Captain Jon P. Rodgers hails from Humboldt, Tennessee and graduated from Cornell University in 1990 with a Bachelors of Science degree in Agriculture Engineering Technologies. Upon graduation, he received his commission as a Surface Warfare Officer.
His sea duty assignments include Division Officer tours in USS ENGLAND
(CG 22) where he served as 1st Lieutenant and Boilers Officer. He served his Department Head tours in USS BONHOMME RICHARD (LHD 6) as the plankowner Main Propulsion Assistant. He received the Surface Navy Association’s Arleigh Burke award for Operational Excellence as the Operations and Material Officer on Amphibious Squadron THREE staff. He served as Executive Officer aboard USS CLEVELAND (LPD 7) during Operations IRAQI FREEDOM and ENDURING FREEDOM as part of Amphibious Task Force West. He Commanded USS PONCE (AFSB 15) as the Navy’s First dedicated Afloat Forward Staging Base permanently deployed to FIFTH Fleet.
He served in Washington on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations as future ships officer for the Director of Navy Expeditionary Warfare (OPNAV N75/N85). As Future Ships Officer he served as the resource sponsor for the LPD 17, LHD 8 and LHA 6 ACAT 1D programs. He served as the Executive Assistant to the Director for Warfare Integration (OPNAV N7F/N8F), and the Deputy Executive Assistant to the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Manpower, Personnel, Training, and Education (OPNAV N1).
Captain Rodgers commanded Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron SIX in Portsmouth, Virginia where he led over 600 Active and Reserve Sailors on worldwide security missions that included the USNS COMFORT Theater Security Cooperation missions throughout South America. He served as Commander Task Unit Northern Arabian Gulf on the Iraq Al Basrah (ABOT) and Khor al-Amaya (KAAOT) Oil Terminals point defense mission, Panama and Suez Canal Embarked Security Team transits, and OPERATION VIGILANT MARINER in Rota, Spain. His squadron deployed in August 2008 on a seven-month deployment to United Arab Emirates to oversee security in the Ports and anchorages of Jebel Ali and Fujairah. He served as the Director, Commander’s Action Group (CAG) for Commander, United States Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia. He served as the United States European Command J3 Chief of Staff during Operations ODYSSEY DAWN and UNIFIED PROTECTOR.
Captain Rodgers attended the National Defense University, graduating with honors from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces with a Masters of Science Degree in National Resource Strategy. He attended the Naval War College in Newport Rhode Island with a Masters of Arts in National Security Strategy. He also graduated from the Defense Acquisition University where he participated in the Shipbuilding Industry Study involving shipbuilding processes and Government-Industry relations in over 30 domestic and foreign shipyards.
Captain Rodgers assumed the duties of Commanding Officer, USS MAKIN ISLAND (LHD 8) in December 2014. He now serves in the Pentagon as the Deputy Chief of Legislative Affairs.
His personal awards include the Legion of Merit (2), Defense Superior Commendation Medal, Meritorious service Medal (4), Defense Superior Achievement Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (4), Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and various theater/service awards.
How has failure or apparent failure set you up for later success?
The key words here are “resiliency” and “perseverance.” Anyone following my
career path will see an unconventional path to SWO success. (Prior enlisted,
broken service, cross designation TAR (now FTS) 1117 to 1110, Amphib/non
Aegis background, Special Mission CO resulting in a 3rd look screen for CDR
Command and Major Command.) Despite this irregular career path, the
gut punch misses in Command screenings transcended into motivation vice
depression. Those failures to screen were admittedly tough, but merely
hardened my resolve to succeed. Besides, there are no tissues in our business.
