RDML Scott Robertson
Rear Adm. Robertson is a third-generation naval officer. He grew up in various locations near fleet concentration areas. Robertson attended boot camp in 1986 at Recruit Training Command, San Diego, as a non-designated Seaman. Shortly after graduation, he attended the Broadened Opportunity for Officer Selection and Training (BOOST) program, earning a four-year Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) scholarship. Robertson attended Norwich University, the Military College of Vermont, and earned a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering in 1991. He also holds a Master of Science in Systems Engineering from George Mason University. Robertson has served in a highly diverse range of assignments and participated in many campaigns and operations. His sea tours include: 1st division officer onboard USS George Washington (CVN 73); fire control officer onboard USS Normandy (CG 60); weapons/combat systems officer onboard USS Port Royal (CG 73); engineering auxiliaries officer on USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74); executive officer on USS Gettysburg (CG 64). Robertson commanded USS Rodney M. Davis (FFG 60) during a seven-month counter-narcotics deployment; he also commanded USS Normandy (CG 60), the first Aegis Baseline 9 warship with Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air capability and took her on a nine-month global-circumnavigation deployment, operating in all major naval areas of responsibility. On both ships he commanded, his crew earned the Battle Efficiency Award. Additionally, he served as Air and Missile defense commander for the USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group. Robertson’s shore assignments include Aegis Training and Readiness Center (ATRC) as course supervisor and lead instructor for the Force Air Defense Warfare Commanders Course; Joint Staff, J-8 Directorate as the resources and acquisition manager; commanding officer of Surface Warfare Officers Schools (SWOS) Command. Following his assignment at ATRC in 1999, Robertson spent two years away from active naval service and worked as a weapon systems engineer before voluntarily returning to active duty following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Robertson assumed the duties as commander, Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Command in May 2019. His personal awards include the Legion of Merit (two awards), Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (three awards), Navy Commendation Medal (five awards) and Navy Achievement Medals (two awards).
How has failure or apparent failure set you up for later success?
Two examples come to mind. The first is from my college football days. I went back early one summer to the university to get extra conditioning with a strength coach. I was doing sprints on a hot day and I got to that limit where it was really starting to get uncomfortable. I decided it was too much, so I wimped out and quit. That stuck with me because I gave up on myself. I needed to develop the best possible me for the team, and instead, I bailed out because it was getting hard. After a few days of reflection, I realized that I could never do that again. For the rest of the season, I pushed myself to a new level because of my own failure. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday (laughs) but I can remember the sting of giving up on myself and my teammates all those years ago. The second comes from when I was a second tour division officer. I was OOD, and I felt confident in my skills. The CO came up to the bridge and said, “Scott, do you have situational awareness?” I said “Yes, sir – I have situational awareness.” He said, “What’s that ship over there?” “Well I’m not sure, sir…” “And what about that one over there?” And I couldn’t name them, which was professionally embarrassing. I could point to it on a radar, but I hadn’t done my due diligence. The CO looked at me and said, “Scott, there are 370 lives on this ship that need you to have situational awareness always.” This incident reminds me to ask all the questions and have situational awareness. That failure eventually made me a better mentor to my shipmates as a Department and CO.
Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?
Yes, a quote by President Ronald Reagan – “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. The greatest leader is the one who gets people to do the greatest things.” If we build a culture where people are empowered, listened to, provided with clear communication and direction, held accountable, challenged, given purpose, appreciated and respected, and led with humility...boy that’s powerful and that ship/command/team will be destined for greatness. I’ve witnessed it - I’m a believer.
What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning? Do you have a morning routine?
I go to the gym before I have breakfast. Exercise has always been important to me because it’s good for physical health and mental resilience. After I go the gym, I grab a cup of coffee and journal. I journaled every day in my command tours. Sometimes I’ll write a few pages; other times, it will be a single word on those tough days, like “Crap!” (laughs) Journaling is simultaneously relaxing and focusing. I have sections for gratitude, things I need to do, vision for the future, and leadership moments to remember. Also, I regularly review my journals. It’s awesome to go back and say, “Wow, I’ve really done a lot because of my service in the Navy.” I’d advise division officers and department heads to start doing this at their level - I wish I had.
What career advice would you give a smart and driven young SWO? What advice should they ignore?
