Posting my answers here to keep the conversation flowing...
- What was your experience as an XO/OIC (positive, negative, neutral, crazy)?
Positive! This has been a fantastic job! First and foremost the XO is second in command. You have an incredible amount of influence over the command and its future. You are the principle adviser to the CO and a partner to the CMC. As a triad, the success of the command is in your hands. Now add Wardroom President, Training Officer, command liaison, administration, discipline, budgeting, mentor, adviser....lots to do as the XO. I can imagine no better way to prepare for command than to serve as an XO.
- Did your experience line up with expectations? What surprised you?
So far, yes. There have been a few surprises, as well as times when you must address a problem/issue that you have never experienced before. Building a support network (mentors and fellow XOs) will help with those. I also expected to arrive at a somewhat disjointed command. We are a NIOC primarily supporting the site, so our personnel are spread to all corners of the building and stand watch 24/7. Building/maintaining Navy camaraderie and esprit de corps has been a challenge, and always will be.
- What was the most challenging aspect of the job?
Dealing with special situations for the first time: IG complaints, suicide attempts, DUI, sexual assault, special medical situations, positive results on a urinalysis, ADSEP procedures, etc. None of this stuff is especially difficult, but navigating it the first time can be tough. You have to dig into the publications, leverage experience in the triad, wardroom, and CPO mess, and reach out to mentors or fellow XOs, etc. No one shows up to the job 100% prepared. Successfully working your way through these situations the first time will be critical to addressing them the second time.
Demand solutions. There is an old cartoon about monkeys that my XO on NASSAU had outside his office. I haven't been able to find it, but it basically describes the concept of taking other peoples monkeys (problems) as your own. Command members will come to your office daily with their problems. You need to demand that they show up with solutions. It won't be easy at first, but it has to be done. When they ask you what to do, ask them what they think they should do. Ask them for a solution. You can't/shouldn't solve everyone's problems. You can/should help guide them to solving their own.
Keep the pulse. You need to communicate and understand command issues. Nothing should be a surprise to you, although surprises will happen. Build a close relationship with the CMC and your Department Heads. Do the same with your CO. Get out and talk to the crew on a regular basis. When you do zone inspections, use those opportunities to interact with the crew. Randomly show up on the watch floor, walk around, and see what your sailors are up to. Maintain an open door policy. Get to know the crew.
Don't settle. Simple. If your Sailors don't have the material, training, or resources to accomplish the job you need to fix that. If working conditions, schedules, or living conditions are not to par you need to fix that. If processes, like sponsorship, are not supporting the new command member you need to fix that. At the end of your tour you should be able to sit down and create a list of issues you addressed and how you solved them. Leave the command as a better place than when you arrived.
- How did you prepare?
The XO course is fantastic, as is the legal course. Both are standard items in a pipeline to XO/OIC. Neither will fully prepare you to be an XO/OIC. The best way to prepare is to serve as a Division Officer, Legal Officer, and Department Head. Be and AREC on a selection board. Serve as a member of an ADSEP board. Participate in a Captain's Mast. Do a PIO. Attend PB4T. Serve as the AO for a change-of-command. Run a major command program. All of these experiences will build the baseline for you to serve as an XO.
I was able to make a brief visit to the command prior to turnover. I also maintained a steady line of communications with the current XO prior to reporting. He send me a binder of command instructions and khaki bios, which was a huge help. Turnover was completed in 5 days and he was out the door. Not sure what he is up to these days
- Knowing what you know now, would you prepare differently? Is there anything else you'd do differently?
This is a tough one. I don't want to say no and insinuate that I did everything perfectly! You can always prepare more, right? In general terms, though, I felt ready to assume the duties and have enjoyed every day of it. I can also think of no better way to prepare for command than to serve as an XO.