Year of the Captains & Colonels: CAPTAIN Kevin B. Reed, USCG

Year of the Captains & Colonels: CAPTAIN Kevin B. Reed, USCG


Message to NNOA President & Members:

My father’s words to me at my OCS graduation were simple, yet impactful – “before honor comes humility”. They remain stenciled in my heart to this day, and have guided every aspect of my progress in the Coast Guard. My journey has only been possible because of the sacrifice of those who came before me, and those who framed the path of this road which so many others now travel. Distinguished service members also made time to provide counsel and to extend a needed hand as I sought to advance. Minus that help, my journey would not have started, and for it, I am eternally grateful. It is the highest honor and obligation to return that courtesy, as I hope my shared thoughts and lessons add some value to the journey of other leaders.

Leadership Philosophy

My philosophy, which I refer to as the Iron Trinity (or The 3-P), centers on the principles of People, Pride, & Professionalism. It reflects the character & resolve expected of each member of the TEAM and my commitment to their success.

  • PeopleEverything begins and ends with your people.  Ships, computers, high tech gear, and ordnance are all tools of the craft. The mission, however, doesn’t get accomplished without well-trained, innovative, and highly motivated personnel! Take care of your people and posture them to succeed in their duties. Equally important, demonstrate the capacity to show interest in their life and activities beyond “the front gate”.
  • PrideStand tall knowing you represent your Family, your Country, and your Crew. Conduct yourself in a manner which honors each group. Be “impeccable” with your word and speak with confidence. Others will notice & emulate.
  • ProfessionalismCommit, on a daily basis, to improving yourself & the knowledge of your craft. Be excellent in all that you do! Elevate your technical expertise & Leadership IQ to stay ahead of an ever-evolving mission. Expand your foundational knowledge to prepare for tomorrow’s challenges.

Words of Wisdom

You know you are “in the fight” and making progress when you have at least 3 humbling moments per week. In my 28 years of Enlisted & Commissioned service, I have routinely hit or surpassed the “3” mark on any given Monday morning before 0900. Stay in the fight, persevere and share the wisdom. I offer the following:

  • Know your mission, train to achieve the best outcomes, and “get after it”!!;
  • Always expect more of yourself….this journey isn’t for the average;
  • Everybody must be accountable for her/his actions….Seniority isn’t a valid exemption;
  • Redemption and reconciliation must be factored into the discipline and accountability process;
  • Improve or regress, there’s no such thing as “remain the same;
  • Know your people, what they value, and how to maximize their strengths;
  • Respect your personnel’s time and they will value yours… is a finite commodity;
  • Feedback is the “glittering prize”: be bold enough to give it, and wise enough to receive/digest it;
  • Be teachable, and know that wisdom may come from the most junior member on staff;
  • The key ingredient to “success” is the rest of the TEAM. Everybody has something to offer;
  • Empower your leaders & give them space to “own” their work; Don’t fail at your job, trying to do theirs;
  • Develop your TEAM to notice & consider the little details (they have to know your expectation);
  • Know when your role shifts from being a “Rockstar” to a “Superstar”, and understand the difference;
  • Maintain an even keel. Your team can’t be afraid to bring you bad news. Emotional intelligence matters;
  • Bring others along for the ride. Nobody does it on their own & it’s not all about “you”!;
  • Give junior personnel opportunities to lead, and “tell the story” of your organization;
  • Listening is a valuable skill, and one of your best tools….use it wisely; and finally
  • Enthusiasm is blissfully contagious….it starts with LEADERSHIP!!


Year of the Captains & Colonels: CAPT Pamela Theorgood, USN

Year of the Captains & Colonels: CAPT Pamela Theorgood, USN

The Bottom Line: You Just Have To C.A.R.E.

Articles and books abound on the topic of effective leadership and the unique combination of skills required for becoming a great leader.  Many highlight the need to hone multiple leadership styles and knowing which style to use for the right situation.  Not all situations and, certainly not all of our people, are the same.  Highly talented leaders know the right combination of approaches and know when the particular situation calls for a more authoritative style, a more pacesetting style, or when the situation dictates a more affiliative leadership approach.   This knowledge, when applied authentically, with the highest levels of integrity, competence, mental toughness, and grit provides some of the key ingredients to enhance your leadership skills and accelerate your professional growth.

