38 Things I Wish They Told Me at the Naval Academy

This is a list I started in 2006 and I’m happy to say that after much input and editing, I narrowed my list to 38 ideas, lessons learned and general good advice.

Many of these are principles of leadership that can apply in any occupation, I hope you enjoy reading them.

Calling all active midshipmen and alumni! I have a dream to speak at a Forrestal Lecture at USNA. The articles I’ve written about the Naval Academy have been read over 100,000 times. What if we got to have conversations like this in front of the whole academy? Is a Forrestal possible? Who can make it happen? I can be reached by email at davebooda@gmail.com.  Thanks for all the support.

Things I Wish They Told Me at USNA

By Dave Boodakian, 29th Company c/o 2005

1. Service selection is less about the job and more about the people you’ll be around. Instead of asking what it’s like to fly a jet or drive a ship ask yourself what it’s like to work with pilots and ship drivers.

2. If you like all work and no play, go subs.

3. Don’t become a Nuke SWO for the money.

3A. Please. Do. Not. Become a Nuke SWO for the money.

4. In the Navy, Jet pilots are uptight and helo pilots are laid-back, in the Marines, the opposite is true. No one knows why, but it’s true.

5. Don’t let anyone know you are getting out until you drop the letter, no matter how much you want to talk about it.

6. Picking Nofolk over San Diego is like turning down a one night stand with Jessica Alba, don’t be silly.

7. If you choose Japan, be prepared to spend most of your tour out to sea.

8. Be extremely generous with your Navy cash card. The sodas and snacks you buy for your people will go a long way.

9. Once a week, pull one of your Sailors/Marines aside and talk with the sole intention of telling him/her how much you appreciate what he/she does. This one act, done with consistency and sincerity will have a profound effect on the people you lead.

10. As a rule (and there are always exceptions) amphibs (LPD, LHD, LSD, LHA) are more laid back than cru/des (DDG, CG, FFG). Choose wisely.

11. Never underestimate quality of life.

12. The biggest factor that keeps people in the Navy is fear of moving on. Don’t wait until a year out to decide what you want to do after you get out (if you decide to), it’s a big life change and you need to be very well prepared.

13. The happiest officers are well-rounded. Make your outside interests a priority and don’t feel that your job has to define who you are.

14. Your mission as an officer can be broken down into one simple phrase: right the wrongs.

15. When it comes to being smart with money there are two kinds of people, those who spend their 2/c loan and those who don’t.

16. At any given command there are a handful of finically savvy Sailors who can teach you how to maximize your income, find them and you will save thousands of dollars over your career (hint: they are usually enlisted and have been in for 10+ years).

17. Just because the Navy encourages you to take leave during stand down doesn’t mean you should. Save up your leave and take time off when you want to.

18. Never underestimate quality of life.

19. When a junior officer gets promoted, grab his/her shoulder boards for when you’ll need them, that shit is expensive!

20. The thrift shop on base can save you a lot of money, but 98% of people don’t use it.

21. Hire a good tax professional your first year as an officer and the knowledge you will learn about how to get the most out of your taxes will be worth thousands of dollars over your career & life.

22. Encourage the people who work for you to pursue their degree while they work through Tuition Assitance. The Navy & Marine Corps offers a lot of money for classes, but only for those who ask for it.

23. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn of him.” Even the youngest Sailor or Marine can teach you something. The ability to recognize potential will always be the mark of a great leader.

24. If you get stationed in San Diego, take your division/platoon to LA and go to the Price Is Right. Tickets are free and they love when sailors & marines show up in uniform (i.e. one of you will get picked to bid on the items).

25. Clothes were meant to be tailored, accept the fact that you’re not as small as you were plebe year and stop torturing yourself.

26. As an officer you have a golden opportunity to save money. Use the allotment system that mypay (DFAS) offers. For example, if I were to start over again as an Ensign, I would live off 0-1 pay and set up allotments to save the extra money you make as your pay increases. By doing that alone you can save $50,000 in 5 years. By saving during deployments and investing your money wisely you can have even more.

27. When you see your division or platoon out at a bar, buy them a round of drinks then move on, don’t linger.

28. Don’t cut chow lines just because you can.

28A. Even if other officers do it.

29. Medical is not the enemy anymore. If you have a problem, get it looked at. Down the road when you get out or retire the problems you document add up to compensation for disability, but only if you document them.

30. Never accept the answer “that’s the way it’s always done” if a situation doesn’t feel right. There are a lot of bad habits out there and it’s your job to fix them. Right the wrongs.

31. Don’t be afraid to be that junior officer who makes connections with higher ups, especially admirals. It’s lonely at the top and they will appreciate your honesty and courage to engage them in meaningful conversation.

32. Buy a stack of thank you notes and use them often.

33. Be yourself. Having a different personality at work may seem natural, but it’s harmful in the long run (no matter how much it may please your current boss). The only way to have a truly happy and fulfilling career, be it 5 years or 30 years is to be yourself, and never apologize for it. It’s possibly the most difficult thing to accomplish and you’ll get a lot of shit from cowards who want you to fit in, but keep the faith, all great leaders develop this quality.

34. The Naval Academy has high standards of physical fitness, the fleet has very low standards. Take time to work out everyday and encourage your people to do the same, even if it doesn’t seem like the normal thing to do.

35. Chances are wherever you get stationed you’ll have classmates and friends close by (on the same base). Take some time out of the workday and just go visit them, sometimes they’ll even be just across the pier.

36. Maintaining relationships is important.

37. Not being a group one major isn’t a crime, don’t be fooled into thinking you should be an engineer. Study what you’re interested in.

38. Don’t forget why you signed up. It’s different for everyone, and it’s easy to forget your purpose in a sea of paperwork and office politics. I joined for the chance to lead and inspire others, and at the end of the day, no qualification, pin, FITREP or award was ever worth giving that up for.


This is part 1 of a 4-part series entitled The Naval Academy Experience & Beyond

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