Captain Roy Love-Memoirs From Command

Captain Roy Love was born and raised in the Dominican Republic and moved to the United States in 1983.  He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1988, attended the Broadened Opportunity for Officer Selection and Training (BOOST) Program in San Diego California in 1989, and graduated from the State University of New York Maritime College, where he earned a Bachelor Degree in Marine Transportation.  He received his NAVAL commission in 1993 as a Surface Warfare Officer.

His sea duty assignments include Communications Officer and Ordnance Officer aboard USS GALLERY (FFG 26) (1993-1995); Damage Control Assistant aboard USS CAPE ST GEORGE (CG 71)(1995-1997); Combat Systems Officer aboard USS STEPHEN W GROVES (FFG 32)(2000-2001)Combat Systems Officer and Force Protection Officer for Commander Destroyer Squadron 26 (2002-2004); Fleet Scheduler, and Assistant Fleet Navigator for Commander Seventh Fleet in Yokosuka Japan (2005-2006), and Executive Officer aboard USS JOHN L HALL (FFG29) (2007-2008).

Ashore, he served as Maritime Prepositioned Forces (MPF) Officer for COMNAVBEACHGROUP TWO (1997-2000).  He attended the Naval War College in Newport Rhode Island, where he earned a Master of Arts Degree in National Security and Strategic Studies, and completed his Joint Professional Military Education in 2008.

Following his tour at the Naval War College, he deployed to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom on an Individual Assignment in support of the ARMY 304th Sustainment Brigade stationed at Joint Base Balad as Team Leader of the NAVY’s Petroleum Oil and Lubricant (POL) Detachment (2009).

CAPT Love reported as Commanding Officer of USS BOONE (FFG 28) in June 2010, where he led the ship in winning the Battle Efficiency award in 2011.  He completed his tour on BOONE in December 2011 and assumed Command of Afloat Training Group Mayport in Jacksonville Florida, where he oversaw the basic and intermediate training and certification of all homeported US Navy vessels in the South East.  He reported to OPNAV N96, Surface Warfare Directorate in 2013, and served as Branch Head for Cruiser and Destroyer modernization until April 2014.  Following his tour at OPNAV, CAPT Love served in the Joint Staff, Joint Chiefs of Staff, as Joint Division Chief for PACOM, NORTHCOM, and SOUTHCOM, under the Deputy Director for Regional Operations (J35) from 2014-2016.  

In August 2016, he assumed command of Naval Base San Diego (NBSD).  CAPT Love culminated his tour as Commanding Officer of NBSD in July 2019, after leading the base in winning the Commander in Chief Installation Excellence Award. 

What were your command wins?

After three Command tours, all very different from each other, I am tempted to say that my Command wins were The Battle E on USS BOONE (FFG 28), increasing the first pass success rate of most of the CNSL ships through the basic and intermediate training phases while in Command at ATG Mayport, and winning the Installation Excellence Award at Naval Base San Diego.  We definitely got the mission done, and with excellent results at every command, I served with.  But, if I take some time to think about my tours and what really makes me smile today about my time in Command, I recognize that those achievements were great for the entire command, they were what the Navy wanted and expected, and they reflected the hard work done by the crews and staff personnel, but they aren’t necessarily what I would truly consider my personal wins.  They are most definitely team wins, hard-earned at that, and look really good in a FITREP and an award, but they do not truly reflect what I value the most from my time in Command, and are certainly not attributable to only me, or just because of me and my self-perceived leadership abilities.   

Two main things stick out in my mind from my 18 months aboard the BOONE.  First, the great friendship I had with my XO and CMC, and second, realizing that most of my department heads on the BOONE, especially those who served with me for most of my tour, remain on active duty and have excelled on follow on tours.  I’m talking primarily about those who arrived just before or with me or got there just after I arrived, served full tours with me, and became well known to me.  Those I bonded with and spent most of my time aboard with, and was able to truly mentor and observe, and maybe even nudge along the way.   

