Waterfront Athena Roundup

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Last Thursday afternoon at Ballast Point Brewing’s Little Italy location, creative minds from across the Navy and Industry got together to share some big ideas.

This was our fourth Waterfront Athena Event and we had our best turnout yet! There were about 75 innovators in attendance in the San Diego sun, braving the elements (and the occasional noise of planes passing overhead) to hear nine presentations aimed at making the Navy better. For a quick rundown of how Athena works, check here.

From the Navy side, 20 commands were represented, including the Chief of Naval Operations’ Rapid Innovation Cell, a cadre of young Sailors and junior officers across designators and communities that are eager to create a new culture within the Navy. With tremendous support from San Diego’s Basic Division Officer Course (BDOC), many other young officers took in the event, geared to spread the culture of creativity across the fleet.

Beyond the Navy complement at Waterfront Athena, civilians from industry, academia and government joined in the action. In attendance, we had our old friends from the University of Southern California Institute of Creative Technologies, SPAWAR and Harris Corporation, but also new friends from Lockheed Martin, CUBIC Corporation, Navy Undersea Warfare Center,iENCON, NASA, GovAlert and more. It truly was an amazing network of thinkers, doers, dreamers and makers and made for our best event ever.

Some of the Waterfront Athena crowd, escaping the sun and listening to the pitches.

Some of the Waterfront Athena crowd, escaping the sun and listening to the pitches.

In addition to the nine great ideas that our Athenians presented, the audience was treated to a halftime display of 3D printing and advancements in the development of LT Bill Hughes’ project from the last Waterfront Athena, CosmoGator, from Matt Reyes of the NASA Ames Research Center. Reyes showcased low cost solutions using additive manufacturing. And, just to show how quick and easy the system truly is, Reyes printed a iPhone 4 case on site.

Matt Reyes showcasing a possible new direction for CosmoGator.

Matt Reyes showcasing a possible new direction for CosmoGator.

But enough of who was there, let’s get down to the ideas:

Idea 1: Veterans Emloyment Transition Software – FCC(SW) Christopher Roberts

While attending transition courses in preparation for the plunge into Corporate America, FCC Roberts became frustrated with the current catalog of tools that veterans could use to find the right job and decided to take matters into his own hands.  He pitched a program, the Veterans Employment Transition Software (VETS) wherein the system is stood on its head: Instead of veterans finding jobs, the jobs find the veterans. In his vision, a veteran would input personal information and experience, and the VETS program, with participation from potential employers, would more efficiently pair up jobs with the seeker. Metrics like primary duties, collateral duties, education, sea/shore commands and performance evaluations would lend to smarter placement. To FCC Roberts, there’s no reason why our experienced military servicemembers should be confined to a job that didn’t suit them and allow them to use their unique talents to flourish.

Idea 2: Re-Usable Packaging – LTJG Isaac Wang

LTJG Wang, a three-time Athena presenter, partnered with entrepreneurs in the San Diego area to propose a smarter way to store critical parts and devices, prevent dangerous electro-static discharge and save money using new storage containers and reverse logistics. He proposed using demonstrated products and processes that have already saved many leading-edge businesses in today’s Fleet.

Idea 3: Tankless Water Heaters – ENS Tomas Baker

Our Third Place finisher and Oregon State University graduate proposed a smarter way to heat the water that ships use. As currently designed, Navy ships are highly inefficient in the way they heat and distribute water throughout a ship. Almost 1,000 gallons of water are constantly heated and pumped through thousands of feet of piping waiting to be used, whether the crew is sleeping at home or washing dishes at sea. Baker proposed utilizing commercially-available “Flash Hot Water Heaters” to instantly heat water without the need for a water tank. These systems eliminate intrusive piping and save boatloads of energy, money, and maintenance man-hours. Engineers from iENCON immediately connected with Baker’s concept and began working right then and there on a plan for testing across the waterfront.