  However, in my view, greatness requires one more critical element.  It requires something that has been proven repeatedly throughout my career, to include my time in major command, time on major Staffs, and my time deployed in the middle of major conflict.  It can revolutionize your performance, make you more valuable to your teams and leadership, and maximize your ability to lead people through difficult times.  This one thing is the very simple understanding that you must first C.A.R.E.  You must care passionately about your people and their success, care about excelling in your command’s mission, and, in order to sustain high performance, you must also care about yourself and your continued growth.  In short, the leadership excellence we need in today’s challenging environment takes great C.A.R.E.

            The “C” in C.A.R.E. is one of the most important tools you can have in your toolbox. “C” stands for Communicate and Connect.  If there is such a thing as the secret sauce, look no further.  Developing your skills in these areas will set you apart from your peers and enable you to accomplish incredible results. 

  • Communicate: The ability to write effectively and speak well is a crucial skill that will make you indispensable to your senior leaders and enable you to succeed in effecting the change and achieving the results you seek for your people, your organization, and your mission. Unfortunately, this skill does not come with rank, it comes with work.
    • Brief to be understood, not to prove your intelligence! Spend less time developing magnificent looking slides with clouds in every corner and focus more on the message.  Consider your audience. What does he or she need to know? Why are you briefing them on this subject and what is the “so what!” Give a specific example that you know will increase their care factor.  Keep it short, keep it simple, keep it clear, and ensure it is impactful.
    • Learn to write well. Practice until you see your work passing through the Boss’s desk with minimal adjustment! Be concise, be able to determine most salient points, and be able to write them down coherently with proper flow.  If all you can do is verbally describe the issue but struggle to capture it in words, this is something I highly encourage you work on.  Learn to write so that all your extremely busy Boss has to do is hit the send button.  You will be sought after.
    • Never miss the opportunity to be clear. ALWAYS ensure your audience, especially your senior leadership, knows if what you are speaking on is what you “think”, what you “heard” but still need to verify, or if it is truly factual information.  Most likely, what you share will be shared further.
  • Connect: One of the best books written on leadership is John C Maxwell’s book entitled, “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect.” In his book, he states, “connecting is the ability to identify with people and relate to them in a way that increases your influence with them.” Read this book, and then read it again.
    • Regardless of race, gender, or any other differences, you absolutely can master the art of connecting, finding the common ground with people. You can find what is really important to them, what matters or inspires them, and then you should care enough to make a connection with them in that arena. THIS, my friends, is the secret sauce.  This is about others, creating experiences, forging bonds, and inspiring people. This is where the magic starts and the impossible becomes the possible.
    • It may shock you to know that not everyone in my career was excited to see a Black female show up for an assigned job. There are many stories I can share on my experiences.  However, I can tell you, each and every tour was a phenomenal success with lifelong friendships made in the process.  The point is this is a people business.  Place a priority on people, find that connection, and succeed beyond all expectations.

The “A” in C.A.R.E. stands for Attitude, of course.  Many do not realize that the attitude of the leader truly is the attitude of the team but magnified.

  • Attitude: At some point, we have all heard that attitude determines your altitude. What I think we need to mentor more on is the impact you as a leader have on your team every day with the attitude you bring to work.  Your attitude, your energy level, and your level of enthusiasm is highly contagious and is exactly what your team will adopt, if they consider you their leader.
    • Show up upset, and down on how things are going, you will see that feeling passed down to the lowest levels of your team, only to a much worse extent. Walk around and it seems like everyone is in a bad mood.
    • Show up with a winning attitude, full of energy and confidence in your team, and that feeling pervades the workplace and is a force multiplier. Whatever it takes to show up with a winner’s attitude, make it a priority and do it.  If you need to jam to your favorite music on the way to work, sing, exercise, or give yourself a pep talk, take the time to do it.  Your team deserves a good leader and leadership starts with the attitude you bring to your team each day.

The “R” in C.A.R.E. stands for being Responsive and being Ready.  Care about both.