Every one of them is now a Commander.  My Cheng, OPS, and CSO served as XOs, and two of them were selected for Command at Sea.  To see them rise up in the ranks and be selected for Command is the ultimate win.  For a Captain, to see his Officers become XOs and Captains themselves should be the ultimate goal.  We are called to grow our Officers and turn them into our reliefs.  To think I might have had a small part in this makes my heart glad.  That they all remain in contact and reach out to me occasionally for advice or just to say hello is also a win in my mind.  That and hearing about the many BOONE Division Officers and Enlisted Sailors who have also excelled and remain in the Navy today, committed to continuing their careers, are the things that make me glad to have been in Command, and which I value most from that experience.  The positive influence I believe I had on my JO’s and my crew and the extraordinary effect they had on me, are the true rewards of our craft.  Besides that, being CO on BOONE and serving with such a fine crew enabled me to become a better Officer, and helped me excel at ATG, OPNAV, The Joint Staff, and ultimately in Command of a Base.  I learned a great deal from the beginning of my tour until the very last day aboard that ship. 

Second is the satisfaction of having commanded a great ship, with a great reputation, and the highest possible level of readiness attainable.  Although BOONE would decommission a few months after I turned her over to my XO in December of 2011, the ship earned the BATTLE E award, completed a full six-month deployment in 2011, and was underway conducting flight OPS and DLQs for the Fleet, and a port visit to NY for Veteran’s day, no less than three months before decommissioning in Feb 2012.  Our ship was always ready to meet any task, until the day she was tied up to the pier and began the decom process.  I remember several times when we were called upon to take on a short notice requirement another ship was unable to complete.  Being always ready to answer the call, BOONE built up a great reputation within our squadron and CNSL.  I remember when a Sailor on a submarine was injured and CNSL needed a ship to sail immediately to assist in his medevac.  Although another ship was the Ready Ship, they did not have a certified flight deck when the time came to deliver.  We did.  Despite being in the middle of ATG evaluations, the DESRON 14 Commodore asked BOONE if we were ready to support, and within a few hours we were going full speed towards the sub, bringing on a Helo and embarking support personnel.  That was a good day! 

In fact, there was never a time that I recall when BOONE was called on that we could not respond.  After completing a highly successful UNITAS deployment around South America, we remained ready to go back to sea upon a moment’s notice.  A ship like BOONE belonged at sea.  But how could we get the Fleet to get us back underway when we had to prepare for decom?  This is where I will say that relationships matter.  Feeling restless after deployment, and not wanting to sit at the pier until Decommission, I asked my OPS to get us a visit to NY as one last hurrah for the crew.  BOONE’s excellent reputation and our great relationship with Second Fleet scheduler (JJ) got us a trip to NY City.  The deal struck was that we would do DLQs on the way there and on the way back.  We did that, and had an absolute blast!  The crew loved it, and so did New York!  Being the only ship in Staten Island at that time, we received the golden treatment.  We were invited to the Jets vs Patriot games, met the Tuskegee Airmen, Donald Trump, Cuba Gooding Junior, Spike Lee, Michael B. Jordan, and many other celebrities!  The crew unfurled the flag on national television, and marched in a parade where CNO Greenert was the Grand Marshall!  What a way to end a perfect Command tour, and the last underway for a magnificent FFG!   

My experiences aboard BOONE helped me in my follow on tour in Command of ATG Mayport.  I took the lessons from watching the ATG inspectors and instructors aboard my ship, to forge my thoughts on what I was going to do in Command of ATG.  ATG had many stellar Chiefs and Officers assigned, and unfortunately some not so stellar.  It was initially eye-opening to see that a few of them just didn’t really understand we were there to serve the ships and make them better.  I think that one of my definite wins at ATG was getting all of our folks to see and believe that ATG was there to serve the ships and Sailors we trained and evaluated.  I enjoyed visiting all the ships, getting underway with them, and watching ATG personnel train on board.  I think I was able to change mindsets and increase trust between ATG and the ships we served.  At least I hope I did. 

