LCDR Anthony LaVopa
Lieutenant Commander LaVopa, a native of Portland, ME, graduated from the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets in 2008 and from Virginia Tech in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering, with a Minor in Leadership and commissioned through the Naval ROTC program. He graduated from Ohio University in 2015 with a Masters of Business Administration with a concentration in Finance.
At sea, he served as Electrical Officer and Asst. Chief Engineer aboard USS PORTER (DDG 78) before fleeting up as Navigator, deploying twice throughout the 5th Fleet AOR; then as the Plankowner Weapons and Combat Systems Officer onboard USS ZUMWALT (DDG 1000), commissioned a first in class ship and began the combat systems activation. Subsequently, served as the Combat Systems Officer aboard USS LEYTE GULF (CG 55) deploying to the 5th and 6th Fleet AORs. During his time aboard LTG, he also served as the lead Integrated Air and Missile Defense liaison to Commander Carrier Strike Group Twelve.
Ashore, he was a Plankowner instructor at NROTC Unit Rutgers. During his time there, he worked to also bring the NROTC Program back to Princeton University as a cross town affiliated school.
Lieutenant Commander LaVopa’s personal awards include the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (three awards), the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (three awards), and various unit and service awards.
Lieutenant Commander LaVopa assumed command of USS HURRICANE in June 2020.
How has failure or apparent failure set you up for later success?
Failure is an important stepping stone to development of an individual or a team. Without failure (of some form) it’s hard to make improvements. I think we are seeing this as a Surface Navy Community. Instituting and holding ourselves accountable with PBED is one way to improve on that. We as a community have gotten away from the debriefs where people say “overall good, nothing major” to actually having a detailed conversation about how they as a person impacted the performance of the overall team. That’s huge.
For me, failure is always a humbling reminder about how much I still have to learn. I think failing is a good constant reminder that there is always a higher standard or more we can read/learn/study but step one is allowing you and your team to fail when it’s right. In Command, I have taken a lot of leadership lessons from my first DH tour on ZUMWALT and how differently we trained. That made a large impact on me. I learned that creativity, challenging the norm and discussing and training to true tactical/mission readiness were something that I didn’t truly understand. I feel fortunate to have walked away from that tour with a different view on readiness (material/tactical/training) and how failure in those areas impacts overall mission success-both personnel and equipment. The CO/XO leadership in my time during that tour taught me how to identify failure at different levels and train or correct it.
Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?
There are a few quotes:
- “Fire Effectively First.” Captain Wayne Hughes, Fleet Tactics
This quote summarizes everything I think about from a command and tactician perspective. It drives my every day thoughts and guides my direction. There are a lot of things (think man/train/equip) that need to be ready prior to executing this direction from Captain Hughes so if something doesn’t fall into one of those categories and aides in that final capability, it makes me as the CO question if it’s value-added. Material Readiness + Effective Training = Combat Capability is on my command philosophy. It’s simple; my Sailors understand it and they hold each other and me to it. We prioritize the right things and make time for the things that will impact our combat capability. (The combat capability vs combat readiness is a different subject but I credit RDML Joe Cahill with teaching this to me).
- “He who has command of the sea has command of everything.” Themistocles
This one is mostly self-explanatory. The Greeks figured this out a long time ago and when you look back over history its clear. The Battle of the Nile, Trafalgar, Battle of the Virginia Capes, Leyte Gulf, Philippine Sea-each of these were significantly impact by Naval Warfare and at the end of those wars in which the battles were fought, the global landscape changed dramatically for naval power. As we look to the future, the Navy plays a significant roll in the world-not just in the protection of commerce but in the eventual next major conflict.
- “For all those that exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 14:11
There is a delicate balance of being proud of self-accomplishment while remaining humble vice “tooting your own horn.” It’s important to surround yourself with the right people that can let you know when you are getting more like the latter. In command, I never want the focus to be on me. When my crew does outstanding things, I want them to be recognized. When they fall short, I want to be the one to take the fall and then mentor them on how to make things better.
- “Home is wherever we are with you.” My wife
I’m not sure who actually said that but it is something my wife often says/writes to me. Family is important to me and can be very tough to balance against the demands of this lifestyle. When all the fanfare is over for this profession, my family will be there. They have always and continue to endlessly support me so I can’t pass over that lightly. Spending time with them has been one of things to keep me grounded and I often say my wife is my best XO because she will always tell me what she really thinks about something. She’s also the first one to tell me when I am pushing myself too hard.
What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning? Do you have a morning routine?