Idea 4: 3D Printing used for Material Validations – CMDCM(SW) Sean Snyder

A game-day entry, CMDCM Snyder proposed using visual recognition software resident on mobile devices to revolutionize equipment validations and parts replacements for shipboard systems. CMC Snyder considered naval application of this technology after watching his kids use image recognition applications. With more and more digital natives joining the Fleet, he sees fertile ground for Sailors to use their cameras to take a picture of a broken piece of gear, filter it through a local database to recognize the system and part, then forwarding the image to a shore-based or local site where the faulty part could be printed using additive manufacturing. In his vision, pictures of equipment could be catalogued and used to help ensure that maintenance men get the right part every time.

Idea 5: MILES technology for Navy Training – ETC(SW) Michael Lewisson

The runner up for the Admiral Sims Award, ETC Lewisson proposed the use of the Army’s Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System (MILES) for shipboard training. Currently, anti-terrorism/force protection drills are conducted using rubber weapons and generally have Sailors yelling “bang, bang!” at each other to simulate an engagement. ETC joked that this system was awesome on the playground, but doesn’t have a place onboard a warship. By using MILES, which is a super-whamadyne laser tag system, trainers and trainees would be able to assess multiple metrics, including shot count, accuracy and decision-making delay to improve overall training. Further, Lewisson said that the system would lend itself well to integration across training teams, such as medical, damage control and combat systems. The MILES system is already a program of record and as such, would only be marginally difficult to transition to the surface fleet, Lewisson said. Representatives from the CUBIC Corporation in attendance agreed with Lewisson’s vision and are already working to find a way to incorporate the system for shipboard use.

FCC Roberts pitching his VETS idea

FCC Roberts pitching his VETS idea

Idea 6: Virtual Reality for CIC Watchstanders – GMC(SW) Kyle Zimmerman

An idea from a recent “Learn Warfighter Needs Workshop” at SPAWAR (you can read all about it in our summary here) GMC Zimmerman, in concert with FCC(SW) Barry Adams and SPAWAR Scientists dreamed up a system whereby watchstanders in a ship’s Combat Information Center (CIC) could make use of existing virtual reality technology and the ship’s optical sensors to assist in building a recognized maritime picture of all other surface ships in a warship’s vicinity. Todd Richmond of USC’s Institute of Creative Technologies and Josh Kvavle of SPAWAR joined forces with GMC Zimmerman during his pitch, lending the power of the brilliant minds at their organizations to Zimmerman’s lofty vision.

Idea 7: Software Systems Integration – CTT2(SW) Anna Nothnagel

Formerly of the aviation community, the newly minted Cryptologic Technician – Technical pitched the need to adopt innovations from the aviation side of the house to improve software integration as it related to maintenance, replacement part ordering, administration, training and more. CTT2 Nothnagel proposed one streamlined system on a mobile device to change the way maintenance is done in the Navy. Maintenance workers would have their lives simplified and it would allow for optimized tracking of maintenance hours and decrease the need for frivolous spot checks, Nothnagel said. The project caught the eye of CRICster LT Rollie Wicks who has been working a similar project on the East Coast for his community. The two connected and are working to find a way forward for Nothnagel’s idea.

Idea 8: Logic Training for Sailors – ET2(SW) Erika Johnson

In her pitch, ET2 Johnson proposed teaching courses on logic to enhance Sailor decision making.  Johnson, a two-time Athena presenter, proposed testing the effect of her concept on a single surface ship – measuring the improvement in Sailors’ logic skills prior to and following a series of instructional sessions on the discipline. If successful, Johnson would pursue earlier implementation of the courses, in basic training for enlisted Sailors and officers alike. Teaching logic to Sailors would not only assist them in tactical and operational-level decision making, but also off-duty decision making, potentially reducing the number of destructive decisions that can sometimes plague junior Sailors.

Idea 9: PartnerShips – LTJG Kaitlin O’Donnell and LT Dave Nobles

Last but not least, the Admiral Sims Award for Intellectual Courage goes to regular contributors to this blog and Waterfront Athena Events, LTJG O’Donnell and LT Nobles. The pair proposed starting a website-based system that would serve to connect Sailors and Scientists to build a foundation of knowledge between the two sides, bridging knowledge gaps and fostering new networks and alliances. After a hugely successful “Learn Warfighter Needs Workshop” between SPAWAR and USS BENFOLD (DDG 65) wherein Sailors and Scientists connected through learning, design thinking and ideation.