Command of an Installation is in many ways harder than Command at Sea, although perhaps not as exciting in my humble and limited opinion.  There truly is no experience like Command at Sea.  Nonetheless, Command is Command, and ashore, the challenges are complex, and every day is different.  Command of Naval Base San Diego was exhausting, yet fulfilling in so many ways.  The second-largest Naval Surface base in the world, second only to Norfolk, with over 50,000 people visiting every day, was not easy to command.  My big win at the base was building the best team possible early on.  No small task, as working with such a diverse and multi-cultural group of people; Young, Old, Civilian, Active Duty, Police, Fire Fighters, Environmentalists, Safety Specialists, Hotel managers and Staff, Child Care Providers, the Doctors, Nurses, and Health care providers at the Hospital, MWR folks, Fleet and Family, all the non-profits, the Cities, the neighborhood groups, the Chambers of Commerce, other bases, the Region, and all the businesses around the base, and those wanting to work with the base, made for one dynamic environment.   Building a consistently winning team takes time.  Fortunately, I had three years to do this.  The large turnover in staff we experienced during my first year aboard also helped me build the team I wanted.  In Command At Sea you get 15-18 months, and if you’re lucky a few more months beyond that.   It probably helps if you are an XO that will fleet up to CO, but I didn’t get to experience that.  It took some time to get everyone at NBSD to be in sync and work together as a team, for the good of the entire base.  I made it a point to ensure everyone on the base staff understood that we were there to truly serve the Fleet, The Fighter, and the Family and that we had to do it with excellence, always.  I know a lot of our tenant commands didn’t think so, especially when we had to enforce rules and regulations like parking and ticketing, or when the lines at the gates were so long it took more than 30 minutes to get onboard!  Yet, we had many successes.  I claim it a success that we were able to enclave most of our piers, reducing watch standing requirements for ALL ships.  We also successfully implemented the first 100% ID card Scan 24 hours a day, when scanner operability and availability allowed, for the entire enterprise.  This was a major security win, one I was told would be impossible.  When I left, NBSD was conducting over 1 million ID card scans every month.  These are tangible, quantifiable wins.  The Safety award, Retention Excellence Award, Environmental award, Ney award, Navy Lodge, NEX and NGIS awards, all things we won during my tenure, and many times before, culminated by the Commander in Chief’s Installation Excellence award (second in 10 years), made for great trophies and bragging rights.  These are not the true measure of success, but rather the spoils of being successful.  The true win is getting the people you work with to believe that what they are doing makes a difference and that it will ultimately lead to success for all.  I left NBSD satisfied with my work there, and extremely happy with the way the base was performing.  I made many lifelong friendships, and have stayed in touch with most of my staff. 

Those were my biggest wins in Command.    

What were your command losses? 

This is a hard question because as I look back, I tend to reflect on the positive things I did, vice those where I didn’t do so well.  We all tell stories of our successes, but not typically our losses.  And yet, I know there were times when I could have done better, or wish I had done better.  I think one easy thing to acknowledge is that we, as individuals, should know our strengths and our weaknesses.  Having served outside of engineering tours for most of my career, with the exception of DCA on CAPE ST GEORGE, I knew going into Command that engineering was going to be a weakness for me.  I was very fortunate that my XO on BOONE was pretty much a career Engineer, and that I had the good fortune of having two very good CHENGs serve on the ship with me!  I think we did a good job of managing the plant, especially given a very successful INSURV, but had I not trusted my XO and CHENGS and let them take the lead, we might not have done so well.  It’s hard sometimes to recognize where you will need help, and harder to let others know, and ask that they shore up where you are not strong.

But as far as what I think were my Command Losses, two specific themes come to mind:

I couldn’t save everybody from themselves and I neglected my family for the Navy. 

Forest Gump said “Stupid is as stupid does.”  I don’t know if he was the first one to use this term, and I doubt it, but that’s where I first heard those words uttered.  He is right you know, but you can’t call people stupid, ever, especially to their faces or in front of others.  Even though sometimes we make stupid mistakes ourselves, we also can’t call ourselves stupid, as it is self-defeating, and if overheard, others will seize that and use it against us.  We have to, however, acknowledge openly that we make mistakes, and then we have to work hard to recover from those bad decisions.  I made a few of those myself.  We also have to understand that others will make mistakes, and help them recover as well.  That’s what a good leader should do.  But you can’t and will not save everyone.  Some people just do not belong in the Navy, and they will eventually find a way to get out or be kicked out, sometimes taking the hard road to do it. 