I do have a morning routine; I’m very much a creature of habit. In port, the first thing I do in the morning is kiss my wife and peak in on my son before I get up and get the day going. Family is extremely important to me and this life is sometimes not good at affording time together so I take advantage of it as much as I can. After that, I grab all the things I need for the day, pre-staged from the night before, and I head out the door to work. I like to go in early, avoid traffic and just have time to think in silence on my way in. When I get to the ship, I sit on the mess decks with a cup of coffee and chat with my Sailors. It’s become an informal CO Coffee Chat which I really enjoy. We talk about anything and everything and it’s always the highlight of my day. Once that is done, I’ll get to the business at hand: read emails/message traffic, prioritize things for the day, etc.
Underway, I wake up, grab coffee and go to the bridge and just sit in my chair. It gives me a chance to enjoy a few quiet moments before throwing my brain into overdrive and also allows me to just peak at what the surface picture and weather look like. After that, I’ll head back to my cabin, read message traffic, answer emails from the boss and then get the day going.
What career advice would you give a smart and driven young SWO? What advice should they ignore?
Think outside the box and do what you enjoy in your career. Don’t take job just because it is hard or because someone you know had that job. Each job out there isn’t for everyone. Do jobs that you enjoy, that’s interesting to you and that you’re good at (advice I received from a 3-star SWO) and I whole heartedly agree.
Be the best at whatever it is you are doing. Be the best Division Officer, Shiphandler, tactician, DH, etc. Be a master of your craft. That’s what I push my crew to. Be the best in your field. There is always more to learn but as long as the individual has something to reach for, he/she will continue to learn and grow.
Find good mentors at all levels. Some of the best advice I’ve received has been from my DLCPO. When you are looking for your next job, consult your mentors. I consider myself very fortunate to have worked for some incredibly talented people and there isn’t a week that goes by I don’t trade an email or text message with almost all of them-work related or not.
What is the book you’ve given most as a gift and why?
I haven’t given many books. If I give someone a gift, I try to make it personal. I’ve offered many different titles and recommendations for reading to many people. I think it’s good to have a healthy balance of things to read. As a DH and in command particularly, we are working our way through the 3rd Edition of Fleet Tactics, the Twilight War and At Close Quarters. Aside from Fleet Tactics, the other two are very relevant to PC/small crew life.
How do you set priorities and manage your time?
Setting priorities goes back to my comment earlier about Material Readiness + Effective Training = Combat Capability. Is what I am being asked to do fit in one of those three bins? If it does, which one and how does it impact things that I or the crew are already doing? Is this new task a higher priority? If it doesn’t fit into one of those bins, how many people do I need to pull away from something more important to accomplish it? Those are all things that go through my mind as the endless list of taskers coming into my inbox. Sometimes I push back and sometimes I don’t; that’s a case by case basis. Sometimes I will ask the CDRE to reaffirm priorities and see if the tasking from the Staff is in line with that-I’ve found on a few occasions this has given some great insight into what the boss is thinking vice what is making it to the ships.
One of the great things about being in command is influencing the number of meetings we have. I am always amazed when I look back over my career how many meetings I have sat through just because we had to have a meeting. During my first DH ride on ZUMWALT, our XO was very particular about scheduling meetings. If you were going to schedule a meeting it had to have an agenda, set of outputs/outcomes and had to be something that couldn’t be coordinated without a formal meeting. Once that policy went into effect, suddenly the number of meetings went down and our efficiency went up. I brought that to command. We have a meeting for the things required (PB4M, PB4T, Nav Council, etc) but aside from that no meetings. That frees up time for Sailors during the work day for what they need to do. My experience has been leaving Sailors time to do their job is the most valuable use of time. When that happens, it allows me as the CO to manage my time and it drive efficiency and effectiveness up. Sailors by in large don’t need to be micromanaged. They need the time and resources to do their job. If they have those things, I feel like I am managing my time correctly.
What is your most effective daily habit?
I have 2: one is personal and one is professional.
Professionally, I get up early and have some time to myself and get to the ship early. This allows me time to organize the day and get the wheels turning before the demands of the day start. Conversely, before I leave, I close the door to my cabin and spend 15-20 minutes thinking about the next day and putting my thoughts together.
Personally, I go home from work and spend time with my son and then I do his nighttime routine. It’s my favorite part of the day and allows me some good Dad Time. It’s an opportunity to read, roughhouse, pray and then get to bed.
How do you define success?
There’s a lot of ways to define it but overall I’d say it’s asking yourself, “have you moved the ball down the field today?” In other words, did you know something at the end of the day you didn’t know before? Has your crew gained some type of skill or gained knowledge or proficiency in something? Can you identify how you failed at something and what you learned from it? To me, each of those things a component of success.