The Admiral Sims Winners! PartnerShips!

The Admiral Sims Winners! PartnerShips!

With such a strong event, the two officers developed a way to lay a base-coat of continuous learning between the two sides, and proposed that the growth of familiarity could potentially lead to incredible ideas and increased job satisfaction. On the proposed website, a Sailor or Scientist would fill out a survey with questions on experience level, education and interests, and the PartnerShips team would link up users for a professional “pen pal-like” relationship. Over the course of the PartnerShip, the two parties would host monthly tours, exchange weekly e-mails and eventually attend join-ups to strengthen ties, all while feeding their experiences back to the PartnerShips homepage. The two did not waste any time waiting for the site to be built, though. They had signup sheets for Sailors and Scientists that were interested in the program to fill out on site. In the initial salvo, over 20 innovators signed up!

At The Athena Project we’re constantly humbled by the support that our initiative has received both from the fleet and from industry. It’s amazing to think that what started as an unfortunately-named experiment called WikiWardroom has blossomed into a stage for Sailors to have their voices heard by tremendous companies and makers from across the private sector and academia. Thank you to everyone who participated in this event and we can’t wait to see you guys at our next one!

If you can’t make it out to San Diego, then break down some doors and start an Athena Project of your own! We’re more than happy to help any organization that wants to use the Athena construct as a means to slingshot ideas into the stratosphere!

Stay tuned – We aren’t stopping anytime soon and we’ve got some big plans coming for Athena to help further build the growing wave of creativity in the Navy!

Connect with The Athena Project on Facebook: www.facebook.com/athenanavy or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy. Interested in starting a movement of your own? Message us, or e-mail ATHENA@ddg65.navy.mil!

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Waterfront Athena is Tomorrow!

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The time is here again for great ideas! 

The stage is set for The first Waterfront Athena Project at the Ballast Point Brewery Tasting Room in Little Italy (2215 India Street) — Tomorrow at 2:00PM. Our friends at Ballast Point have some excellent menu items, so bring an appetite not only for innovation and ideas, but for excellent grub and great craft beer!

We’ve had quite a few questions about what the event is all about and how it works, so here’s a quick and dirty summary:

The Athenians who have put together ideas will have five minutes to pitch their projects to the crowd. A good pitch consists of the identification of a problem, an idea for an innovative solution and an idea of the action steps necessary to make the idea happen. After the pitch, the floor is open for a five-minute question & answer session with the presenter.

We take powerpoint out of the equation, really aiming to concentrate the pitches for that five minutes. Presenters can bring handouts, tri-folds (science fair style), posters, whiteboards or anything else to get their point across, but NO POWERPOINT!

Each presentation will be evaluated by everyone in the crowd using a five-point scale, based on three factors: Idea Quality, Actionability (feasibility of implementation), and Presentation. We’ll tally the votes after each presenter and after the last pitch, the ADM Sims Award Winner is crowned.

Now, since this will be the first Athena experience for many, I’m going to keep the presenters list open until the first project starts, so if you’ve been considering presenting but just aren’t sure you’d be able to make it, you can get in. Just come find me when you get to Ballast Point!

You can connect with your ideas using social media if you can’t make it to the event! On Twitter, use #WaterfrontAthena to connect or get in the conversation on the Facebook page!

And finally, if I may make a humble recommendation: If you think that you might not have enough “meat” in your idea to present it, just go with it! The cool part about Athena is that it also brings a network of open-minded thinkers together to help develop your idea! This is what creative confidence is all about!

Kick the tires and light the fires! See you tomorrow!

 

Open Doors to Open Minds

By: CDR Rich LeBron

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Military organizations are hierarchical.  On a U.S. Navy ship, for example, there’s a Captain, an Executive Officer, Officers, Chief Petty Officers, and junior enlisted crew.  Other services and shore establishments possess a similar structure.   It’s not too difficult to know who’s in charge of what.  There’s an organizational chart and it’s a matter of law, tradition, and regulation, and for the most part, it works.

