In an inspiring “fireside chat” with a standing-room only crowd, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) Commanding Officer Capt. Godfrey “Gus” Weekes spoke candidly about “being ready when opportunity presents itself” during the command’s annual Black History Observance, Feb. 21.
Weekes – the first African-American to serve as NSWCDD’s commanding officer – took over the post in November 2016. Prior to taking on the NSWCDD role, he was a senior engineering duty officer detailer at Navy Personnel Command. As he climbed the ranks throughout his career, the St. Croix, Virgin Island-native admitted there was always pressure to tackle the next step on the success ladder.
“There was a weight on me. I was told that ‘people are watching you rise’,” he said during his talk at the observance held in the Naval Support Facility Dahlgren theater. “I was expected to take a swipe in the ring to show that it is possible.”
With laughter, he recalled that his first response to this realization was, “You’re not going to put all of that (pressure) on me.”
Time and time again, Weekes proved he was up for every challenge of his career, but not without trials. “My journey had its ups and downs,” said Weekes. “It has not been without sacrifice.”
Weekes captivated the audience’s attention, word by word, as he relayed lessons learned starting from his younger years to his current role. He spoke fondly of his father growing up in a house with no running water, beginning to cook at age six, and the relationships with many of the people who played integral roles during his life, especially his parents and grandparents. His work ethic stems from those early mornings working alongside his grandfather as a child.
“I was up at 6 a.m. when my grandfather got up,” said Weekes standing before a backdrop of photos from his early beginnings throughout his military career.
Weekes was actually born in Middlesex, Va., he pointed out, but moved to St. Croix in 1977 and was raised there. From the person walking with no shoes to the government worker, almost everyone was a "minority" in St. Croix, said Weekes.
Weekes came to cherish the Navy environment, he added, because of the “multi-cultural and multi-ethic” makeup. “I am not where I am because I had relationships with people who only looked like me,” Weekes emphasized.
But the Navy was not Weekes’ original plan.
As high school graduation approached, Weekes was looking forward to attending the DeVry Institute – but that changed after his mother presented the financial reality that it was not in the cards. Next stop: a recruiter.
“I needed a job,” explained Weekes. “That’s why I went into the Navy.”
At one point in his message, Weekes expressed, “There are so many things in my life that could be considered lucky or good. I’ll take lucky seven days a week. Luck is nothing more than being ready when opportunity presents itself.”
Weekes joined the Navy as a sonar technician for submarines in October 1988 under the Advanced Electronics Program. After completing Basic Electronics and Electricity, “A” School, and two “C” Schools, he was assigned to the USS Oklahoma City (SSN 723). From there he was selected for the Broadened Opportunity for Officer Selection and Training Program.
A pivotal point in Weekes’ career came during a mentorship session with a fellow EDO, Captain Mike Stanton, when the question was posed, “`What do you want? What do you want on your tombstone?’” Weekes reminisced. All of a sudden, Weekes recalled, the discussion “got dark.”
Given a choice between his tombstone reading “superb naval officer” or “husband, father, brother, community leader.…who also served in the U.S. Navy,” Weekes knew then how he was going to approach his career going forward – and he’s never looked back.
With pride, Weekes spoke of his family and his wife, whom he refers to as “my queen”, stressing that “they are always why I do it.”
Weekes described becoming captain as the “pinnacle” of his career, and likely the final step on his career rank ladder. “There is honor in retiring as a commanding officer,” he said.
After the change of command in April, Weekes will move on to the Littoral Combat Ship Model Program Office in Washington, D.C.
“I have no desire to leave here,” said Weekes. “This has been a wonderful tour.”
NSWCDD Black History Observance: Question and Answer Segment
Capt. Godfrey “Gus” Weekes took time during the talk to touch on diversity and what’s needed to have a diverse workforce. “You can’t allow yourselves to be pigeon-holed into common thinking in any area,” he said.
When an audience member asked his stance on improving diversity in the leadership ranks at Dahlgren, Weekes responded that initiatives are ongoing with human resources and EEO. Also, “We need to remove the mysticism about what it takes to get into a leadership position,” he added.
When approaching promotion opportunities, Weekes challenged workforce members to research the job requirements and determine up front if they are lacking any of the skill sets.
“Do you know what it takes? Are you the right fit? Talk to folks,” Weekes advocated.
“Diversity and inclusion are also the ability to allow yourself to be included,” said Weekes. “It’s not as simple as ‘I shouldn’t have to go out to lunch to be considered’, but you have to get to know people.”
Greatest Accomplishment at NSWCDD?
“I have been told I was the most engaged and open commanding officer,” said Weekes, adding that he aimed to be approachable and demonstrate “a true sense of caring.” Additionally, he believes he was successful in taking the organization in a “different direction,” Weekes continued. “If that momentum carries, that will be my proudest accomplishment.”
Advice to Young Professionals Seeking Advancement
“Make sure it’s known that it’s your desire,” stressed Weekes. Also, “Make yourself irreplaceable and make your relief irreplaceable.”
“I thought that I knew what Dahlgren did,” said Weekes in reflecting on his prior understanding of NSWCDD’s focus.
“Strive on a regular basis to talk at the leadership level,” said Weekes. “Get out to other (warfare) centers to know what they do. Make a personal connection.”