RDML Fred W. Kacher
Rear Adm. Fred W. Kacher is a native of Oakton, Virginia and graduated, with honors, from the United States Naval Academy in 1990 with a degree in English. He holds a Master’s in Public Policy with a concentration in International Relations from Harvard’s Kennedy School. Among his sea tours, Kacher has served primarily on cruisers and destroyers, deploying multiple times as part of both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets. At sea, he most recently served as commodore of Destroyer Squadron Seven, forward deployed to Southeast Asia. Previously, he served as the first commanding officer of USS Stockdale (DDG 106) which earned the Battle Efficiency Award in 2010. While he served as executive officer on USS Barry (DDG 52), the ship was selected for the Arleigh Burke Fleet Trophy as most improved ship in the Atlantic Fleet. During Kacher’s first flag assignment, he served as executive officer to the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe and Commander, U.S. European Command (EUCOM). Other shore assignments include serving as chief of staff to Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet and as lead speechwriter and special assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In earlier tours, he served as special assistant to the Secretary of the Navy and as deputy executive assistant to the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information, Plans, and Strategy (N3/N5). In 2006, he was selected as a White House Fellow serving as director, Strategy and Resources on the Homeland Security Council at the White House. He assumed duties as commander, Expeditionary Strike Group Seven in May 2019. Kacher holds various individual and unit awards including multiple Battle Efficiency Awards earned by the crews he was honored to serve alongside. In 2005, Kacher was selected for the Admiral Elmo Zumwalt Award for visionary leadership after being nominated by members of USS Barry’s crew and in 2015 he was named as the recipient of the U.S. Navy League’s John Paul Jones Inspirational Leadership Award during his command of Destroyer Squadron Seven. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations, he is author of the book, Newly Commissioned Naval Officer’s Guide and co-author of the book, Naval Officer’s Guide to the Pentagon (U.S. Naval Institute Press).
How has failure or apparent failure set you up for later success?
Failure is often a more memorable teacher than success and Lord knows I received many, many lessons from failure as a midshipman and junior officer. As I have risen in a profession that is focused on winning and mission accomplishment every time, I’ve found you have to do everything you can to plan for success, work hard not to repeat mistakes, but be prepared to calmly work through the shortfalls that will inevitably occur in yourself and those who work for you.A close “relative” of failure is disappointment. As we strive for excellence – in a competitive environment among superbly talented people – we are going to face occasional disappointments. For example, it is almost inevitable over time that you will be placed in a job that is not exactly what you hoped for. Take heart, this has happened to all of us (including me several times) but amazingly it has often been the road less traveled that has resulted in some of the most meaningful experiences – and successes - I’ve had in the Navy.
Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” These words, derived from Aristotle’s writing, could not be more fitting for a SWO.“Never, never, never give up.” Churchill had it right. Persistence and hard work count.“Be your best in all things at all times.” I’m not sure where this phrase comes from, but I’ve shared it with my daughters since they were little.There will always be people in this world smarter and better than me (and I want those people on my team!), but when I’ve kept these three quotes in mind, things have fallen into place.
What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning? Do you have a morning routine?
I am not a morning person by nature but over time I’ve found that a quick workout, usually lifting weights in my home or a quick run, helps me wake up, “pay myself first” in terms of fitness, and think about the day ahead. One other thing I do is look at two 3 x 5 cards I’ve carried with me for a few years. One is a gratitude card that quickly lists the things I have to be grateful for in my life to include my family, my friends, my profession, etc. The other simply says, “Earn It Every Day” and I try hard to live up to that.
What career advice would you give a smart and driven young SWO? What advice should they ignore?
As a former Chief of Staff at Commander, Naval Surface Forces, Pacific I had the privilege to talk to every new ensign as they were joining the fleet – and I really do believe young SWO JO’s are the heart of our profession. For junior officers, my core advice is: Be Your Best In All Things At All Times. We may not have the talent to be the best, but if we can be our “best selves” good things will happen. For SWOs, that means being the best leader, person and warfighter you can be.Listen to that Little Voice in the Back of Your Mind. That little voice represents what you’ve learned from your parents, your coaches, your place of worship, and, over time, your experience. Don’t ignore it. Be Ready. You never know when you are going to be tested, so be ready every day. As a new dad, I headed to work on a beautiful Tuesday morning at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 never expecting it to be one of the toughest days of my life. Since then, I’ve worked hard to never take one day, one evolution or one mission for granted.Regarding advice to ignore, there is no perfect recipe for success. Certainly, in our profession, there are broad career and timing milestones you should not ignore. That said, a naval career can’t just be a carefully calibrated, formulaic path devoid of growth and enjoyment and I promise you that is not what the leaders I respect want for you. If you find yourself saying, “If I don’t get exactly this job, at exactly this time, my career is over,” I’d say you’ve defined success too narrowly.
What is the book you’ve given most as a gift and why?
Books are among my favorite gifts to give and what I often give a book I’ve loved that is tailored to whatever officer is departing the command I’ve been a part of.With that in mind, a book I’ve given out often is the "Cruel Sea", one of the great novels of the sea by Nicholas Monsarrat about a small Royal Navy minesweeper in the Atlantic during World War II. It is a wonderful profile of command leadership and there is a great line in the book about commanding during tough times that went something along the lines of, “The Captain carried us all.” I was blessed by wonderful teams during my command tours, but I always tried to remember those words while in command.
How do you set priorities and manage your time?
I certainly don’t have all the answers but here are a few things that have worked for me:Set aside time for yourself to think about and plan for what is ahead. This may have to be on your own time on a Sunday afternoon, for example, but I’ve found that being mindful about the week ahead, what I hope to accomplish, and identifying longer term goals have made a huge difference. And of course, as you do those things, write them down in a notebook that stays with you throughout the week.Keep the main thing the main thing. Think hard about your priorities. Professionally, you have to think about what things matter most and give them the appropriate time. More broadly, you have to think about what is important. I had a pastor share that, “In the end, all you have left is your friends, your faith and your family.” To that end – and I fall short every week – I focus hard on family, my profession, and my fitness, physical and spiritual. That has meant for me, as someone who does not have endless talent, I’ve had to forego some hobbies as I moved up in jobs that had more responsibility – especially command at sea, the best job of them all.Finally, be purposeful in your free time. Trust me, I LOVE watching sports and easy-on-the-brain TV shows, but I’ve found that being purposeful in your free time can enable you to accomplish things that would surprise you. In my case, thanks to some patience from my incredible wife, Pam, and two terrific daughters, I set aside a couple hours a day at night to work on professional pursuits and that is how I’ve written a couple professional books and mentored U.S. Naval Institute’s Young Leaders group of 100 young leaders and writers as I’ve served at sea and in some fairly demanding shore jobs.
What is your most effective daily habit?
Reading and working out every day. No matter how busy I am, I make sure to take as little as 30 minutes to work out just to make that down payment in health. At fifty, this life habit has helped me immensely in the fleet. And no matter how bone tired I am on the road or at sea, I always take a few minutes to read at night as I believe reading is one of the easiest ways to learn and get better.
How do you define success?
Professionally in the Navy, success is about preparing your ship to win in combat and creating an environment that enables your Sailors to reach their full potential – I just love watching deserving people succeed and grow! But along the way to combat readiness (which is Job One), I also wanted our ship to be a great place to work and live. On a personal front, I believe that if you are married, no partnership more defines your life, so investing in that relationship is essential. Finally, children are who we leave the world after we depart it, so raising them to be happy, kind and responsible adults may well be the most lasting legacy we leave of all.