I will admit this resiliency was honed before the Navy during the summers of 83 and 84 when I sold Bibles door to door to fund college—before attaining an NROTC scholarship. Knocking doors and willingly facing failure everyday elevated a sense of self-awareness and confidence that provided the resiliency and perseverance for a highly competitive career path in the United States Navy. When I speak to Junior Officers I often recount door-to-door sales “sea stories” to put things in perspective. A quick one—
In 1983, I approached a house in North Carolina and a lady answered the door with a gun in her hand pointed directly at me. She stated, “Sonny, I will shoot you if you don’t leave my porch.” I answered, Ma’am my name is Jon Rodgers and I am selling Bibles, with a heavy southern accent emphasizing Bibles. I left unharmed, but mentally challenged with thoughts that everyone in this county hated me. Those thoughts obviously showed on my demeanor because I did not sell another book that day. I had let that fear of failure get in my head and I had to figure it out. In this business, if you don’t sell, you don’t eat. I remember pulling into a quick mart to get a soda and walking to the counter I noticed a rifle cork gun in the toy aisle. (Youngsters may have to Google that one). It was an air rifle with a cork tethered to the end of the barrel. I bought it and at the next door, I told the lady at the front door, Ma’am, my name is Jon Rodgers, I am putting my way through college and if I get out of line, this gun is for you. She laughed, welcomed me inside for a glass of tea and bought a Family Bible. After that sale, I was back on track and ended up number one rookie that summer.
Innovation, creativity and ingenuity were the ingredients for resiliency and perseverance. These attributes are so important to success in today’s Navy. I hope the Naval Officers in your readership will realize their success already as evidenced by their selfless service representing the best of our Nation’s citizenship. Also, not as apparent, screening and selecting in this highly competitive arena is against the current considering the Navy’s downsizing during the last decade of sequestered budgets. The quota denominator has decreased and I think with the 18 and 19 budgets, it is a very exciting and ripe time to build a successful Naval career. So from me to them, CONGRATULATIONS ON YOURS AND YOUR FAMILY’S SUCCESS. (Emphasis intended)
Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?
As a Junior Officer, the Arena by Theodore Roosevelt and JFK’s “Career in the Navy” are favorites because they validated a Naval career of service to our Nation. These quotes are also great for reenlistments and retirement ceremonies. As a CO, I read my change of command gifts that list a lot of the crew’s favorites:
Stupid is not authorized. Get UN-Stupid by reading
Hard is authorized. The harder the challenge, the greater the sense of achievement
Tow the company line and own your responsibility
Cleanliness is directly proportional to operational readiness
The best remedy for whining is sweat
Verdigris on fire stations sends exactly the wrong message
The standard you accept is the one you walk by
Accountability without authority is a recipe for failure
Go to bed every night with a clean heart
Explaining inescapable accountability to the crew: In Command all our failures are mine, all our successes are yours.
Squeeze your family
What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning? Do you have a morning routine?
At sea, make my rack, check wind, seas and traffic, check email, walk the flight deck, observe the sunrise with a cup of coffee on the bridge. There is no equal to a sunrise at sea to deperm the mind.
In port, squeeze the family, grab the work phone and read the blotter. Cup of coffee and books on tape enroute to work. Long to be back at sea to deperm the mind.
What career advice would you give a smart and driven young SWO? What advice should they ignore?
Never ignore advice, but remember there are two sides to a piece of paper, what to do and what NOT to do.
I would advise junior SWOs to be genuine and forthright. I’ve always respected the JO that was principled, candid and authentic. A CO has lots of practice spotting “fake,’ and that does not bode well on the watchbill. Brutal honesty is vital to get to the core problem and thus resolution sooner, besides I’d rather reach for the tech manual vice the JAG manual. Over the years I’ve noticed one trait that seemed consistent to those who failed--the inability to stand in front of people with confidence and motivate. As you progress in your career, the crowd gets larger. The ability to lead out front is honed by standing in front of your Sailors every day at morning quarters. Do not cheat yourself from that training so necessary as you progress in your career. Email is no substitute here!
On the bridge, I respect those that use the word “intend” vice handing over a maneuvering problem into the abyss of indecision and awaiting a parroted response from the Captain. Tell the Captain your intentions to clarify, and do it early to keep emotion in check. Pay attention to standing orders and call when you are supposed to call. A bit of newsflash, the Captain is grading you on your courage to call and usually knows when you hit the CPA call tripwire. Better to send than receive applies here.
Daily routines. If you are not cleaning your ship/spaces one hour a day, you are not setting a good cleanliness standard. The cleaning standard transcends to maintenance, training and watchstanding standards and why it is vital for the XO to do daily Messing and Berthing inspections! Use that cleaning time to set river-city on computers and “lead by walking around” getting to know your Sailors. Use this hour to visit all your spaces as per DIVO and DH regulations. The condition of your spaces is a direct reflection of you.
