CDR Madonia entered commissioned service through the U.S. Naval Academy as part of the Class of 2003. A Surface Warfare Officer, he completed his division officer assignments in USS McFAUL (DDG 74) as Force Protection Officer and USS NITZE (DDG 94) as Fire Control Officer. Additionally, CDR Madonia served as an individual augmentee in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in 2005. His post-division officer shore assignments were as Flag Aide to Admiral Swift when he was the Deputy Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and when he commanded Carrier Strike Group NINE. Eric served as Operations Officer in both USS DEWEY (DDG 105) and USS LAKE ERIE (CG 70), deploying in both ships. Following his sea tours, CDR Madonia served as Flag Secretary to the Superintendent, U.S. Naval Academy, and later as part of the Commander’s Action Group at Commander, Naval Surface Force Pacific. He now serves as the Officer in Charge of the Basic Division Officer Course in San Diego.
A distinguished graduate of the U.S. Naval War College, CDR Madonia holds a Master of Arts in National Security and Strategic Studies. His wife, Ava, is a San Diego native and works full time at home training and caring for their three children.
How has failure or apparent failure set you up for later success?
A failure that comes to mind is when I worked as ADM Swift’s aide. We were in Bahrain and I was responsible for planning his trip to Islamabad, Pakistan to meet peer admirals and the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan. I made a small but very costly mistake when scheduling his flight, the short of which, had him arriving too late to make his meeting with the ambassador! By the time I realized the mistake, it was too late to change. I mustered the courage to go tell him that I had pretty much ruined his meeting with a 4-star equivalent. I walked into his office and said, “Sir, I have some unfortunate news. I made a small mistake with rather large consequences.” He just looked at me with a blank stare. I explained what had happened,that I wanted to shoot myself, and told him that the outcome was that he wouldn’t be able to meet with the ambassador. He just looked at me, then broke into a sly smile and said, “Eric, I didn’t really want to see him anyway.” What I learned from ADM Swift was that he saw it was an honest mistake, and treated me in a kind, controlled manner. Instead of losing his cool, he was able to teach me how to interact with people when they make mistakes.
Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?
Paul’s words in Philippians 2, “But in humility consider the interests of others as more significant than your own.” It is an hourly reminder to me of how I am to go about doing my work. Also, in Ecclesiastes, King Solomon said, “I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and do good.” That’s my singular guiding principle at present: if I can be joyful and seek to do good to others, and if that’s the context in which I’m doing everything, then it’s a good day. If those are my right and left limits, then I’ll be successful. Also, Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people won’t remember what you said or what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” It’s all about seeking to be kind to people, and then reaping the benefit of gaining people’s trust and receiving their sincere, hard work. Also, something I heard ADM Swift often say, “It’s not mission first, Sailors always. It’s Sailors first, mission always.” It’s easy for us to roll our eyes, and say, “Yeah I know.” But the reality is that we cannot accomplish a mission apart from Sailors. Leadership is a function of Sailors. Naval leadership is Sailor centric by its very definition. We cannot let ourselves get numb to that idea.
What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?
The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is say, “Oh for the love, not yet!” I also wrestle with if I should hit the snooze button. But I do have a firm routine that has developed over the years. I get up, stumble downstairs, hit the “on” button for the coffee that I’ve prepared the night before. Then after I shave and wash my face, I read a prayer from “The Valley of Vision” then a short portion of a catechism, then work on Scripture memory, then engage with Scripture. On the mornings that I conquer the snooze button, I have about a rich hour at my desk. Let me be clear - this is not me doing a good thing. I need this. I cannot walk through life well if I am not set straight. This is very much a case of a poor beggar every morning seeking where he might find the bread of focus, purpose, and gladness. When I get to work, I do four things - I grab my boot brush and wipe down my boots. It only takes 59 seconds (I timed it). I take a knee and ask for help to be joyful. I do 10 Rules of the Road questions and I read one biography page each day of a person who works for me. This enables me to get to know my people more and more each day.
What advice would you give a smart and driven young SWO about to go to their first or second tour? What advice should they ignore?
Make the references your allies. Read the reference. The references will either be your friends or your foes and it is literally your choice. Your DH/XO/CO will get teary eyed if you come to them and say, “Sir, but the NSTM/NAVDORM/EDORM/SORM says...” Also, there’s a misconception that you need to have all the answers. King Solomon said that a poor, wise youth is better than on old foolish king who has forgotten how to take advice. Wisdom is acknowledging your need for advice and seeking counsel. It is not a failure to need advice; it is a strength to say, “I don’t know the answer, let me ask.” Asking for help is a wise, humble thing, not a demonstration of weakness.
Advice to ignore: anger is a tool. I adamantly disagree with that. It is rare that a person is angry and good things happen. Anger generally implies that you have lost control of yourself, and you’ll probably say or do something regrettable. I appreciate that tidbit about always criticizing the performance but never the person. When someone gets angry and raises their voice, the result will always be that the person feels criticized. You cannot yell at someone without receiving contempt in return. We all know that threats and fear can produce results, but they are always short lived and always counterproductive to teamwork.
What is the book you’ve given most as a gift and why?
That’s an easy one: C.J. Mahaney’s Living the Cross Centered Life. I’ve given out at least one hundred copies for this simple reason: Mahaney does a terrific job of clearly and concisely explaining how and why what God accomplished at the cross is the very heart of Christianity.
How do you set priorities and manage your time?
I read somewhere recently, in line with Stephen Covey’s classic analogy of the pebbles, big rocks, and the jar, that leadership is a matter of identifying what the big rocks are and management is the process of getting them in the jar first. I use a simple Excel spreadsheet for day to day management. I write tasks for near term and long term. I also try to remind myself that serving people is rarely a waste of time. And I pray, asking God to help me make the best use of the time.
What is your most effective daily habit?
No one specific habit comes to mind. But I would say the process of “slow and steady” is a guiding principle for my habits. I studied for the CQE in 30 minute intervals over the course of a year and never had to study outside of work hours. As I mentioned, I take 60 seconds to shine my boots everyday.. It’s low cost and my boots look great each day. Reading bios every day is slow and steady. Over the course of days, and weeks, and months, you get to know your people really well. Same thing with Rules of the Road.
How do you define success?
As a person of Christian faith, that term “success” can only be derived from the large realities of life. After all, what does a man gain if he is “successful” in the Navy, but loses his wife, his children, or his soul? Success is not tied to a rank, position, or accolade; it is defined by faithfulness. That is, faithfulness with that talent and responsibility that the Lord has given me. And that faithfulness is my motivation - it’s a simple question of “Why do I do what I do?” As a Christian, that answer is simple and profound - it’s because of what was done for me. The outcome is out of my control, so I think it would be foolish to tie my success to something I cannot control. Admiral Farragut, at the Battle of New Orleans in 1862, is recorded as saying, “God alone decides the contest, but we must put our shoulders to the wheel.” So my attitude and effort are essential, but success is not necessarily determined by the outcome. Success is defined by whether or not I have been faithful with what I’ve been given.