CDR Alexa Jenkins
CDR Alexa Jenkins is a native of Palos Verdes, CA. In 2004, she graduated the U.S. Naval Academy with a B.S. in English and a minor in Spanish.
Her sea duty assignments include USS LAKE CHAMPLAIN (CG-57), where she served as the Gunnery Officer. She completed two deployments: one to the Arabian Gulf and one to Seventh Fleet. In 2006, LCDR Jenkins reported to USS FORT MCHENRY (LSD-43) where she served as Combat Information Center Officer, and deployed on the inaugural Africa Partnership Station deployment throughout Western Africa. She then deployed to the Gulf of Aden 2009, as Aide to CTF 151/ESG 2 for the first Flag-led counter piracy coalition.
In 2012, she reported to USS GONZALEZ (DDG-66) where she served as the Operations Officer and deployed to the coast of Somalia to conduct an independent scan eagle mission. She finished her second Department Head tour as the N3 at DESRON 23 in San Diego.
During her tour as Commanding Officer of USS TORNADO PC-14 from 2015 to 2017, she also took command of USS CHINOOK (PC-9) in Manama, Bahrain before returning to command TORNADO.
While on shore duty at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill NROTC, she earned her MBA from the Kenan Flaglar School of Business. Most recently she completed her second shore duty as the Head Promotion Planner for the Navy on the OPNAV Staff in N131.
She is married to Robert D. Jenkins, IV of Jacksonville, FL. They recently had their first child (a son) in winter 2018.
She took over as Executive Officer onboard USS CARNEY DDG-64 in October 2020.
Her personal decorations include the Meritorious Service Medal (2), Navy Commendation Medal (5); Navy Achievement Medal (3) and various unit and campaign awards.
How has failure or apparent failure set you up for later success?
The way this question is worded makes me smile—it is very smart to include the words “or apparent failure.” Most every successful person I know has failed, and those failures led to breakthroughs or new opportunities, but the main point is that “failure” is not synonymous with “ending.” That being said, it’s hard to remind yourself of that when you are in the middle of failing.
When I first went to early command, I failed in properly communicating to my boss for an entire YEAR. It was painful. It was especially raw because I usually think of my interpersonal skills as a strength. However, my first Commodore was a mystery. Everything I said fell flat. He never smiled back at me. Every time he saw me he looked annoyed at my existence. And no, it had nothing to do with any bias—he was an extremely fair officer who valued all his Sailors. There was a disconnect between us, and the more time went on, the more determined I became to fix the broken relationship. I failed at those attempts for a YEAR. A full year of trying different approaches, talking to the Deputy as a sounding board, asking advice from other COs on the waterfront, you name it. It was the most emotionally draining experience from any tour. Finally, after a meeting I point blank told him, “Sir, I am tired of being a disappointment. I care about my crew, and we are going to show you that we are going to be ready.” That opened the door for him to have some honest and frank feedback for me. I realized that my communications with him were limited because of the physical distance of where my ship was located and where he worked, and I had been wasting his bandwidth with requests that had nothing to do with preparing the ship for Basic Phase. He was focused on the ships that were going out on deployment, and what he needed from me was to train and prepare the command and operate on autopilot. Once I realized that it was completely in my control to change my behavior to improve his perception of the command, things improved quickly. He came out and visited us: witnessed the high morale, the cleanliness of the ship, the ownership of the Sailors. That visit cemented the change in his opinion of me and turned around our relationship. The last year of the tour flew by, and I was honestly sad to see him retire. I learned a lot about myself during that tour, and try to remember that if there is a personnel conflict, to look inward first and to take a hard look at what information I am transmitting.
Honestly, officers who overcome failures are set up to be a better leader than someone who has always succeeded, because he/she will more readily empathize that not all Sailors are at their peak performance in life in any given tour (or any given day, for that matter!) Don’t expect people to be perfect. Expect that your Sailors will make mistakes, that they will falter. Hopefully, we can be there as leaders to lift them up and tell them that tomorrow is a blank slate for them to try again.
Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?
My dad always told me to ask, “what else can I do?” When preparing for anything, I ask that question over and over again. You can only control so many things in life. As long as you have done everything possible on your end, getting a good night sleep is easy. Sometimes you will be outperformed, sometimes you will be told “no” when you fought for “yes.” That’s ok with me as long as I did the best that I could and sought all the avenues I could, talked to all the people who are subject matter experts/have decision power/etc. That simple phrase gave me work ethic, drive, but most importantly permission to let things go if they didn’t go as planned. If I can answer “what else could I have done,” and the answer honestly is “nothing,” then I let it go and move on to the next challenge.
