By Lt. Jeffrey S. Gray, Navy City Outreach, Chicago
CHICAGO (NNS) -- High school students from across Chicago and college students from the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) were afforded an opportunity to engage and connect with a senior Navy submarine officer on topics of leadership and the Navy's Nuclear Propulsion program April 14.
Rear Adm. Richard P. Breckenridge, deputy director, Submarine Warfare Division, visited Chicago to participate in the 5th installment of the Hyman G. Rickover Leadership Series, hosted at the Union League Club of Chicago.
Along with his participation in the leadership series, Breckenridge also visited with Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) cadets at the Hyman G. Rickover Naval Academy, and visited with students, faculty, and staff at the UIC's College of Engineering.
Breckenridge's first stop was the Union League Club where he teamed up with James G. Keane, president and chief executive officer, Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago, to speak to 100 Junior ROTC cadets as part of an ongoing leadership series created to enhance the education cadets receive.
The Rickover Leadership Series was established in honor of the late Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, a graduate of Chicago's John Marshall High School in 1918. Adm. Rickover is known as the "Father of Nuclear Navy" and served 63 years on active duty, the longest-serving naval officer in U.S. history.
Breckenridge referred to himself as the son of a lobsterman from New England in addressing the students.
"I had no opportunity to attend college without someone other than my parents paying for it," he said. Breckenridge said that through hard work and "mental tenacity", he was able to attend and graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy with an aerospace engineering degree.
The main theme Breckenridge wanted cadets to take away from his talk on leadership was, the idea of giving themselves over to a higher purpose.
"I view my profession as a naval officer as a calling," he said. "There is a lot of sacrifice involved for those of us who serve in the military. Those who serve and have served do so for the security and prosperity of our nation."
Second to "giving oneself over to higher purpose," