Rear Adm. James Aiken is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is the son of Reverend and Mrs. James Aiken, Sr. Aiken was commissioned through the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) at Pennsylvania State University with a degree in Political Science. He also earned a master’s degree in Strategic Studies from the Naval War College.
As a surface warfare officer, he commanded USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93) and Destroyer Squadron 60/Task Force 65.
His assignments at sea include service aboard USS Monongahela (AO(J) 178), USS Virginia (CGN-38), Commander, Carrier Group Two (John F.Kennedy battle group), USS Decatur (DDG 73), USS Normandy (CG 60) and USS Hopper (DDG 70).
Ashore he served as a manpower specialist/detailer at Navy Surface Warfare Manpower Headquarters, Pers 41; deputy executive assistant/administrative aide to the Secretary of the Navy; liaison to the U.S. Senate for the Secretary of Defense; and naval aide and executive assistant to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Financial Management and Comptroller.
Aiken has completed a Legislative Fellowship with Congressman Randy Forbes, Virginia-4/ Chairman, House Armed Services Committee Readiness Sub-Committee.
Aiken assumed duties as deputy director Resources and Acquisition, Joint Staff, J8, in September 2018.
I was asked to answer the questions below. I was honored and humbled at the opportunity. I understand my bio will be attached to the answers. I was asked a number of years ago during an interview, as the interviewer held up my record, Jim what is not in here, your record? For a few moments, I want to tell you what is not in my bio and may not be obvious in the answers below. My faith is my north star and guides everything I do. I would not be the person I am today with my faith. I was told many years ago that faith is just a crutch. I could not disagree more. It does help me walk, it is at the very core of every step I take.
How has failure or apparent failure set you up for later success?
I did not screen for XO until the third look. This kept me hungry and made me a better DH and Leader. This work ethic and drive became the standard and has stuck with me ever since. If I would have screened earlier I may have rested on my laurels and not developed this drive.
A few years ago leaving Major Command, I was selected for a dream job - on my bucket list for many years. It was the opportunity of a lifetime and would have given me more opportunity in the future. At the last minute, my orders were cancelled and someone else was sent to that job. I was pretty frustrated and maybe a bit disillusioned. A new door opened and I was able to develop a whole new skill set. Many years ago, a mentor said to me when you get lemons, make lemonade.
Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?
I have five very wonderful children from ages 9-16. I often share with them these two.
If you only do what is required, you will only ever be average. Who wants to be average?
If we compare ourselves to others, we will always find someone who is better. Measure yourself against the highest standard.
What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning? Do you have a morning routine?
I am big into white space (thinking time, reflecting time – not in the office). I create white space every morning to read, write and think. I try to journal my thoughts, ideas, goals, challenges, hopes, fears, successes and even some failures.
What career advice would you give a smart and driven young SWO?
It has often been said, experience is the great teacher. I strongly believe we need to go one step beyond. Evaluated experience should be our great teacher.
A few years back, I became a certified coach. It has taught me to ask questions rather than provide examples or dictums from life. Contextually, my life is not the same. Live your life and do not try to model someone else.
One more piece of advice – build and maintain a wide variety of relationships. We are all on a journey, it is better with others with you. You need to be intentional – reach out on a regular basis. This does not happen without effort. It is worth it in the long run.
What is the book you’ve given most as a gift and why?
I have given Covey's 7 Habits, Collins' Good to Great, and many others. At this point in my life, I give out only journals. I want each person to pursue that white space I talked about previously. I want them to evaluate their actions and what they learned. I want them to think big thoughts.
How do you set priorities and manage your time?
I have tried many things here. At present, I am less focused on managing my time and more focused on managing my energy. I evaluate when I do my best work and make sure I pursue my most challenging assignments, projects etc during that time.
What is your most effective daily habit?
Michael Jordan, maybe the greatest basketball player of all time (even Lebron and Kobe would say so) commented that he tries to slow things down and when things move the slowest, he knows he is in his element. I’ve found a practical application of that advice in my morning routine. The more time I spend thinking, the better the product is in execution.
Morning white space allows you to reflect on the previous day and prepare for the day in front of you. Sure there are plenty of days when my best laid plans get blown up but at least I have a path and a plan going forward. I have a target and a focus to get back to even if the day does not go as planned.
How do you define success?
Success to me is when I see my children and the people who I have invested in make progress and grow. That does not always mean winning as we traditionally look at it. John Wooden said Winning is not the outcome on the scoreboard but knowing you did your best. Growing, failing forward, bringing others with us. Real success is doing something bigger than ourselves… it is a team, a diverse group or even family moving forward.