  • Responsive: If you truly understand the points I made about connecting and prioritizing people, it should be easily understood how important it is to be responsive to others. As you juggle an overwhelming workload and try to handle multiple priorities, do all that you can to be responsive to others.  Even if you cannot complete the task, a simple response acknowledging their request, earns you more reputational capital than you can imagine.  It makes people feel their need is important to you and that they matter.  Failing to be responsive and help others, or forgetting the need entirely is the direct opposite of “connecting” with others.
    • On one of my recent ship visits, the CO was telling me about something important to him that he directed one of his officers to make happen. CO continued to bring this topic up to the officer but still had no good status.  Since I was on the ship, I asked the officer if he remembers the CO’s request.  This officer proceeded to give me outstanding, very detailed status of the requirement.  Then I asked, “Does your CO know this?” Dead silence.  Action without communication to the person who cares is not being responsive!  
  • Ready: Try to be ready and supremely prepared, always.  Take the time necessary to know your stuff, ask the questions, and be so ready that when you speak, you speak with confidence and earn that reputational capital that no one can touch.
    • Anticipate and Take Action. Your value increases tremendously when you learn to anticipate the need or the problem and take the required action without having to be asked.  OWN your operation in a way that keeps your Boss shining.  Your entire team benefits from that earned credibility.

Finally, we end with the “E” in taking C.A.R.E.

  • Excellence: Aim for excellence every day and excellence in all that you do. Set a high standard for yourself and for your team from day one and do all that needs to be done to maintain that standard.  If the job is done right every day, the way it is required to be done, then your operation should always be inspection ready.  Ramping up for inspections is an indicator that some part of your operation could be improved.  Show the example.  Conduct your spot checks, verify things are not only done, but done well, and help your team truly learn their jobs.
    • Reading is authorized. Take others with you and ensure they are learning along the way. In the beginning of my O5 Sea Tour, my junior officers would come to my office with challenges and ask me what they should do about it.  Depending on the urgency, my usual response was, “What does the instruction or PUB tell you to do?”  Read the instruction and come back to see me with a recommendation.  Excellence starts with building knowledge. 
    • Excellence is our obligation. Do you C.A.R.E. enough to achieve it?  


Year of the Captains & Colonels: Colonel Anthony M. Henderson

Year of the Captains & Colonels: Colonel Anthony M. Henderson

Message to NNOA President & Members:

A leader’s philosophy, vision, traits, and techniques are all tools developed, learned, and continuously practiced over a lifetime.  For me, the development of my tools reflects the investment of others in me, investment of me into others, and investment in myself.  Each experience that I now label “invest” can grow a leader, but as you all know it does not just happen.  It is easy to appear definitive about my leadership tools – I am not.  We should be learning all our lives to be a better leader each day.  For example, I never imagine until it was upon me that the greatest leadership challenges and learning would be in the leading my family as a son, brother, husband, and father.  My mistakes are numerous, but I am blessed with each opportunity to learn, lead, and live.

The below was a short guide meant to help everyone in the commands I served.  Recommend you know the difference for yourself between philosophy, vision, techniques, or traits.  A philosophy is about you; a vision is about the unit/organization.

Command Philosophy: “A few things you need to know about serving with Colonel Henderson.”

#1. Selflessness. Care more about your fellow Marines and sailors than you do for yourself.  The greater your rank and responsibility the greater this care and selflessness should be.  As a leader you must come to truly love your men and this should be exemplified by your teaching, discipline, presence, understanding their needs, and more importantly, your time.  This doesn’t mean that we coddle our Marines and sailors but show them our concern through actions.  Often the greatest love is the toughest and hardest given with resolve and dignity.

#2. Be a Warrior. Be physically and mentally tough.  We play the hand they are dealt without complaint and we never quit.  We make our own “luck” with planning, hard work, and “bulldog” tenacity.  True Warriors understand their responsibilities: family; nation; and Corps and have the courage to ask for help when they need it.  True men and women give that help without asking for anything in return.  Simply being a better man and woman makes you a better Marine, a better sailor, a better husband, wife, father, mother, friend, and brother-at-arms.

“I see many soldiers; could I but see as many warriors!” F.W. Nietzsche

#3. Ameri-CAN not Ameri-CAN’T. In the end, all any of us really have control over is ourselves and this is manifested through our attitude.  Attitude does not mean false motivation it means knowing deep down that everyday you’re still breathing is a gift; that you will make it over that next hill; that no matter how bad things get, nothing will break your spirit.  An Ameri-CAN attitude seeks the solution and doesn’t dwell on the problem itself.  We simply get the job done, we take care of each other, and we never, ever give up.

“When all else fails, perseverance prevails.”

