LCDR Chris Rakoski
How has failure or apparent failure set you up for later success?
I’ve got so many to choose from! (laughs). I failed my CICWO, OOD, EOOW, and SWO board the first time up. However, every single time I failed a board it made me better. I realized that I needed to study harder and that getting to the next level was going to take more work. As I prior enlisted, I hadn’t completely made the shift to the amount of effort that being an officer required. The biggest eye opener for me was my OOD board. I didn’t have the knowledge, so the CO was right to send me away and tell me to come back. At the end of the day, that was good for me.
Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?
“We are about preserving and wielding seapower for America as a maritime nation. The means to these ends are the institution and its traditions. They provide permanence beyond us.” I don’t know who said that, but it’s a great quote. The Navy is about institution and tradition more than any other service. Everything we do as an officer corps, based on those traditions, sustains us and carries forward into the future.
What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning? Do you have a morning routine?
I get up every day at 4AM. I take care of my dogs, make my bed as ADM McRaven recommends, and then I workout. I workout at least once a day, sometimes twice a day because my wife and I are training for a half Iron Man. Getting the exercise I need is what keeps me going and keeps me sane.
What career advice would you give a smart and driven young SWO? What advice should they ignore?
Have fun! This profession is stressful at times. The routine can bog you down. You can feel stuck in a rut on the ship. But you can always stay positive and have fun. I learned from CAPT Will Baxter that your attitude as an officer determines if the JOs under you stay in the Navy. I really believe that, so I try to have a positive attitude at all times. The people who work for you see it, and the people above you see it too.
I would ignore advice that says you need to become what your boss wants you to be. Don’t ever try to be something that you are not. People see through that. Be yourself. Also ignore the advice that you should hide your intentions if you don’t want to stay in or be a department head. Be honest. The best leaders don’t care if you are leaving. If you’re honest, maybe that will spur the CO or XO to talk to you and mentor you through a tough decision.
How do you set priorities and manage time?
I’m always trying to look 6 to 9 months down the road. This gives me enough lead time to get things rolling. Then I always get a rudder check from the CO. I say, “Sir, this is what I think the priorities are for the department, and here’s how I think that fits into the command.” He’ll tell me if that’s right or not. Ultimately, it’s the CO’s ship. A lot of people stumble by trying to do things their own way and not communicating with the boss. He signs your FITREP, so ask him what he wants.
What is the book you’ve given most as a gift and why?
Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. I give it out because it’s about someone who finds peace where they are. I think as military officers, we are always planning ahead (like we should). There’s also something to be said for being in the moment. Enjoy where you’re at right now. If you’re always looking ahead into the future, you’ll miss some of what the now has to offer.
What is your most effective daily habit?
Planning! I get to the ship 45 minutes before khaki call, get coffee, and go through email. Then I write out what I want to do and compare it to the POD. That way, I’ve already got a coherent plan before the day starts. I’ve found the old saying true: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
How do you define success?
Success if walking away from a ship having made a lasting impact. Enlisted have 5 or 6 years to make an impact. As a member of the wardroom, you’re essentially just passing through. If you can make one or two positive changes and pass the baton of the tradition of the service, then you’ve been a success.