CDR Andy Koy
Commander Koy hails from Bellville, Texas. He is a 2001 graduate of the United States Naval Academy, earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science. He is also a 2002 graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, earning a master's in information systems and operations.
At sea, he has served as Auxiliaries Officer and First Lieutenant aboard USS RUSSELL (DDG 59); Navigator and Weapons Officer aboard USS ANZIO (CG 68); and Operations Officer aboard USS HALSEY (DDG 97) and USS MOBILE BAY (CG 53).
Ashore, he served at the U.S. Naval Academy as a Seamanship and Navigation Instructor, Flag Secretary for the Superintendent, and Executive Secretary for the U.S. Naval Academy Board of Visitors. He also served as Deputy Executive Assistant and Executive Assistant to Commander, Naval Surface Forces, and as Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense Officer at U.S. Pacific Command.
Commander Koy most recently served as the Executive Officer and Commanding Officer of USS STERETT (DDG 104), completing a deployment to the Middle East, Mediterranean, Africa, and Western Pacific. He is currently the Weapons Branch Head for Surface Warfare (OPNAV N96C1).
His awards include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Navy Meritorious Service Medals, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, and various other campaign and unit awards.
Over the course of your career, how have you failed? What did you learn?
I have failed most frequently by not giving some people the benefit of the doubt. Throughout my time in learning new skills, entering new roles of responsibility and authority, I have learned that it has required me to trust in others, and rely on their contributions. I have learned that I must value and spend time and energy in development, qualification, and empowerment of my people. That is a tall order; I have learned that I need to let my people try new things, have experiences, and yes, fail, so that they can learn, and the organization can get better. If I buy down their risk by preventing them from learning something, maybe because I want a success “first time around”, I am robbing them of that valuable experience. I have found it personally challenging to let someone run with a task, knowing that I could maybe do it faster, or in my own perception, better. I battle the “I’ll just do it and knock it out” mentality, failing to teach, coach, or train my people along the way. This is an enduring challenge and one I can’t let my guard down on, because I battle my perfectionistic tendencies with my belief in empowering others.
What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning? Do you have a morning routine?
I take my dogs for a walk and then have a cup of coffee. As an animal lover, spending some time outside with those mongrels, doing what they love to do, walking the neighborhood, seeing the city wake up, gets me going in the morning. I wouldn’t characterize myself as a coffee addict, but whether at home, and definitely at sea, coffee and sunrises go “cup in hand.” Having a set routine in the morning affords you some quick accomplishments to start the day, and injects some positivity before the day’s main events take shape.
What career advice would you give a driven young SWO? What advice should they ignore?
My advice for the younger SWOs out there: I caution you on the balance of time between the accomplishment of your Professional (Division Officer), Career (SWO qualifications), and Personal (who you are) goals. There must be a healthy balance of time and energy afforded to all of those. I often see the drive and passion from newly reported Ensigns, err on the side of never letting their Sailors’ needs suffer, and they do not appropriately take care of their personal lives, often inducing unnecessary interruptions to their own career progression. I do acknowledge that certain times in a ship’s deployment cycle will cause priorities to shift, but you cannot neglect any one of those three areas of your life. It has taken me my whole career to cultivate self-awareness to practice and preach that self-care is cathartic, empowering, strengthening, and rejuvenating. I’m not saying I have it nailed, but it something that I actively practice to ensure I keep cultivating a wholesome life.
I want to caution you to reject the unhealthy urgency to obtain qualifications quickly. Quite succinctly, I value competency over expedience. When I evaluate an officer’s aptitude and potential, the time in which they qualified is interesting to note, but it is experience, achievement, and performance that matters. When you find yourself in a group discussing qualifications or career milestone achievements, evaluate whether those in your ‘tribe’ are discussing competency in those qualifications and experience. Are those that are mentoring you telling you how good you are at your job? Or are they telling you what’s the next thing you need to achieve? Receiving advice on timeline to achieve and obtain goals is important, but you will be a “paper tiger” if you are not competent. Don’t be a “paper tiger!”
What book would you recommended every SWO read?
Being a former USS STERETT CO, I must insist on Tin Can Sailor—C. Raymond Calhoun. Great perspective into the human side of destroyer life at sea. Along those lines, The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors – James Hornfisher provides a “SWOtivating” perspective of service and action. In the area of introspection and personal development, I’d recommend the following: Daring Greatly – Brené Brown, How to be an Antiracist -- Ibram X. Kendi, and Start with Why – Simon Sinek.
How do you set priorities and manage your time?