#4. Total Honesty. Integrity, like attitude belongs to you alone.  We must absolutely trust what we tell each other, or the battle is already lost.  Honesty holds us together.  The trust that comes from honesty is critical and nothing should ever compromise it.  Mean what you say and stand behind your word.  Never lie, cheat, or steal, especially to and from a fellow Marine

#5. Communicate. Bad news never gets better with age.  We must communicate — ask yourself: “what do I know, who needs to know it, and have I told them”?  I will often ask for your ideas on how to do things better, again think about the question, be honest, and give me the information I need.  No Marine will ever be punished for telling the truth.  He will be responsible for the deed, but never admonished for his honesty.  When we make mistakes, and we will, we own up to them.

#6. Hazing, Sexual Assault, and Discrimination.  There is no valid excuse for any of this type of activity.  First, there is only one initiation in the Marine Corps, and it occurs at enlisted recruit and officer candidate training. Anything else is amateur and unprofessional!  When it comes to discrimination, whether due to race, gender, or religion, it has no place in our units.  It takes away from our strength – diversity.  Discrimination diminishes our character – selflessness.  Sexual harassment and assault is the greatest threat to the force – protect each other from this threat. When you find yourself in a questionable situation ask the following question.  If this Marine or sailor were the Commander’s son or daughter would I treat him this way in front of the Commander?  

#7. Accountability. Along with the six previously stated traits, habits, and philosophy the Accountability Code is simple; I am accountable for my Marines and sailors.  I am accountable for my equipment.  I am accountable for my actions.  I am accountable for my lack of action.

“Discipline must be a habit so ingrained that it is stronger than the excitement of battle or the fear of death.”

Gen George S. Patton, Jr.

#8. Common Sense. Operations, training, exercises, even our lives can get very complicated very fast.  Whenever you can, keep it simple!  Think about what you are doing and the consequences and use your common sense.  If it still doesn’t make sense, then ask why.

#9.  Leadership. Be a take charge leader.  When in doubt do the next right thing – 99 times out of 100 you know what the wrong courses of action are.  A leader makes decisions. Good decision-making comes from experience.  Experience comes from occasionally making bad decisions.  Learn from your mistakes, but don’t repeat them.  Mistakes resulting from acts of commission are part of the learning process – inaction is tantamount to cowardice.  Failing to plan properly is laziness.

“It is better to be on hand with ten men than to be absent with ten thousand.” Tamerlane


Year of the Captains & Colonels: Captain Ronzelle L. Green

Year of the Captains & Colonels: Captain Ronzelle L. Green

Message to NNOA President & Members:

Throughout my career, I have been fortunately to have mentors and sponsors help guide my careers. These individuals have helped me shape the path I have taken. A few essential lessons I have learned over the years:

Treat everyone with respect – regardless of rank. Our service members deserve common courtesy and admiration as members of the armed services…ensure they receive it.
Know the difference between a mentor & sponsor – A mentor is someone that you can confide and gather professional or personal guidance. On the other hand, a sponsor is someone that can represent and champion your “brand”. Never confuse the two…mentors have intimate insights into your strengths and weaknesses. Sponsors do not.
Your mentor does not always need to look like you – In my career, I had mentors that looked like me and mentors that do not. Be sure to have different mentors…that’s the strength of diversity…everyone sees something a little different.
You are always on stage – In uniform or out, you must understand, you are always in the spotlight. Don’t be concerned, just be aware.
Be an expert at your craft – Be the absolute best you can be at your job.

Let your voice be heard – Speak up. Many times, JOs don’t believe they can contribute and add value to the discussion. Research, analyze, critically think, and be ready to present courses of action/recommendations. Have the courage to speak and contribute.
Don’t be afraid to champion diversity and inclusion – A cornerstone of our service is diversity and inclusion. As minority officers, never be afraid to openly mentor, serve, and sponsor other officers/enlisted regardless of race, religion, genders, sexual preference, etc. Don’t shy away from being an advocate.
Ask questions – If you don’t know, ask. Never hesitate to ask questions because this is how we all learn.
The job is important, but your family is really, really important. We all spend our share of time ensuring the mission is accomplished. That’s good. However, one day we will wear our uniforms for the last time, and when the speeches are over & the accolades given, our families
will be there. Invest in those relationships now.
Live and serve with honor and integrity.
Listen and learn from your senior enlisted.
Look for the good in people. I found when you purposefully seek it out, you will find it.
Praise in public and reprimand in private. Sometimes we do forget this. Also, immediate address problems head on…they don’t get better over time.
Take care of your people, and your people will take care of the mission.
Change of Command, Kiln, MS
Mohammed Al-Ahmad Kuwait Naval Base, Kuwait