Our traditional top-down organization is battle tested and has delivered success in high-stress, pressurized environments.  But elsewhere and under less stressful conditions, it’s a structure where juniors can progressively turn into toadies, colleagues occasionally engage in competitive struggles to ‘impress the boss,’ and dissent is either actively or tacitly deterred.  To say it another way, it’s a stifling environment.  In this vertically stratified setting the boss can find isolation behind the closed door of authority and good ideas can be transmuted, crushed, or simply dismissed on their way to the top as spirits and morale are driven into the ground.  It’s the way it’s been, the way it is, and likely, the way it will always be.  Or will it?

Not if we have anything to do with it!

Who are ‘WE’ you ask?  ‘WE’ are the ones not necessarily found in any organizational chart.   ‘WE’ are the free-thinkers, the trailblazers, the innovators, the influencers, and the mavericks who recognize the real damper to creative problem solving is what management guru Gary Hamel calls the “soggy, cold blanket of centralized authority.”

‘WE’ is anyone who wants to shake off the flawed perception that the military – the Navy in this case – is what it is and we just have to live with it rather than change it, improve it, and make our mark upon it.  But how do we go about making that mark?  What is, as social scientist Gregory Bateson put it, the difference that makes the difference?

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Open doors.   The difference is the open doors that open minds and say “hey, look to me and consider me trustworthy and approachable.”

In a top-down organization, power, as often does information, flows from the top down.  In the Navy, it flows from the Admiral, the Commodore, the Captain, the Chief, the boss.  It’s a sensible structure in many instances, but it’s also one that fast moving civilian companies have long recognized alienates employees from policy decisions, strips them of any power to rise up against bad ideas or egocentric seniors, and erodes employee confidence in leaders and managers.  In other words, it’s a perfect environment for those who like their doors metaphorically or literally closed and prefer to rule by decree.  But closed doors do stem from and lead to closed minds and that’s not good for the Navy.

Before going any further, one thing must be made clear: our Navy needs a well-defined hierarchy.  It’s effective.  It makes the transition from decision to action swift and, and although not the perfect choice for every situation, there’s definitely a place for vertical stratification, particularly in an operational context.  But we do so much more than operate.  We ideate, we innovate, we develop, we produce, we think, we teach, we listen, we learn, and we lead.  These are the things that lead to sound decisions and they clamor for the access to leaders that comes from open doors and open minds.

The Navy is an enterprise continually exploring new horizons to keep a globally competitive edge.  It’s one reason we attract some amazing talent.  But sticking to a strictly vertical hierarchy and repeatedly slamming the door on eager minds will do little to encourage young talent to stay.  To attract, inspire, and KEEP much needed talent, we need to flatten our organizations and build teams of upbeat, innovative, and passionate people who are confident in their leaders and are bent on making a difference and making their mark.

Open doors enable our incredibly talented workforce to speak up and adapt and transform our organizations at the speed of thought.  But open doors also lead to an informed and engaged team who will challenge the status quo, who will resent spin, who will go outside normal channels in pursuit of results, who will test authority and stretch boundaries, who will take risks, who will follow their passions, and, dare it be said, who will dissent.  That can be frightening to some.  But it can also be incredibly rewarding and liberating when bounded by a framework of mutual trust between leaders and their teammates.  Open doors therefore demand courageous thick-skinned leaders with suppressed egos and high confidence in their teams, leaders who are willing to accept new ideas at perhaps the cost of their own.

In this context, open doors are disruptive to the traditional power base of ‘bosses’ in a vertically stratified organization like the Navy.  Without a closed door to hide behind, positional power loses steam and the ability to rely on titles and rank to achieve success is challenged.  That’s a threat to the status quo.  Open doors will lead to open minds but will also require mature leadership skills to guide those minds to deliver positive results.  The only time a door should remain closed is to afford the leader some precious time to think and do only the things the leader can do.  Otherwise it should remain wide open.  Leaders who open their doors and flatten their organizations will have to rely on their ability to influence teammates through credibility, engagement, and trust rather than through the power of their office. That’s a far more challenging proposition than simply ruling by decree.

But really, what’s the point?  What does it matter if our Navy is vertically stratified or horizontally structured?  What does it matter if our doors are open or closed, or if our talent stays or leaves?  Why care?

The answer is fairly simple, really.

