The Captain’s Hero

A few weeks ago, Commander Dan Dolan of the Naval War College had the opportunity to interview the commanding officer of the Navy’s newest combatant ship, USS Zumwalt.  The lead vessel in a class of three next-generation destroyers, the Zumwalt isn’t just the most innovative ship in the U.S. Navy surface fleet.  She is—quite literally—the most technologically advanced warship ever constructed.

CDR James Kirk (left) and CDR Dan Dolan (right)

CDR James Kirk (left) and CDR Dan Dolan (right)

Published on the U.S. Naval Institute’s website, the interview transcript offers a rare glimpse into the mind of Commander James Kirk, who is preparing to assume command of warfighting capabilities which have never before been operationally deployed.

Prior to the interview, Commander Dolan was kind enough to invite me to submit a few questions of my own.  As a student of naval warfare, I’m intensely curious about what impacts the Zumwalt class will have on the future of combat at sea, so several of my questions were centered on the integration of new technologies into current tactical doctrine.  Some of my questions made it into the final version of the interview, but my favorite one didn’t end up making the editor’s cut.

I think it was a good question, and I believe that Commander Kirk’s response was worthy of publication.  I obviously can’t influence what the Naval Institute chooses to publish, so I asked Commander Dolan’s permission to reprint it here.

My question was this…

Who was the most heroic person you ever served with?”

Here is Commander Kirk’s response…

I have served with a lot of folks that have done a lot of great things for our Navy.  I look at it in the context of great leaders that I have served under, great peers that I worked alongside of and great sailors that I have worked with on the deck plates.  When I reflect I can look up and see the great sea Captains that I have served with… Admirals Kemp and Hebner, both now retired, and Captains Villotti, Woodridge, Hoffman, Campbell and Wagner, each one of these officers were great leaders.

Then you look to your left and right and you see the Officers whom you served with, and you really felt like you were part of a band of brothers and sisters that could accomplish what needed to be done because you knew that together you could overcome any obstacle.

Then you look to those you worked alongside on the deck plates.  I still think of GSE2 Frasier, when I watched the work he did, I was amazed at this young sailor who could trouble shoot, fix, and operate the plant under very difficult circumstances at times.  Every day you are either getting better, or you are getting worse.  You never stay the same, and it is only human effort that makes you continue to get better as a ship, or as a person.  It is the folks that hook themselves up to the sled and pull, and keep pulling no matter what the difficulties, that I consider heroic.

I was honestly expecting Commander Kirk to provide one or two names as examples of the heroism he has encountered in the fleet.  He certainly did that, but he went beyond, and gave us his personal litmus test for spotting heroes.  They’re the ones who hook themselves up to the sled, and keep pulling no matter what the difficulties.

To this old Chief Petty Officer, that sounds like a pretty damned good definition.  I hope Commander Kirk doesn’t mind too much that I’ll be using it myself in the future.  I wish him, his crew, and his fine new ship the very best of fortune.

May God bless USS Zumwalt, and all who sail in her.


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2 Responses to The Captain’s Hero

  1. DCR says:

    My answers might have mirrored his. The three greatest leaders I ever knew spanned the spectrum of experience and responsibility.
    My boss at NAVFAC, VADM Mike Loose, was a compassionate and energetic leader who saw to it that every person under his command, from the board room to the boiler room, was able to achieve his and her full potential.
    The most inspirational enlisted person I knew was a JO2 in my Reserve unit who was lost, militarily, personally and professionally. He did a hand-brake turn, got his life together, made Chief, and is a model to his peers, subordinates and superiors.
    Third, Bob Stempel. He was a chairman at GM years ago and knew the positive aspects of every situation, applying his considerable skills to make every person feel valued. Can you just imagine the number of random people he must meet? I saw him once at a Chicago Auto Show, and then not for three years. The next time I saw him, he reached over the throng to say Hello and shake my hand, saying, “Dan! Where have you been?”

    • Jeff says:

      I’d love to hear more about all three of the heroes you mentioned. I’m collecting stories about ordinary people who go above and beyond, and all three of these sound like excellent examples. If you’re interested in sharing more information about one or more, drop me a line via the email link on my contact page. (I try to avoid putting the email address directly in the comments, as that tends to attract SPAM-bots.)

      Thank you for sharing, Dan. And more importantly, thank you for serving.

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