Updated: May 16, 2022
This is a story about how I became an admiral's aide and started to observe leadership characteristics and behaviors.
This is a blog about leadership from the perspective of a lawyer and a naval aviator.
The day after I graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1985, my father commissioned me into the Navy on a beautiful spring day on campus at the Old Well. At that time, he was then also a Navy Captain. I went off to flight school and became a Naval Flight Officer.
In early 1990 when I finished my initial "sea tour" of duty in my first P-3 aviation squadron in Jacksonville, Florida, it was time for me to select a follow-on "shore duty" position as a young aspiring junior Naval officer. I was considering a tour as a flight officer instructor, but Lieutenant Commander Henry "Hank" Molinengo, a senior officer mentor who was a Navy JAG lawyer, approached me about applying for what many considered a more prestigious and challenging job for a high performing junior officer.
A Flag Aide
Today, the official US Navy website states: "Ever wondered what an Admiral does for a living? Want to learn an organization from the TOP DOWN? Flag aide jobs are a fantastic way to gain experience and insight on how the Navy operates. As an Aide, you get to handle many of the Admiral’s personal and administrative matters. It is challenging but highly rewarding duty for Junior Officers with strong demonstrated performance...."
Not much has changed about the recruiting pitch for a Flag Aide or Admiral's aide position in over 30 years.
I decided to apply to be the flag aide for the top east coast admiral in my naval aviation community. At that time, one dedicated civil servant lady in the Pentagon had been screening and matchmaking all of the Navy's aides for admirals over 15 years. The admirals would specify what they were looking for in a young aide, and Ms. Peg would play matchmaker. She was very good at it.
I put together a screening package of all my military evaluations and awards, a few recommendation letters, and my commanding officer's endorsement. I also completed a pretty intensive interview with the prospective boss, Admiral Claron E. Johnson. Within a few weeks, Ms. Peg notified me that the Admiral selected me to be his aide, a job otherwise called a “Flag Lieutenant.” I would be getting orders soon to leave sunny, humid Jacksonville, which had been my home for three years, for the much cooler duty station in Brunswick, Maine.
An assignment as an Admiral’s aide is one of the most demanding “shore duty” positions for a junior naval officer. The pace, intensity, pressure, and responsibility are intense as the bar for success is flawless execution, every day. The tradeoff for all the hard work is the insight, exposure, and knowledge you learn at a very early stage in your career, not to mention the network you create.
The aide is affectionately known in the Navy as "The Loop" because of the aiguillette that the aide wears as part of the uniform. An aiguillette is a gold and blue braided loop worn on the shoulder of commissioned officers that is a visible sign to all that the aide works for a "flag officer" or Admiral. In the Navy, a braid with two loops is worn by aides for one and two-star rear admirals. Loops with three braids signify that the aide works for a three-star or vice admiral. Navy aides for the Chief of Naval Operations and the President, as the Commander in Chief, have many more braids. I think you get the picture. The more loops you wear, the more stars you represent.
As I mentioned, I was the aide for two Admirals while in that position. The first in the series of my posts entitled "The Admiral is the Boss" will tell you exactly what I saw and learned when I was the Loop, and the Admiral was the boss!
I think you will be surprised as to what that job entailed. I know I was.