It matters because the Navy needs to stay ahead of potential adversaries and, like any industry or company, it risks losing its competitive advantage through stagnation.  It matters because we, as a Nation, need to stay ahead of those in hot pursuit and because being knowledgeable is no longer enough; we need to be creative.  It matters because a team cannot be commanded to be creative; it must be inspired to be so and inspiration doesn’t come from atop an ivory tower or from behind a closed door.  And it matters because talented, inspired, and creative people must be attracted and retained.

Our continued viability, relevance, and success as a Navy depend more than ever on the talent and engagement of our junior people in shaping our future.   Incredibly capable junior Sailors and Officers faithfully serve.  That talent will remain engaged so long as leaders are not indifferent to what they have to offer.   They will walk if the converse is true.  Leaders who open their doors and minds to the ideas and solutions that bubble from the bottom up will find success.  Those who insist on closing their doors or opening them just enough only to push their own ideas from the top down are doomed either to fail personally or bleed our Navy of talent and thereby lead it to failure.  Those are unacceptable outcomes.

Closed doors will work well to insulate stone-hearted, spirit deflating and fearful leaders from change just as open doors will meet with resistance from those too entrenched in the past, too arrogant to try, or too afraid to trust.   That’s a sorry excuse for leadership and a great excuse for Sailors to jump ship.

However, leaders committed to success, devoted to the future, and dedicated to maintaining and increasing competitive advantage will find that open doors will lead to the frontiers of open minds and open minds will result in a culture of unremitting success and talent retention.

The choice then is simple: fear change, close the door – and LOSE – or be one of ‘WE’, open the door to open minds – and WIN.  ‘WE’ believe in open doors and ‘WE’ challenge all in positions of leadership in the Navy to open the door and replace the soggy, cold blanket of centralized authority with the mantle of inspired and inspiring leadership to empower their teams to creatively solve problems, stay Navy, and win.

CDR LeBron serves as the Commanding Officer of USS BENFOLD (DDG 65), is a founding teammate, mentor, and ardent champion of The Athena Project, and has been dedicated to blowing the doors off the hinges of vertically stratified thinking since he enlisted as a Sailor in 1989.   

Be sure to like Athena on Facebook: www.facebook.com/athenanavy or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy. Interested in pitching at our upcoming Waterfront Athena Event on February 13th at San Diego’s Ballast Point Little Italy Tasting Room? Message us!

Project Pulse: CosmoGator

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LT William Hughes started his Athena pitch by taking the iPhone out of his pocket.

“If I can have an app on this thing that can recognize stars in the night sky,” Hughes, the Navigator onboard the guided missile destroyer BENFOLD began, “Then why can’t I have the same on my ship?”

The crowd at Modern Times brewery for last October’s Waterfront Athena Event agreed, voting LT Hughes’ CosmoGator project second overall.

In his pitch, Hughes argued that, due to the proliferation of Global Positioning System (GPS) jamming technology and the development of anti-satellite weapons, there is a good chance that any future conflicts will develop in a GPS denied environment. And with technological capabilities developing at an exponential rate the Navy, with its plethora of high tech platforms and weapons that depend on GPS, must guarantee the ability to execute missions without it. Hughes found that celestial navigation could be the answer – And it’s been around for hundreds of years.

Traditional celestial navigation involves sight planning, shooting lines of position, followed by sight reductions. This process has been improved upon with the advent of computers and a program called STELLA (System to Estimate Latitude and Longitude Astronomically), however, it still requires a sailor to take a sextant and attempt to derive lines of position from a small number a stars against a backdrop of millions, often under less than ideal sea states and weather conditions.

Although surface combatants have Inertial Navigation Systems (INS) to serve as back-ups to GPS, the accuracy of those systems cannot be guaranteed for extended periods of time. CosmoGator is an automated celestial navigation system that will interface with existing ship systems to maintain safety of navigation and provide position inputs to ship subsystems.

CosmoGator is a multi-part system comprised of a gyro-stabilized and actuated camera and a software tie in to existing navigation computers.  Ephemeral data from existing systems, such as STELLA, would be used to plan sights and to slew the camera to the exact point in the sky.  The automated camera would be able to slew to exactly where planned stars are in the sky, take steady, accurate measurements beyond the tenth degree that the standard marine sextant can give.  This LOP data would then be fed back into the navigation computers and converted to a lattitude and longitude for use by various ship systems.,  and populated out to ship systems.  Position data from CosmoGator would be used as an input into to reset INS, align antennas for Satellite Communications and programmed into combat systems that require precise position inputs.