I set my professional priorities based on what my command’s mission is, and to be completely honest, my specified and implied tasks (showing my Navy roots here). It is helpful for me to organize what I need to accomplish if I can bin them into one of those categories. More broadly, I organize my effort and energy based off what my command needs, what my immediate chain of command requires, and those decisions that are bound by deadlines. I still struggle to work on things that I’m required to, that I don’t truly believe in, and balance that with those things that I am passionate about, which may not be the pressing issue of the day. Administratively, I have some rules about when to clear the schedule, work later, get up earlier; those involve your Sailors’ career (especially pay issues), Fitness Reports, Evaluations, and awards. I think many career professionals endeavor to never be forced to cram to make a deadline, and as I grow more senior in this service, I put extra emphasis in ensuring that people are taken care of, fueling the enablers for them to do their jobs, and helping remove barriers or appropriately deal with the stress of what is demanded.
What is your most effective daily habit?
I’m not sure why this question challenged me the most as I reflected to answer. My most effective daily habit is to look in the mirror. Of course, it is to see how I present, am groomed, or dressed. But I do look into my eyes to check in with myself. Am I happy? Ashamed? Recovering? Energized? Proud? Depressed? Excited? I “take a fix” at where I am emotionally, physically, and mentally, in that time and place, to see what I need to do for me. I think I am effective in this daily practice because I do “hear” what I see; my challenge is to listen and take action on what I can do to be the best I can be.
If you could imitate one SWO, who would it be and why?
VADM Tom Copeman. I had the honor of serving on his personal staff while he was Naval Surface Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet. It was inspiring, assuring, and motivating to watch the integrity he had when faced with decisions of great consequence. He showed little hesitation when communicating with senior officials about the truth behind some of the readiness and personnel issues our Surface Navy faced. He did not gloss over, mince words, or “soften” realities so as to cushion unpleasant news for the emotional benefit of those senior to him. He adopted a “if it is a spade, call it a spade” type of rapport. He also held people accountable. On its face, that seems like a simple statement and something we expect from all of our leaders. I can attest that it is extremely tough to do, and even Flag Officers get it wrong sometimes. From what I witnessed from his decision making process, the professionalism in which he conducted his duties, I endeavor to achieve that. He was not an officer that just received information for the sake of it or due to his position; he gave guidance and direction, feedback for correction, or praise/critiques for those who worked for him. And though I’m not witty enough to have his quips, I do hope that I lead with the integrity, passion, and care that he did.
What do you see as the biggest problem facing us right now? What can a young SWO do to help solve that problem?
Broadly to Surface Warfare, I’d say readiness and wholeness issues. But for the sake of this article, I believe that we need to tackle the personal hesitation and doubt we have in the tactical proficiency and watchstanding of our Officer corps. I have observed a broad culture of “must ask ____ first” before taking action or making a decision. Procedures and specified instructions requiring permissions aside, I am talking about driving ships, tactical manipulation of sensors, and communicating. We must acknowledge a majority of our Officers, Chiefs, and Sailors have a history of peacetime operations. If combat is on the horizon, we need to change that culture to ensure our watchstanders and tactical leaders onboard are empowered. Centralized decision making authority and a checklist driven procedural system for action, erodes confidence in autonomous action which will prove critical in high stress situations. We can help change this culture by empowering our key watchstanders to take action and then report. Commanding Officers that hover over every evolution to manage permissions, need to evaluate the return on investment and culture that is being fostered. Young SWOs can help risk-adverse COs and XOs by inspiring confidence in watchstander actions, professionalism, and execution. Even a conversation in the cabin after an evolution or during a debrief, is a great time to assuage those who wring hands with offering how the watch team could be more empowered next time.
What is the kindest thing someone has done for you?
Forgiven me. I wish I could say that I have never wronged anyone in my life…but that is simply not true. And I hope that I will never wrong anyone I love, in the future, but I may cause pain or disappointment for those in whose love I live. I have had to ask for forgiveness, and to show humility. I’ve had to account for things I am not proud of, and work to see if bonds of forgiveness and love can be mended. To have someone’s forgiveness, is the kindest thing that has happened to me, because it is truly something that is hard to repay. You are in someone’s graces, and mercy, and the humbling process of self-reflection that occurs when you recognize this, is truly special.
How do you define success?
I view success as the achieving of goals. These obviously range from short term and long term goals, but I measure my effectiveness and success on if I did what I said I was going to do. Sometimes it takes the discernment to understand that the task completion may be one measure of success, but how you achieve it is another measure of success. If you complete a tour without being fired, that may be a successful tour in your eyes. But if you pissed everyone off, decreased morale, or sunk readiness and retention along the way, I would say you successfully completed an unsuccessful tour!