NORFOLK NAVAL SHIPYARD, Portsmouth, Va. –
The Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) Diversity and Inclusion Office (Code 1103) and the African American Employee Resource Group (AAERG) presented “Open Mic Session with Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) Leaders – How’d They Make It?” in honor of Black History Month Feb. 27 in Bldg. 163 High Bay.
More than 40 members of the workforce attended to learn about the professional journeys of Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Navy for Expeditionary Programs and Logistic Management Jimmy D. Smith, and Director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) for the Office of the Secretary of Defense John H. James, Jr.
“I graduated from Tuskegee University and started working at NAVSEA in a one-year assignment rotating in the various technical disciplines offered,” Smith said in his introduction. “I was going to be working with submarines and was going to be sent for my first tour at Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) when there was a reduction in the workforce. I, along with 28 other employees straight out of college, wwas let go. I was RIF'ed. I managed to find another opportunity for employment in the submarine community working on the Virginia class and I worked my way up through the ranks to where I am today.”
In James’ introduction, he shared his connection with America’s Shipyard. “I started my career here in 1981 and worked here every day for five years,” he said. “My training here on the waterfront continues to serve me well today. I’m in lots of technical meetings where I still have the opportunity to use my expertise and experience that I gained here while on the waterfront. And people are amazed with how much I know and they ask me how do I know that. I tell them I’ve actually seen it down on the waterfront. The experience and boost that I got here at the shipyard has carried me the entirety of my career.”
James continued, “What you do here every day is so important, and I know it’s hard for you to see it, but up at headquarters we see it every day. What you do every day provides protection to the United States and serves the Navy’s mission. In case no one’s told you lately, thank you for what you do every day.”
The audience members were then given the chance to ask Smith and James questions pertaining to their professional climb.
When asked about how did he know when he was ready to transition through careers and if there was a set path, James noted that there is never a set path in any career. “There have been periods in my career where I would say I know I can do the job,” he said. “When I first started my job here, it was hard work and I would have a long list of action items with each assignment. So I would work hard to get the job done so I wouldn’t have any action items anymore. It would get to the point where folks would ask for me to do the job because they knew I could do it. Those are the moments where you should look at doing something else. It’s good to do that because you can start that new position and utilize the experience you have already gained, overlaying it to contribute and learn on the job. It’s not an easy task because it would require you to get uncomfortable at the job again. It’s scary but it’s always going to be that way starting that new career. You need to have that courage to take the next step.”
James and Smith spoke of the importance of taking on unexpected challenges and showing initiative throughout one’s career. In addition, they spoke about the importance of finding mentors to help guide them in their careers.
“One day my boss came to me on the job and tapped me on the shoulder,” said James regarding one of the most memorable mentors in his life. “He said when you get a chance, come see me in my office. He asked me if I ever thought about applying for the Commander’s Development Program. And at that moment, I knew to read between the lines. When someone of that seniority asks you a question like that, it isn’t a question. They are pushing you forward in the right direction. This man throughout my entire career mentored me and guided me until the day he passed away in Boston. He helped mold me into who I am today so you’ve got to learn to be receptive to what folks are telling you.”
Smith took a moment to address his personality and how it applies to his work. “You would never know this as you see me standing before you addressing a crowd of people but I’m very much an introvert,” he said. “I’m an engineer through and through so I would rather sit in my own little corner getting work done than interacting with others. But you have to overcome those obstacles to get the job done. Every day I’m talking with folks and leading discussions. But I take time during my weekends for me – including spending hours mowing my lawn so I have my time to myself to recharge the energy I spent that week with others. Everyone has their own weaknesses. You have to find the balance needed that best fits you. You can overcome anything if you put that foot forward and face that challenge head on.”
When asked what his most memorable moment was throughout his career, James motioned to the audience as he shared the story of the USS San Francisco (SSN-711). “My proudest moment came from an incident with the USS San Francisco. The crew had hit something three days from land in the Pacific and I rushed into action that night to find out what happened. I had found out from the crew that when they had hit, they were able to pull the emergency blow system and it worked. The ship was able to come to the surface despite the chaos of the incident and lives were saved. That ship was last worked on here at NNSY and it was because of your efforts here every single day that those men and women survived. That is what I’m most proud of. The work that you do saves lives. Thank you for everything you do.”
Following the program, Shipyard Commander Capt. Kai Torkelson presented James and Smith with a plaque in gratitude for their time spent with the NNSY workforce. “I’m so happy to see our folks have the opportunity to interact and learn from those who have worked hard for the Navy’s mission. I hope we all are able to take what we’ve learned and share that with our teams back at the job site. We should force multiply the messages presented today and together we will continue to work towards serving our great fleet.”