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LT Hughes presents CosmoGator at the Waterfront Athena on 25 October 2013.

While the concept is quite simple, there are many dots that require connecting.

Take a minute to imagine this scenario: USS WARSHIP is steaming towards a launch point for a strike mission against country Orange. Orange uses its anti-satellite capabilities and local GPS jamming equipment to effectively black out the figure of merit 1 navigation data WARSHIP is used to receiving. Upon the loss of GPS, WARSHIP’s navigation systems automatically kick over to the INS, which is guaranteed to be accurate for up to 48 hours, but WARSHIP is still 3 days from station. That night, the ship’s automated celestial navigation system, over the course of just a few minutes, takes several accurate lines of position from the stars and planets and determines the ship’s position with an error of ≤ 25 meters.

That fix, with the same accuracy of GPS, is simultaneously fed to both the navigation display on the bridge and in Combat information Center, but also back into INS to re-start the 48 hour accuracy countdown. This process would repeat every single night until GPS was restored. Upon arrival at the launch point, the ship can use INS to input the Tomahawks’ start point and successfully execute its mission.

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Potential CosmoGator logo.

CosmoGator placed second overall at the October 2013 Waterfront Athena.  In the weeks and months that have followed, the project hasn’t died.  CosmoGator was subsequently picked up by the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) as a project for their next round of ideas, opening up avenues with the Office of Naval Research and the Navy Warfare Development Command.

In January, at SPAWAR’s “Learn the Warfighters’ Needs” workshops in Point Loma, CosmoGator gained traction with several engineers and physicists who are working to answer the question of precision navigation and timing (PNT) in a GPS denied environment.

The Department of Defense had previously shelved a shore-based project called DayStar that aimed to accomplish many of the same objectives as CosmoGator but lacked the requisite technology. Since this technology is now readily available, it is likely that a feasible system could easily be produced and deployed on our surface combatants. Other organizations have expressed interest as well, and the CosmoGator team is working with NASA and the Naval Postgraduate School in an ongoing effort to link similar projects, gain funding, continue research and bring CosmoGator to life.

When it comes to CosmoGator’s potential, the stars really are the limit!

More Than Just Nametags

By: LTJG Kaitlin O’Donnell

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It has been a rough week.

Last weekend, I flew back to the East Coast to attend my grandfather’s funeral.  It was a very tough time for my family, but I was so thankful to be able to make it back and spend the weekend celebrating his life with everyone.  My grandfather had such a tremendous impact on my entire family, especially my twelve cousins and I.  He always encouraged us to follow our dreams, study hard, spend time with family, have fun, and have a strong faith.  After years spent together at Sunday dinners, vacations on Cape Cod and the annual O’Donnell Family Christmas, I only knew him as Grampy.

While celebrating his life this past weekend I had the honor of meeting the tremendous people that he had worked with for the past fifty years as a physicist and program manager for the United States Navy.  For the first time, I saw a different side of Grampy.  I always knew that he didn’t want to retire, and but I never truly understood why until this weekend.  After talking with dozens of his colleagues from Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, I understood why.

It was because of the people.

My grandfather truly got to know the people he worked with everyday and made every effort to mentor them and get to know them on a personal level.  He loved his job because of the people, and they loved him because he cared.

Just before my flight back to San Diego on Monday night I got news that I had lost a shipmate in an accident over the weekend.  Of course, I was very impacted by the news. News that you never want to get.  While I was on the plane I had time to reflect on the events of the weekend, and something really resonated with me: We are more than just nametags.  We are more than just our ratings, more than our ranks, more than our work.

We are people.

Each person that I work with everyday is someone special.  They all have a background, a family, and a past.  We all joined the Navy for different reasons and we all have a family at home, but now we are together serving as a “family” on BENFOLD. The weekend, while sad, made me appreciate that I need take the time to get to know the people I serve with as part of my ‘work family.’

