Author Interviews

Fortune Favors Boldness

Interview by Dillon Fishman

Fortune Favors Boldness’ is the motto of the U.S. Navy’s Cruiser-Destroyer Group 1 (CCDG-1). That team led the Constellation Strike Group throughout 2002-2003, when ‘America’s Flagship, ‘ USS Constellation (CV 64), made its historic last deployment to the Arabian Gulf to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.

FORTUNE FAVORS BOLDNESS–this book–documents the incredible professionalism of the Sailors and Marines who operated in harm’s way in the dangerous waters of the Northern Arabian Gulf, on the ground in Iraq and in the air over the country in 2003. It tells a story of epic events and bravery from the perspective of retired Vice Admiral Barry Costello, the commander of this force.

What led you to write the book?

I was in the Pentagon on 9/11 when the airplane hit. I was right around the corner and felt the building shake. On 9/12 President Bush came to the Pentagon and met with the Joint Chiefs. He said to each one of them, “Don’t ever forget what happened yesterday.” It was like a page of our history just turned. That really set the tone for me going forward.

Who was your intended audience?

The Sailors and Marines and Coast Guardsmen who were there. I wanted to tell their story so it didn’t get lost in the dustbin of history, so to speak. It’s for the veterans of all time of all the services. And it’s for the American people so they can appreciate the sacrifices of the young men and women who were out there in harm’s way 24/7 working to do the work of the country. And it’s an amazing story.

And I read in Proceedings earlier one of the young lieutenant commanders writing: Where are all the memoirs of what happened? Our bookshelves should be filled with works about what happened and there’s nothing there. And I thought to myself, I was blessed to be in the middle of all this. I could reach down to the deck plates of all the sailors who were there. I could reach out to the commanders. I knew the whole chain of command so I was able to put together their perspectives. I captured perspectives of sailors and higher headquarters. I had the ability to see across the whole spectrum of operations and that’s what I wanted to share with the reader.  

What did you learn from the process of writing the book?

It’s hard. It’s enjoyable hard, but it’s hard. Have an appreciation that you’re on a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a story, whatever you’re writing. And I enjoyed doing each piece. Like mine warfare, or the man overboard incident, or on a laser-guided training round that went into the van. I was able to reach out and find someone who was there and pull the story from them. It’s a reality that you’re going to write and re-write several times. And that’s okay. It’s all about persistence.

You have to do the research. It’s very cool to tell about why we hit Saddam’s yacht. There was a story in Proceedings that got it wrong, the author didn’t do the research. Had he called me I could have told him. The yacht got taken off the no-strike list. The guys called me in the middle of the night. I called Admiral Keating in the middle of the night to give him the chance to have veto power. He said go for it and we did, we hit it. There wasn’t any mystery. It was perceived that it could be a refuge, it could be used as a communications hub. We had hit the targets we needed to and this target came off the list. It was the first time an S-3 had fired a Maverick. Talk about excited, those guys were fired up. And the F-18s were as fired up because they lazed for them.

My wife was a wonderful editor. She took out a red pen and skewered it. She was correct in every case. It was fun to work together over a period of a couple of years until finally we said, okay, pens down. We had a great publisher who made it happen. We got it through the review process for DoD to make sure nothing classified was in there. Frankly I’m surprised some of it made it in. We do talk a lot about submarine operations and some of the SEAL operations.

How did you manage to maintain a sense of humor and perspective?

I’m all about balance. Balance is so critical. Each of us has maybe worked for people who don’t take any leave. I was blessed as a frocked commander to go to the Joint Staff and work for an Air Force two-star general who talked about taking care of yourself, your family, and your job. He explained to me as a young officer that he didn’t want to lose people because they didn’t take care of themselves or their families. I’m also about delegation. I teach today at the Naval War College for both O-6s and one- and two-star flag officers. I describe their job in eight words: “Create the environment where your people can succeed.” Create an environment where junior people come forward with ideas. I really believe in that and I tell people about it all the time. The command is so much better by employing all the assets of the command.

And in the heat of battle you have to watch out for exhaustion. I made a number of mistakes and each time I could draw a straight line back to being exhausted. And I’ve worked for people that get exhausted. They get crabby. They make poor decisions. I pushed my people to get that balance—working, sleeping, working out, thinking. I ask flag officers today about where their schedule says thinking and working out. It’s got to be done.

What’s one lesson readers should take away from the book?

It’s about learning from the past. We in the military tend to repeat some of the mistakes from the past that we don’t have to. That’s another reason I spent the time with the book because I wanted every strike group commander after me to walk down the road we did as part of our pre-deployment workups. To walk down that road of what happened when we made our port visits over there. To walk down that road when we rotated the clocks 24 hours. To walk with me when we worked with our coalition partners. To walk with me when we worked with the Air Force and the Army and the Marine Corps. How we coordinated, how we planned, and what were the questions. As often as not, the questions are much more important than the answers. How do we make sure we don’t have a [USS] Princeton and a [USS] Tripoli from Gulf War I that got hit with mines? How do we work with the Air Force effectively? How do we communicate—do other countries have SIPRNet?

That was my goal, to help those next people not stumble where we stumbled. And more than several strike group commanders have called me on the way back and said it happened. Partly as a result of that, Fortune Favors Boldness is on the CNO’s professional reading list. That was a great honor for me personally to have it highlighted by the CNO. And the Commandant General Berger and the ACMC General Thomas, they’re both superstars and they’ve supported the book as well.

What are you reading?

A: I’m currently on the Pacific War Trilogy by Ian Toll. He’s a great writer. It’s important to know how our Navy began, our history. The Absent Superpower by Peter Zeihan talks about as the U.S. becomes more energy independent what does the world look like if we step back.

What is something you are looking forward to?

I have the great honor of working at the Naval War College. My philosophy is that every day is a gift and an opportunity to make a positive difference. I treasure every day as an opportunity and what I look forward to is continuing to contribute to the next generations of leaders and giving them an example—how you get so much more by inspiration than intimidation. And I emphasize to those I mentor that they’re the luckiest people on earth that they’re born in this country.

Purchase Fortune Favors Boldness here

Vice Admiral Barry Costello

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