We, as individuals, can be our own worst enemies when it comes to avoiding bad decisions.  So many of our officers and enlisted Sailors make bad decisions, sometimes we think “yep, that was bound to happen” but most times it is more like “WHAT?  Are you kidding? WHY?”  Especially when it is one of our Chief Petty Officers or Department Heads.  Some prime examples of this are alcohol-related incidents.  Alcohol abuse is a common factor in many of our incidents, and yet one of the easiest things to decide not to do.  We still can’t get this right.  I made a firm decision not to drink while I was an XO, and for my CO tours on BOONE and at ATG.  I’m not against drinking socially. As a matter of fact, I enjoy rum, and the occasional Belgian beer.  While CO of NBSD, I did drink occasionally, mostly because of the many social events I had to attend, but I always limited myself to one drink.  This is something we can all control.  We just have to want to.  Getting drunk and acting a fool should be something we never see, but perhaps expect only to see from younger, more immature Sailors, not our Chiefs almost at retirement, or Department Heads with over 10 years of service, and most definitely not our XOs and COs. 

No one is infallible, and we all make mistakes, but my worst losses in Command always had to do with the Sailors I had to watch self-destruct and be kicked out of the Military.  I wish I could tell you it was something you could control.  I can only hope that through mentoring, admonishing, and talking to your folks, you can change hearts, minds, and actions, thereby helping your Sailors keep what they earned.  NJP was one of the things I wish I could have avoided.  It is normal as a CO to question whether you could have done more to inculcate a sense of “do the right thing because it is the right thing to do” to every one of your crewmembers.  Especially after something happens.  This hits hardest if you have a death caused by DUI.  I was fortunate that I did not lose any Sailors to suicide during any of my Command tours.  That would have been a great loss and I am not sure how I would have handled it.  We can’t save everybody, but we can sure try to encourage everyone and build positive attitudes that drive positive behaviors.  On that note, take care of yourself, and try to make informed and appropriate decisions for yourself, so you are setting an example, not being the example.  I always made a point of telling my XO and CMC that they were as responsible for me, ensuring I followed the rules and did things right, as I was for them.

My second biggest loss was neglecting my family.  I didn’t think I was doing this.  About a month ago my wife told me that one of the things she enjoys the most about the current job I have is that I am not neglecting them as much as I did when I was in Command.  I said “what are you talking about?  I spent a lot of time with you and the girls.”  She responded with “if you think 10 percent of your time is a lot, then sure.”   I had to pause and really think about that.  Surely I spent more time with the family than that, and she likes to exaggerate anyway.  The fact that I had to think hard about how I was managing my time told me that I really was not present for my family as much as I should have been.  A command can be all-consuming.  You can be a slave to your work, and after work, to the command phone.  You may not even realize how much time you are giving it.  Stop and listen to your spouse and your children when they speak.  You may never get that time back.  Many of my good friends, like me, ended up divorced either before or after a command.  Some of us have remarried and started new families, but the cost is high, both financially and emotionally.  There is much I could and should have done to strengthen family ties, and not just with my spouse and children.  My father passed away while I was in Command of the BOONE.  Of nine sons, I was the only one that didn’t make the funeral.  The ship was preparing for deployment and my Commodore offered me a “couple of days” to attend the funeral and services in the Caribbean.  I made the wrong decision and didn’t go because I convinced myself that “my crew needed me.”  I regret that.  I think there is no true work-life balance when in Command.  You have to work harder at being present for those who will be there long after you have left the Navy, and detaching yourself from work for even some of your time.  This will be different for all of us.  I wish I had thought about it then, and not afterward…

What were your command priorities? 

I would not leave my Ship any less but rather better and greater than I found it.  I wrote this on a placard and posted it on the door of my stateroom when I took Command of BOONE.  It was something I learned in High School, based on the Ephebic Oath we had to recite, along with the Pledge of Allegiance.  I carried this with me through all my tours, and made it a strong point in my speeches to the crew when assuming Command and also when turning over Command.  I truly believed this, and have applied it to all of the positions I have been blessed to hold. 

My priority in Command was always to get the mission accomplished while taking care of my Sailors as best I could.  The mission is first.  We lie to ourselves when we say Sailors or people first because there will come a time when the Mission will not allow you to take care of all of your Sailors without failing the mission.

