I have had the fortunate opportunity to experience two first-class midshipmen cruises, the first being within an aviation community and the second within submarines. These experiences have not only provided an excellent look into the lifestyles of the respective communities, but also granted the chance to compare their respective leadership styles, especially those of junior officers. As expected, there are many differences between aviator and submariner leadership; however, those differences are trivial and insignificant compared to the fundamental leadership concepts that all good military leaders possess. One of the foundational concepts that I have seen throughout my limited naval experiences is the selfless dedication of officer to their subordinates. Officers by definition are those who lead subordinates. Good officers are those that, among a myriad of other traits, not only lead, but also immerse themselves into providing a better professional and personal environment for those underneath them.
During both my experiences with aviation (E-6B) and submarine (SSN) communities, I witnessed the immersion of officers into the lives of enlisted personnel. The VQ-4 Shadows, a doomsday-scenario mission-centric squadron, relies on the Boeing 707 airframe E-6B aircraft. Unlike fighters or helicopters, the E-6B is a flying control room, consisting of roughly 6 officers and 12 enlisted. This environment requires a constant interaction between officers and enlisted. Throughout my tour with the squadron, I was impressed by the amount of cohesion between officers and enlisted, so much so that rank sometimes seemed to disappear. Although not always a good thing, it provided a vital relationship between officers and enlisted, creating a sense of trust and belief and enabling success of the mission.
In terms of the submarine observations, the tight quarter environment almost requires a degree of compatibility between officers and enlisted. Onboard the submarine, I noticed a great deal of commander not only between officer and officer or enlisted and enlisted, but officer-enlisted as well. Although rank always has its factors, officers were deeply intertwined in the personal and operational lives of their personnel, constantly asking about home, problems and ways to makes their lives a little better. Yes, rank has its privileges, but everybody is on the same team and at the end of the day, it seemed that officers spent a lot of time helping their people become the best they can be.