2018 NNOA Symposium: FROM A JO PERSPECTIVE
LT Nathaniel Davis, Assistant Vice President
The 2018 NNOA Symposium, held at the beautiful Renaissance Hotel in Downtown Portsmouth, was a fantastic experience! I’ve been a member of NNOA since my commissioning in 2014, beginning with the chapter in Okinawa, Japan. I’d always heard great things about the symposiums from other members, who raved about the event, so it became a mission of sorts to attend. I’d never been able to attend due to work and family obligations, so when the opportunity arose, I quickly jumped at the chance. My command leaders were familiar with the organization (some even current members) and supported my request to attend.
Admittedly, I didn’t know what to expect. The stories I heard were of course the experiences of others, and I hadn’t reached out to my friends and colleagues to inquire if they were coming. A part of me wanted to limit my exposure so as to take in my own experience and have a “fresh mind” of the events to follow. Upon my arrival, there was a positive buzz within the hotel’s lobby. I saw uniforms that I hadn’t initially recognized but I was greeted by smiling faces and warm spirits. I almost immediately ran into some friends from the Camp Lejeune Chapter, which I served as President the past year. It was a pleasant surprise. From there, I met some Marine Officers who also had never attended and we bonded over burgers at the hotel’s restaurant area. So far so good! The scheduled social later that evening was an extension of the hotel lobby. We moved in droves and packed a nearby restaurant/sports bar. There were sea service officers from every corner of the globe. I looked on as long-serving and since-retired officers shook hands and hugged, delighting in a life not soon forgotten. There were sea stories abound and the rupture of laughter echoed throughout. I met a group of Coast Guard Academy students who were chopping at the bit to graduate and fulfill their obligation. I recall wondering, Where else would I meet and discuss career aspirations with Coast Guard Officers? The real question is more so, Why haven’t I met and discussed career aspirations with Coast Guard Officers? The scene was astounding. Goodwill was the monarch of this house and all those who entered, some unacquainted, would soon depart as friends.
The meeting sessions over the next two days were lobster and steak dinner of knowledge. We were treated to panel discussions on leadership that was both thought provoking and engaging. As a JO, I often wonder the “what” vs the “how”. What obstacles did my senior leaders push through? What improbable scenarios? What failures? I’ve attended MANY leadership events but I never fully felt right in understanding the failures that would bring success. The panel members, a mix of active duty personnel from every sea service and high–ranking civilians and as diverse as the organization’s emblem, spoke to the truths of their failures to success. No topic too strong. Every question, and there were plenty, answered with varying perspectives.
Still, my biggest takeaway from the symposium occurred after the day’s events. A few of the JOs decided to go out to dinner nearby and I swear we needed 3-4 servers because of how many of us came out. Navy, Marine and Coast Guard Officers sitting at a table and discussing the things that only we as JOs can understand. Real talk, no fluff and no filter. We were there for a professional symposium but there was also a clear need for a JOPA meeting. And, for me, that’s what the symposium represented. There is an old adage that a group of CAPTs/COLs become JOs again when in a social setting. It makes perfect sense. The youth of our careers (and lives) affords us a chance to view at a level we’ll never see again. Our challenges are different. Our focus is immediate and our gaze more narrow. We must check in on one another and this symposium afforded us that opportunity. We entered acquainted and departed as friends.