Your most important job in Command is to get the Mission done.  Whether the mission was to prepare an inspection like INSURV, prepare for training, for short operations, for Deployment, or simply to prepare the ship for a VIP or family visit, I approached every event in the same basic way.  Yes, people are the ones that will get the mission done, but if you tell them they are first, they will believe and expect you will prioritize their individual wellbeing and comfort, and when you don’t, you are a liar and a breaker of promises!  You will lose their trust. 

Attitude is everything.  We have to write our Command Philosophy and our Vision before we assume Command.  Some folks write many pages, some write a few lines, and to me either is fine.  Ultimately, if you don’t believe or stick to what you’ve written, this becomes an exercise in futility done only to appease and impress the people asking you to write it.  You have to believe what you write, then you have to live it, and then you have to get your crew to adopt it.  When you tell yourself and your crew every day that you are the best ship in the Navy or the Best Naval Base, and you start to believe it, and you get them to believe it, and you strive to do everything to ensure that it is true, then you will be the best.  If you falter, because of a failed inspection, or an incident aboard, or a Sailor who failed to live up to that belief and got in trouble, and you start to think that you are not the best, and you reflect that in your attitude and actions, then you may fail at everything. 

What’s your best Advice for a Naval Officer? 

There is so much advice I wish I had received from my former COs, and a lot that I did get, although never truly in a formal counseling session.  So much of it was observed though, and not explicitly taught. 

The number one thing I would say makes all the difference is; respect and love your people and yourself.

That said, some things I thought some of my fellow COs might need to hear:

1. When it comes to dealing with people, 3 simple words come to mind. Learn to LISTEN, THINK, and then SPEAK.  Listen with love, paying real attention to the needs of others, take the time to think about everything that is happening, that you are being told, and that you will do, then speak with support, with confidence, and with authority when necessary.   Even if it is to admonish and correct.  This is not easy, as some times we will be angry and we will accuse and place blame, and expect immediate corrective action or results.  It takes practice and time to be a good listener and speaker.  If you lack patience and are quick to anger, you need to practice this!   I admit this was hard for me to do, but I tried.

2. Be yourself, but be ready to change.  You can’t be your old Captain, or your old XO, and expect to achieve the same results they had.  You must find out what works for you, and do it your way when you can.  But use your networks, as someone out there may have a better idea that just might work for you.  I urge you to stay connected with your fellow Captains, and your previous COs an XOs, who have already done most of the things you will do.  Don’t forget that your boss, ISIC, COS, are there to help you.  I remember a few of my fellow COs who did not like talking to the Commodore or the Admiral.  Never understood that.  That’s why they exist!  To help you and ensure you are successful.  If you have a problem that the boss needs to know about, call them!  Don’t wait until someone else tells them.  That is already too late. Sometimes it is OK to do things the way someone else recommends it.  Trust that their experience will help you achieve a greater result.  Own your mistakes when you make them, and always remember that as the CO, you are ultimately responsible for everything, so the Command’s wins and losses are your wins and losses. 

3. Don’t let the title and position go to your head.  You work for the US NAVY, and because your crew is the Navy, you really do work for each and every one of the Sailors at your Command.  They ultimately work for the Navy, not for you.  The mission is paramount, but you can’t get it done without your people.  Remember that.  You will upset some people with some of your decisions, but try not to piss off too many people at the same time.  This will make Command much harder.  Know when you have to be firm, and when you can afford to back down.  You will NOT always be right! 

4.  As a CO, your CMC and your XO are your best friends.  Tell them to knock you over the head when you are not being smart.  Let them know when they are not doing the right thing.  Keep each other on the right path, and make sure you have each other’s back.  This can only be achieved with constant, honest communication.   XO and CMC should be helping you manage your people, and yourself.  That’s what they are supposed to do best.  But, the Command Triad is not immune to groupthink, and that can be bad if the decision made is truly a bad one.  Bring in a Department Head or two to sit in on your meetings sometimes.  Then ask for the DHs opinions and thoughts.  This may help you make better decisions. 