I’ve got five pieces of advice to give:
1. Bloom where you’re planted. It’s easy to be discouraged when going to a ship that’s a pre-com or going into a long maintenance period. At the end of the day, though, leadership is leadership. I submit that the more challenging phases of a ship’s life, like maintenance periods, require stronger leadership than the more traditional operational phases. Always give your best effort and thrive wherever you are assigned.
2. Study the profession of arms. I think we struggle with this as a Navy because we leave much of this topic to the individual to grow. When we talk about most training today, we’re so focused on providing knowledge of how to do your job, that we don’t invest in understanding warrior ethos that will help you do your job better and while under stressful conditions. If you don’t develop your warrior ethos, you run the risk of not being ready for conditions of high stress such as combat or emergencies. You also can’t fully appreciate what goes into wearing this uniform and the legacy that we have inherited.
3. Respect your sailors’ time. If you’re always on the lookout to maximize your sailors’ time by planning well, you’ll have a high performing ship. Good planning is hard and requires you digging out the requirements. But the payoff is real. Then, when the work is done, get them off the ship. They’ve got kids and date nights with their loved ones that they want to go to. Respect their time.
4. Put the phone down. I’m fearful of how much time our society spends with our heads down looking at screens. We’re missing the human connection. You can’t have a relationship with a phone. As leaders it’s important to develop our communication skills and build relationships through face-to-face conversations. If you’re a Repair Locker Officer, and you have to guide emergency actions, you can’t SnapChat somebody. You have to articulate what you want to happen and communicate that well in concise language. Put your phone down and interact. Smartphones are powerful but it’s just a tool and too many in society rely on it like it is a critical organ in the body.
5. Ask people, “What do you think?” It’s okay for a leader to ask subordinates for their perspective! Ask people how they would do things. That doesn’t mean you always have to take their advice. If it is a good idea, following it is a great way to empower others by saying, I like that and we’re going to do it that way. It gets tremendous buy in, and it shows that you have trust in them and respect their opinion. You’ll build an enthusiastic subordinates and expand your own critical thinking skills.
I’d ignore the following advice: the first JO to qualify SWO is the best division officer. When it comes to evaluating officers via FITREPS, I don’t look at the date that you qualified. I go to your division. I want to see how it’s doing. Is there an air of positivity? Do your sailors know what’s going on? Is there a sense of good morale? Are they being challenged and encouraged? Those are the things I look for. I look at your sailors to determine your leadership effectiveness and future potential, not the date on a qualification.
What is the book you’ve given most as a gift and why?
Warrior Ethos by Steven Pressfield. It’s short excerpts that focus on unique aspects of warrior cultures. It’s an incredible read, especially if you read it a second time. I’d advocate reading a section, then stopping and pondering, “How can I apply this to myself, my Division, my Department, my ship?”
What is your most effective daily habit?
I have a glass of wine with my wife as soon as I get home. To be honest, this wasn’t my idea. (laughs) My wife was tired of me coming home and getting sucked into opening mail or sucked into a home project. She said let’s have a glass of wine together before you do anything else. It is now a habit - part of our routine whether its at the end of a work day or coming home from a deployment. It our time to force communication and talk about each other’s day and focus on what’s really important. This is very healthy for my home relationship which is an important part of my overall well being. Another habit is reading. But I’ve become more aware of the source of information or bias in what I consume regularly, the underpinnings if you will. Another habit is dual purposing time. I used to listen to music when I work out and now I listen to podcasts like Joe Rogan, Jocko Willink, and Jordan Peterson, to name a few. I try to maximize my time when I workout my body and workout my mind at the same time.
How do you define success?
In military, I think we often tie success is mission accomplishment. But to pull back the layers, I have some other ideas on success. I believe I’m successful as a leader if the people who work with me or for me enjoy coming to work. It’s my job to build an environment where people know their purpose and are proud of their workmanship. Looking back on my last command tour, we completed our many missions well, had a superb deployment, won the Battle E, etc., indicators of success. However, the real gauge of success was that our Sailors were proud of the ball cap that they wore, they had a sense of honor and privilege to be part of that team. That to me was success! On a personal side, another component of success is being confident in my ability to defend my family, friends, and shipmates, mentally or physically. This makes me feel successful not only in the Navy framework, but also in the wider framework of life. Lastly, I really enjoy being a SWO and have genuine excitement about what I do, even when it gets hard. I’m living a personal and professional life I’m proud of in retrospect - I think that is success.