We all have families outside of our work families.

We all have families outside of our work families that are waiting for us to come home.

In the Navy, our job revolves around the mission.  There is no doubt that as Sailors we come to work to get the job done everyday and we do whatever it takes to get there.  With the long hours we spend on the ship every day, not to mention the months spent away from family on deployment, we lean on each other for support and friendship.

I spent the majority of my last deployment standing watch in our Combat Information Center.  With six hours of watch everyday with the same team, I got to know them on a personal level.  Although we came from all over the country with different backgrounds and our ages ranged over twenty years, I couldn’t imagine getting through deployment without my watch team.

I would have never guessed that I would have bonded so strongly with the group, but when we took time to get to know each other we truly became a family.  My watchteam knew what team I routed for (obviously, the Patriots), how I took my coffee, why I can’t eat before I go on a run, and when I just needed my space.  Building the relationship we did on deployment made us that much more excited to go to watch together and allowed us to work together as a team when the mission called.

At sea, our teammates are our family.

At sea, our teammates are our family.

But sometimes we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the ship.  We get stressed out with upcoming inspections, certifications and maintenance.  To be honest, I am the first person to get completely stressed and focused on the next training opportunity or be caught up preparing programs for an upcoming inspection.  And although this is all extremely important for the mission, I realize I need to take time to get to know the people around me.

Life isn’t just about the next promotion you get or the next major evolution you reach, but the people you meet along the way.  So, when you’re sitting in the next meeting or waiting to get a chit routed, take some time and get to know someone.  Ask the sailor next to you how their weekend was or where they are from or what their kids are up to.  Get to know them from a different perspective.  Because at the end of the day, they are someone’s son, they are someone’s wife, they are someone’s father, mother, sister, brother, grandfather, grandmother, friend.

At work people see me as the Training Officer.  They actually might turn the other way when they see me coming because I am usually trying to get them to attend some mandatory training event or asking why they haven’t turned in their program reviews for the week.

But they would probably be surprised to see me when I go home to Maryland.  At home, I am the oldest of three children.  My brother and I are always competing and my sister and I are always sharing clothes.  My mom and I go for runs together and I ask my dad for advice.  My grandmother still makes the best crabcakes in the world and I am usually found on the floor coloring or playing dolls with my little cousins.  I am a daughter, granddaughter, sister, cousin, friend, and Navy officer.

This week I realized that everyone I work with has a story.  Everyone has a family and everyone deserves you to get to know them.

I challenge you to recognize the people you work with.  Get to know them and see them in a personal way.  You don’t have to be friends; you just have to have empathy.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, empathy is “ the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having feelings, thoughts and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”

Further, using empathy to understand people and how they act on the job can help us trigger insights that we might not have otherwise seen.  And that alone can be a breeding ground for innovation. Companies far and wide apply empathetic research to design new products for the end user, but who’s to say we can’t use this in the Navy to perform our mission better?

By learning about each other, we might just have more than the Navy in common.  And I’ll bet, that by getting to know the people around you it will make you that much more excited to come to work everyday.

So, the next time you get frustrated with a shipmate, take a step back and see them from a different perspective.  Remember they are someone’s brother, sister, son, daughter, father, mother.  Just because they do something differently doesn’t mean it’s not right.  When we get to know the people we work with we can better understand what motivates them, what frustrates them, and where they get their perspective.  The best part about the Navy is that we are a mixing bowl of people from all different backgrounds and experiences and each one of us brings a different perspective to the table.

The Navy may be about powerful warships, fighter planes, fast attack submarines and missile launches but in the end we are just defending our country.  We, the people, are protecting the people.  We all, from our own families, protecting families, and now part of another family – USS BENFOLD.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: Life is short.  Take advantage of the time.  Appreciate your surroundings.  Get to know the people you work with.  Give everyone a chance.  Consider the other perspective.

 

LTJG Kaitlin O’Donnell is the Training Officer onboard USS BENFOLD (DDG 65). She’s a Marine Engineering graduate of Massachusetts Maritime Academy class of 2010.

Interested in pitching at our upcoming Waterfront Athena Event on February 13th at San Diego’s Ballast Point Little Italy Tasting Room? Message us!