5.  For all Officers, trust your fellow officers and your Chiefs, but remember that maturity and experience are not the same for everyone and that proficiency is learned over time.  A 7 year Chief and an Ensign are not the same as a 12 year Chief and a Senior LT.  Don’t expect them to behave the same way, or understand things in the same manner, or know as much as you and your senior people.  Teach, Mentor, and Train your people at all levels.  Stand with your crew during food load-outs, go to their spaces during drills, evolutions, and training.  Stand with them at their post when they are on watch.  See-through their eyes and experience what they do.  You have heard it a thousand times, walk the deck plates! 

6.  Tell the truth, but know when it is appropriate to withhold information.  Not everything needs to be told to the crew.  This is just the way it is.  But you can be honest and tell them you aren’t able to share all the details of something, but you will as soon as possible.  The crew needs to trust you, but be aware that some never will.  For a myriad of reasons, there will always be someone who will do things to undermine the Command, you, the XO, or the CMC.  You will know this based on your Command Climate Surveys.  You just can’t make everyone happy.  Sometimes that person will be part of your Wardroom, or part of your Chief’s mess.  This is where clear communication, clear guidance, and information management become crucial.  For most people, perception is reality, and if we are ill-informed or don’t understand everything, and think someone is hiding something, we tend to rebel against them.  Work hard at ensuring you are walking around your Command and engaging everyone at every level. Have a real open door policy.  If someone comes to you with a problem, listen!  Then do something about it.  Tell the individual who in their chain of Command they should go to, but make sure you follow up.   Please get your Officers and Chiefs involved also.

7.  Life is about attitude and gratitude.  Maintain a positive attitude always.  Smile when you don’t want to, and laugh often.  There will be bad days.  There will be more bad days, and then there will be the worst days.  But you will have good days, and you can turn bad days into good days.  Your mood will be reflected in your crew.  If you don’t learn to see this, you are blind, and your tour will suck.  It is easy to snap at someone, display your anger, and be dismissive.  It is not so easy to stop listening, Think, and then Speak, when you are just not feeling it.  As a CO, every interaction you have will likely have meaning to the person you are interacting with, and those listening!  Be mindful of this.  Be deliberately positive. 

Gratitude is essential.  Be grateful for everything that you have been given.  The trust placed in you, the position given to you, the Sailors working with you, and the days of sunshine and the days of rain.  If you stop to acknowledge that you are one of the most fortunate people in the world, having command of a warship, or a shore activity, or whatever it is, and you realize that leading people is a privilege given to only a few, you will enjoy your tour more.  I certainly did.  I mean this. 

What books do you recommend prior to command? 

Read whatever you like to read.  If it’s in CNO’s read list, pick a few of those.  Personally I enjoy many different types of books.  Your tastes will change as you grow anyway, and also depending on where you are in life and your career.  The real point is to read and to not limit yourself.

Read before Command.  I’ll give you three you may have never read. 

“Growing Mentor Intelligence: A field guide to Mentoring” by Alan D. Landry

“Reinventing Diversity” by Howard J. Ross

“The Cruel Sea” by Nicholas Monsarrat

Some of my favorites which I also recommend:

Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card

“Team of Teams” by General Stanley McChrystal

Endurance” by CAPT Scott Kelly

The Auto Biography of Benjamin Franklin by the man himself. 

Anything and everything by Dean Koontz!  (read while in Command)

“Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson

Master and Commander (which I know everyone has more than likely already read)

ENJOY COMMAND!  It may only come once if your lifetime, and it may not last as long as you want it to.  Don’t give up the Ship, and always be ready for battle!!! 

CAPT Roy Love, Executive Assistant to VADM Mary M. Jackson, Commander Navy Installations Command: Captian Roy Love is currently serving as Executive Assistant to VADM Mary M. Jackson, Commander Navy Installations Command, responsible for worldwide U.S. Navy shore installation management as the Navy’s shore integrator, designing and developing integrated solutions for sustainment and development of Navy shore infrastructure.  With more than 53,000 military and civilian personnel worldwide across 11 regions, 71 installations, and 123 Naval Operations Support Centers, CNIC is responsible for the operations, maintenance and quality of life programs to support the Navy’s Fleet, Fighter, and Family.

CAPT Love’s awards include the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal (3 awards), Navy Commendation Medal (6 awards), the Army Commendation Medal, Navy Achievement Medal (2 awards), the Humanitarian Service Medal, and various US Navy and US Coast Guard unit and service awards.

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