, helps develop executive-level management skills. The job forces you to see things from the 30,000-foot level while maintaining perspective of the human element of every situation. That enables us to problem solve ways to reduce suffering and mitigate property damage with the resources at hand. Those are critical skills for flag officers.”
Navy Rear Adm. Andy Burcher, the vice commander for U.S. Fleet Forces Command, looked back on his time as the deputy commander of the NEPLO program to reflect on how it informs his work today.
“The NEPLO program gave me insight into the DSCA line of effort at the operational level,” said Burcher, who was a NEPLO in 2016 and 2017.
That experience primed him for his current position, given the role that USFFC has in the Navy’s portion of supporting DSCA efforts.
For the former Chief of the Navy Reserve retired Vice Adm. Luke McCollum, who served as a NEPLO from 2002 to 2003, experiences in inter-agency cooperation during emergency response stands out.
“I was in Denton, Texas at the FEMA Region 6 headquarters rehearsing disaster response when we received word that the space shuttle Columbia had exploded over Texas,” said McCollum, thinking back to Feb. 1, 2003. “Being part of the inter-agency response mechanism in the subsequent days equipped me with key insights that I would later use as a flag officer.”
Retired Rear Adm. Linda Wackerman held NEPLO jobs from 2011 to 2014, and served as the program’s first headquarters commanding officer. As the enterprise director, she oversaw individual NEPLO units across the nation.
“The education we received (as NEPLOs) was important in much of the flag rank, especially when it came to emergency disaster response and DSCA,” said Wackerman.
In talking about her later experiences as a flag officer, Wackerman added, “As deputy commander of US FOURTH Fleet and US Naval Forces Southern Command, we had hurricanes which devastated our area of responsibility. That NEPLO experience translated into creative and mature decision making at the senior level in our response efforts.”
Echoing that sentiment, retired Rear Adm. John Jolliffe found that same direct connection between his NEPLO duties and his later responsibilities as a flag officer.
“My NEPLO expertise was invaluable to help fleet operations,” said Jolliffe, who served as a NEPLO from 2005 to 2009.
Jolliffe was one of the earliest NEPLOs in the program’s history to make flag, and went on to serve as the vice commander at US Naval Forces Central Command and the deputy commander of US Third Fleet.
The NEPLO experience is increasingly recognized during promotion boards as the Navy looks for compassionate, strategic and results-driven leaders.
“When I was selected for flag in 2009, it became clear that the NEPLO program was a viable path for flag,” said Jolliffe.
This fiscal year the board selected two veteran NEPLOs for promotion to flag officer.
And once wearing the star, it seems these flag officers continue to take their NEPLO experiences with them.
“I will be forever grateful to my NEPLO experience for the important friendships, relationships, education and experience that it instilled in me,” added Wackerman.