We are a competitive force, but do not get ahead by stepping on your peers. Successful officers are those who are not reaching up for the next ladder rung, but reaching down to help others reach their next ladder rung. Good leaders will ensure you reach your next ladder rung if you merit the next step.
Realize the awesome responsibility you have in leading your Sailors. They look up to you; what do they see through both the personal and professional lens? Your personal and professional standard sets their standard and the standard of our Navy future. As a United States Naval Officer, if you really appreciate this responsibility, then you should never, never fail in personal misconduct!
Go to sea early and often. The experience you gain on the ocean is imperative and invaluable when you eventually put the Command pin on the right side! Borrowing from Joseph Conrad, a worthwhile quote not clearly understood by those who have never felt the burden of Command. “In each ship there is one person who, in the hour of emergency or peril at sea, can turn to no other. There is one who alone is ultimately responsible for the safe navigation, engineering performance, accurate gunfire and morale of the ship. That is the Commanding Officer. The CO is the ship!” Command is lonely and there is absolutely no substitute for experience.
What is the book you’ve given most as a gift and why?
Shackleton’s Way and Endurance. There is never, and never will be a greater feat of leadership on the sea than this adventure. If you are a Naval Officer, these books are a must. A teaser: “For scientific discovery give me Scott, for speed and efficiency of travel give me Amundsen, but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on you knees and pray for Shackleton.” The lessons of genuine and personable leadership are necessary in this digital age. The digital age has enabled a very disturbing tendency for lazy leadership from behind a computer screen.
I’ve also given “Longitude” on many occasions. Another must for anyone putting to sea.
How do you set priorities and manage your time?
Understand the big picture and the priorities of your upper chain of command. Be proactive vice reactive and time management as well as life becomes a lot easier. Don’t be a slave to your email where all you do is log in and wait for the next email to move your life. The over dependence on email forces leaders into a reactive mode, vice setting their own priorities and moving their organization forward. I remember the Navy before computers and Internet, where a phone, wheel-book and legs got the work done. Sure, email enabled better coordination, cooperation and collaboration, but responsiveness and decisiveness took a hit. Further, governance has become more centralized; trust has dwindled and become more and more burdensome on leaders’ time management—forcing them into time consuming, reactive situations. “Think-time” has to be preserved!
Other tips, go home knowing the first thing you need to do the next morning and inspire that habit in your organization. Trust and delegate when you can, and when you do, ensure three components of the task: ‘Who,’ ‘What’ and ‘When.’ ‘How’ is up to them so not to pre-empt innovation. Don’t send stupid emails and end a thread when you have the authority. Strive to keep your boss in the pro-active mode by minimizing stupid menial stuff. Act to the limits of your authority and when in Command, Command!
What is your most effective daily habit? Stepping away from the keyboard and talking with my workforce is paramount. As a leader, I cannot emphasize enough the power of connecting with your workforce by personal engagement. Call it “Leadership by walking around,” or gripping and grinning, but this precious time is the opportunity to connect personally and talk ‘to’ your people vice ‘at’ them. You will need this personal bond whenever tragedy inevitably strikes a member of your Command. Leading during grief is not taught in our classrooms, but so very paramount in our responsibility as leaders. A good example here can be Googled “Farewell to Kyle” when my command lost a very influential and beloved Master Chief in a Motorcycle accident. I will be lifelong friends with this family.
How do you define success? In PXO leadership course I penned my personal mission statement that best sums my vision of success quoted below:
Balance a life between work and family centered on the principles of integrity, excellence, morality, and trustworthiness in order to maintain peace of mind, purpose of life and sense of accomplishment.
Confront adversity head on and never underestimate the power of communication. Always, suppress emotion, remain objective, and strive for the win-win solution.
Strive to safely meet the mission by empowering, developing and inspiring subordinates to successful and gratifying careers in the United States Navy.
Focus on personnel, material readiness and training so that the Command is ready to respond when called.
When my family looks upon my epitaph I want them to remember me as a man of high honor and integrity. A United States Naval Officer who made a real contribution in the lives of all Sailors who knew and served with him.