Rear Adm. Eric Ver Hage, commander of both the Naval Surface and Undersea Warfare Centers, visited NUWC Division Newport on April 15 and 16, the first stop on his tour of all 10 warfare center divisions after his installment to his new position on April 5. He addressed the workforce during an all-hands briefing held on April 16. (Photo by David Stoehr, McLaughlin Research Corp./Released)
Rear Adm. Eric Ver Hage Ver Hage, commander of both the Naval Surface and Undersea Warfare Centers, held an all-hands briefing for Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Newport on April 16, as the first stop on his tour of all 10 warfare centers after his installment to his new position on April 5. He is the first single flag officer to command both undersea warfare centers and all 10 warfare center divisions. (Photo by David Stoehr, McLaughlin Research Corp./Released)
NEWPORT, R.I. —
As commander of both the Naval Surface and Undersea Warfare Centers (NSWC and NUWC), Rear Adm. Eric Ver Hage intends to lead with a blend of confidence and humility.
“In the best people I’ve worked for there’s usually an awesome blend of the two,” Ver Hage told a capacity crowd at NUWC Division Newport on April 16. “You have to be confident enough to make a decision and be able to maybe change your mind if you got it wrong. That’s where humility comes in. Humility is asking for help if you need it.”
Ver Hage visited NUWC Newport on April 15 and 16, the first stop on his tour of all 10 warfare centers divisions after his installment to his new position on April 5. He is the first single flag officer to command both warfare centers simultaneously. Ver Hage takes over NUWC from Rear Adm. Scott Pappano, who has been appointed to lead the Program Executive Office (PEO) for the Columbia submarine program, and NSWC from Rear Adm. Tom Anderson, who has become the Naval Sea Systems Command’s (NAVSEA) deputy commander for surface warfare (NAVSEA 21).
“I've enjoyed meeting many of you during my brief tenure as your commander and look forward to working with even more of you in my new position,” Pappano said in his departing message. “Now more than ever, we will rely on NUWC's expertise in the undersea domain to help expand our Navy's advantage. Thank you for your outstanding contributions to the fleet.”
Ver Hage’s appointment will provide continuity not only between warfare centers, but at NUWC as well as he said he expects to be in his position for three years. Pappano served as NUWC commander for a little less than four months after relieving Rear Adm. Moises DelToro III in December 2018.
“This opportunity to learn, serve and lead as commander, NAVSEA warfare centers, is an opportunity of a lifetime,” Ver Hage said. “This is a dream job. Vice Adm. Thomas Moore [NAVSEA commander] is planning on having me here for three years so that’s what I’m planning.”
In addition to touring NUWC Newport, Ver Hage also addressed the workforce in his all hands talk that outlined his background, aspirations, what he values, and how he conducts business. Ver Hage told the workforce that he intends to build on past success, make adjustments where necessary, and inject a fresh perspective on this enterprise.
“My aspirations are that we continue our 150 years of excellence here at Newport and continue to make a difference with the programs and warfighters that we support,” Ver Hage said. “I hope that you love coming to work every day. I don’t want you to love every second of it. I think that would be unhealthy, but one of my goals is that you realize you’re making a difference.”
As far as how he conducts business, Ver Hage said he is wired in a way to say “yes, and” and not “no, but” — something he learned from retired Adm. James R. Hogg.
“It’s an improvisational technique,” Ver Hage said. “When you’re in a discussion with a peer, and it’s starting to get a little intense, say “yes, and.” It’s a subtle style difference but it can make an impact.”
Ver Hage also noted that he plans to act in the best interest of the warfare centers and the Navy, yet will not dwell on things he cannot control.
He then discussed the expectations that he and Naval Surface and Undersea Warfare Centers Executive Director Don McCormack, SES, have for the warfare centers moving forward, which included ensuring the centers are one team among the warfare centers and NAVSEA, good stewards of the taxpayer dollar and team members take ownership.
“I want to put two finer points on ownership,” Ver Hage said. “Include contractors in the mix, because we are one team, and we have made a decision to outsource to industry.
“Also, take ownership of information. What knowledge do you have that if you shared it with someone else it would make their job easier? We focus on the people, the mission, the spaces and also information sharing, and that last one can get neglected when we get busier.”
Ver Hage also noted that employees must lead with the long view in mind and recognized NUWC Newport’s Topside Team as an example of this. The Topside Team, which is responsible for the development of a one-of-a-kind multi-vehicle planning, data fusion and piloting software program for unmanned systems, received the Excellence in Technical Innovation Award at NUWC Newport’s Annual Awards for 2018.
“Topside is a great example of leadership, as a team of scientists and engineers on this site made something great happen,” Ver Hage said. “Lead and do the right thing for the Navy. That’s what you’re all about, and I saw some great examples of it at Division Newport.”
We also must act with a sense of urgency, yet utilize the right blend of speed, technical rigor and compliance, Ver Hage said. He added that we must treat each other well and sited his humble beginnings as a seaman recruit with an E-1 pay grade when he first began in the Navy.
“If you look at my Social Security, my salary was shockingly low. I remember what it was like to work at McDonald’s at night and take college classes at the same time,” Ver Hage said. “I’m sensitive to power dynamics and intend to treat you with nothing but courtesy, dignity, and respect.”
Among his short-term goals, Ver Hage listed getting to know the workforce, establishing and sustaining relationships, and making a 90-day assessment tour all of the warfare centers.
“You could be working anywhere and you’re working here,” Ver Hage said. “Thank you for that.”
Ver Hage closed his all-hands briefing by fielding — and eliciting, in some instances — questions from the audience. These topics included streamlining the onboarding process, the motivation from moving from two flag officers to one and applying rotational aspects to the civilian force, but also ranged to more general concepts like what keeps him up at night or his favorite ship on which he has served.
The final two questions dealt with protecting our systems while also remaining productive.
“There’s a tension between cybersecurity and functionality,” Ver Hage said. “With the right leadership, we can figure it out. If we apply that mindset to cyber, the same way we focus on killing submarines, we’ll get the job done.
“We treat cyber differently than other warfare capabilities, and I don’t know why that is. Take the time, learn it, and see if we can make it better. It’s about leadership, engineering, and common sense. We have to approach cyber the same way we approach our other missions.”
NUWC Division Newport, part of the Naval Sea System Command, is one of two divisions of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. NUWC Division Newport’s mission is to provide research, development, test and evaluation, engineering and fleet support for submarines, autonomous underwater systems, undersea offensive and defensive weapons systems, and countermeasures. NUWC’s other division is located in Keyport, Washington.