Year of the Captains & Colonels: CAPT Milton W. Troy, III, SC, USN

Year of the Captains & Colonels: CAPT Milton W. Troy, III, SC, USN

Message to NNOA President & Members:

“With over 25 years of service, the best advice I have been given was from a retired Master Chief from the Vietnam War era who happened to be an advisor at my NROTC Unit; “Everything in life is either a lesson or a blessing.”  Whether professionally or personally, approach every endeavor with that in mind so that you have the right perspective when facing a challenge head on.  Furthermore, in the words of Edgar Albert Guest from his famous poem, “See It Through,” it is important to always remember that when challenges come, “Running from it will not save you, See it through!”  In doing so, cultivate and leverage the connections made through trusted peers and mentors to help enhance your technical competence and revalidate the uncompromising character our Navy and our nation demand of you.  Finally, hold fast to your sources of inspiration that come from your family and your chosen spiritual path.  This form of mental wellness will keep you in fighting trim.  Cherishing all of these elements of my life have made all the difference.”

Year of the Captains & Colonels: CAPT Lexia M. Littlejohn, USCG

Year of the Captains & Colonels: CAPT Lexia M. Littlejohn, USCG

Leadership Lessons

  1. Innovate: Lean forward, think outside the box, and capitalize on opportunities to evolve.
  2. There’s Power in Positivity: Let’s face it- everyone has their off days. Don’t let your crew see yours. Your team will feed off your energy, good or bad, so never underestimate the power of a positive attitude.
  3. Lean Into Challenges: Step out of your comfort zone and take on constructive challenges. If you’re feeling that little pit in the bottom of your stomach, that’s exactly the level of discomfort that you should be feeling and it means that you’re doing it right.
  4. Face-to-Face Interaction: Get out from behind the desk and talk to your crew. Meet them where they are and get to know their names and their stories. The best leaders make the time to be present.
  5. Communicate from the Heart, Not the Paper: People zone out when a presenter reads from a prepared slide or script. This is even more true as a leader. There’s a distinction between speaking and communicating, so once you know the subject matter, put down the notes and allow for two-way communications between you and your audience.
  6. Readiness is Key to Excellence: Proficiency requires meticulous preparation. Focus on your team’s readiness to perform the mission and excellence will follow.
  7. Invest in self, family, shipmates, and community. If you like airplane analogies, you have to put your own mask on before helping others. Invest in your own well-being so that you have ample energy to give to all of those that are counting on you.


CAPT Lexia Littlejohn currently serves as the Sector Commander for Sector Buffalo where she oversees 1,200 active duty, reserve, and Auxiliary members in conducting Coast Guard operations across Lakes Erie and Ontario including the Niagara River and Niagara Falls, a portion of the St. Lawrence Seaway, 570 miles of shoreline across 3 states, and 455 miles of international maritime border.

Previously, CAPT Littlejohn served as the Deputy Commander for Sector Key West where she led a multi-agency team of more than 400 responders and 40 assets in conducting over 100 rescues and effecting salvage operations to reopen the Port of Key West following Hurricane Irma. CAPT Littlejohn’s other assignments have included advising Senators on Coast Guard and maritime security issues as a Coast Guard Fellow for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, formulating the Coast Guard’s $1.4 billion counterdrug budget, and leading a team in the production of over 300 interviews, press releases, and news conferences, which earned her unit the Commander Jim Simpson Award (the Coast Guard’s highest award for public affairs).

CAPT Littlejohn has responded to numerous marine oil spills and spoken at domestic and international pollution conferences on complex incident response. In 2013, CAPT Littlejohn received the Coast Guard Innovation Award’s honorable mention for her crisis management database that improved operational readiness for major contingencies. Her other military awards include two Meritorious Service Medals and seven Coast Guard Commendation Medals.

CAPT Littlejohn holds a B.S. in Marine and Environmental Sciences from the Coast Guard Academy and M.S. and Engineer degrees in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Stanford University. She is the second African American female in Coast Guard history to reach the rank of Captain and the first to command a Sector. CAPT Littlejohn is married to Conor Heelan of the Republic of Ireland and they have three children, Kaia (9), Kasey (8), and Ciara (4).