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Submarine Commanding Officer reflects on leadership lessons learned from his crew

By Cmdr. Gary Montalvo, former commanding officer of USS North Carolina and 2016 Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale Leadership Award recipient | Jan. 25, 2017

Serving alongside the Tarheels of the USS North Carolina (SSN 777) has been an honor and truly a dream come true. From my two executive officers, Cmdr. Doug Sattler and Lt. Cmdr. Scott Bresnahan, to my Chiefs of the Boat, Command Master Chief JR O'Donnell and Command Senior Chief Chuck Cardell, all the way to the newest seaman onboard, this crew has done nothing but fuel my energy for this job.

My Tarheels taught me, they inspired me, and they listened to me. Most importantly, they fought me. At times they emotionally and forcefully pushed for what they thought was a better solution and a better answer to the problems we faced. This attitude improved the way we faced and overcame challenges. It was important that they did this in order to ensure that the choices we made were the best choices for the entire team, not just a few.

They were my council of rivals. My chiefs, officers and senior petty officers were keenly aware that our strength was in the synergy of our efforts and not just in my personal capability.

I will never forget the night our drain pipe started leaking. Having a pipe leak in the middle of the ocean with no repair facility nearby is sobering to say the least.

On most ships this would immediately mean returning to port. Waking up in the middle of the night to this news for most captains is terribly disappointing. I was comforted knowing that my Tarheels had a way…the Tarheel way. They found solutions where they didn't exist.

This night was unforgettable not because of the leak, but because of the unity across the rates that sprung from the Tarheel crew. Multiple different specialties, torpedomen, mechanics, auxillarymen along with several chiefs from other specialties without an order from me, colluded to develop a solution which kept us in the mission.

I would equate their drive, effort and perseverance in succeeding despite the bad situation to being down three games in a seven game series and coming back to win it all like the 2004 Redsox.

My Tarheels challenged me on a daily basis, putting me to the test. I will forever be indebted to them for aggressively correcting me each and every time I fell short and always understanding that disagreement did not mean disrespect.

Their backup, pushback and emotion energized me and kept the Tarheel boat pointed straight. Whether it was on mission, at the pier in heavy maintenance or on the flag football field, they showed me the definition of teamwork.

It will forever be welded in my memory those Tarheels who stood their watches professionally despite horrible news from home. News of Sailor’s lost parents, grandparents and miscarriages came in but they were unable to share their grief with their families. Yet, these Tarheels stood the watch for all of us despite the weight they carried. I will be forever in awe of their patriotism.

I have been blessed with many mentors in life, but my Tarheels as a collective were my best mentor yet. I was truly blessed with the true joy of having courtside seats to their success. They made me a better CO and in the end a better person.