“What are you reading?”
That was the first question asked of me by the US Navy Command Board.
It was the winter of 2016 and I had finished up my Executive Officer tour as the Commanding Officer of Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) Mobile Unit TWO. I was currently assigned as the Executive Officer of the Kennedy Irregular Warfare Center a command under the Office of Naval Intelligence.
At that point in my career I had been in the Navy 16 years and had two possible pathways in front of me. The first, and preferred, pathway was to be selected to take command of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit or Diving Unit for the next two years. The less preferred option was to not to get selected for EOD Command and spend my remaining time in the Navy working on a staff away from my beloved EOD community.
“What are you reading?” gruffly asked Captain Vince Martinez.
The process for getting selected for EOD command could take anywhere between 1 to 4 years. It started once I successfully completed my XO tour. This required that I successfully complete a review in front of our most senior EOD leadership. Assuming a successful board, my officer service record would then be sent to Millington Tennessee where it would go in front of a different set of senior EOD leadership and receive the final selection or non-selection. Assuming I was selected, our Senior EOD Admiral would then decide whether I would take command of an EOD Mobile Unit, Diving Unit or Training Unit.
Not being selected was a bitter pill to swallow and meant that my XO ride was the last time I would be able to lead EOD Sailors and Navy Divers.
That was the landscape I had in front of me as I walked into the command board early in the Winter of 2016.
“What are you reading?” asked Captain Vince Martinez.
“Crap” I thought to myself. After college I was so done with academics that I, like many of my classmates, had effectively sworn off any further academic pursuits. And while I had certainly read magazines, articles, and military publications, it had been years since I had read a full book cover to cover.
So I gave a pretty crummy answer. I had recently read a 10 page executive summary on the Franklin Covey book Speed of Trust and briefly described the summary and what I learned.
The Officers could see quickly that I was not a reader, or lifelong learner, and that my learning had effectively ended after college. After a moment of awkward silence they left me with a clear and gruff mandate that has remained with me to this day.
“As a leader you are responsible for your own learning and professional development. Everyone I know makes time for reading. If you want to stay sharp and be properly equipped to lead the finest sailors in the world you must read.”
Although I passed the board, I don’t remember the remainder of the questions or the remaining portion of the interview.
A few weeks later I had a four-day drive ahead of me in preparation for my move from Washington DC to San Diego. Among the audiobooks I brought with me were two novels, Fahrenheit 451 and Enders Game. I did not expect to learn much from the two novels but did hope they would help keep my mind off the drive at least for a while.
Not only did the books keep my mind off the road, but I was blown away by how much I could learn from a novel. Through the fictional reality created by the author I could understand lessons and principles in a more memorable way than through reading nonfiction.
Take Fahrenheit 451 for example. The book is set in the far future where the government has determined that books and the knowledge contained in books are so dangerous and powerful that firemen are now mandated to burn books and the knowledge they contain.
Through that experience, I became convinced of a world of difference between those whose learning ended in high school and those who have continued along a path of lifelong learning. While one’s trajectory of learning is certainly much steeper during the undergraduate years, the duration of learning is much longer during the post-graduate years. Additionally, the learning that takes place post graduate is much richer and more applicable. While learning calculus in college may be somewhat beneficial in the future, what I learn now I am able to apply now.
So, while I did get selected for Command, and have been honored to take command of some of the finest sailors around, it was the experience of re-learning the joys of learning that caused me to create DODReads.com
I hope you are able to find the same enjoyment as I have. Please let me and the staff at DODReads know how we can assist you on your journey of lifelong learning.
DODReads provides high quality content for life long learners; not overbearing adds, spam, or crazy popups. If you appreciate our content and intend on purchasing a military reading list for your library or command we would be honored if you consider buying from us first.