What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning? Do you have a morning routine?
So many successful people have morning routines where they practice mindfulness/reflection or physical activity at some crazy 0400 hour to make it work with their schedule. They will answer this question with a list of achievements they accomplish before sunrise, without fail. I, on the other hand, have a 21 month old son, so the first thing that I do in my morning is go into his room and give him a huge hug. He starts my day with a chorus of, “Mommy! Mommy!” Honestly, it is the only thing that I can say happens with any routine in my house. Because once that little tornado of a boy is up and about…all bets for my day are off, ESPECIALLY now with COVID. I wish that everyone started their day looking into the eyes of someone who has unconditional love for them. I told my husband that I understood why people have dogs now after having a son. Dogs and kids just love you no matter what. Morning routines should make you smile, whatever they are, even if they *do* involve yoga, hours of treadmill running, or ten pages of journaling. I believe you need to start the day grateful, because it’s another chance at living. My son does that for me.
What career advice would you give a smart and driven young SWO? What advice should they ignore?
Ask questions of every SWO you meet. Our community is so varied with experiences—everyone knows something that you don’t know. Be interested in folks from other ship platforms. The more questions you ask, the more you will learn about opportunities. The Navy has some amazing programs and billets that are out there, but if you only know of the ones that your CO knows about or the Detailer knows about, you might be missing out. By asking questions of others you will learn and form genuine connections.
Advice To Ignore: Do not think that ship class is an indicator of another SWO’s talent or ability. I was assigned to go to an LSD after my initial division officer tour on a cruiser, and when I got the orders, I stupidly cried. Cried to leave San Diego, cried because I mistakenly thought that something must be lesser of me for not slating to a destroyer, because everyone on my cruiser referred to the amphib navy as the “JV Team.” Well, that LSD made me fall in love with the Navy. I worked with the best wardroom, the best Chiefs’ Mess, and the finest Sailors, had an amazing work/life balance and learned SO much. Yes, AEGIS ships are awesome! But so are amphibs! So are LCS! So are PCs and MCMs! Great Sailors come from and go to all of them. Ships are merely large pieces of metal and have no bearing on the caliber of people inside or the climate of the command. Don’t be fooled into making snap judgements about people because of their background.
What is the book you’ve given most as a gift and why?
I don’t give out the same book to anyone. I LOVE to read, and if I am giving you a book, I am giving it to you because I think that you will get something out of the book specific to you. I know there are a lot of great non- fiction books out there to improve leadership and awareness of current threats that many of the respondents to this interview cover. I would like to take a moment to be different, and rather than talking about the latest best seller on how to empower your team to success—I’m going to put in a plug to read some fiction. Fiction can transport you and open your mind. Fiction improves your emotional intelligence by having you imagine scenarios from another person’s perspective. It actually helps people to gain empathy and improve interpersonal relationships. “Shadow of the Wind,” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is a must read for any and all book lovers. It is a mystery/gothic novel I go back to frequently because it is just that addicting.
How do you set priorities and manage your time?
My time is precious to me. When it comes to work, managing my time helps keep me sane and focused on the things that matter. I try to funnel the day down by asking some questions:
What is my current role and what are the things that ONLY I can do?
Of those items that only I can do, what HAS to be done before the end of today?
Delegate everything that can be delegated as early as possible. Ensure people have clear tasking, adequate resources, and sufficient authority to be set up for success.
Is there time left in the day? Start working on those less urgent items
Say thank you to all the people who helped during the day
I think if you end the day with thanking people, you start the next day with folks more willing to get things done. (Works well with non-work relationships as well!)
What is your most effective daily habit?
Laughing. I laugh every day. I find ways to insert joy into my life. I do not wait for others to make me happy or make life fun. You’d be surprised how much more efficient you can be at work when you are not miserable with your life.
How do you define success?
Professionally, the triumph and development of my Sailors drives success Are they making rank? Are they getting higher education completed? Do they create efficiencies and innovative solutions to problems? I hope that whenever I complete a tour people at the command can do everything without me. I want to empower people so that they grow and do amazing things whether or not I am around. And! If people are joyful with the skill sets that they have acquired—that is the cherry on the top of the cake. I’d love to leave a wake of happy, high functioning teams that continually teach, train, and improve everyone with whom they interact. That’s the goal!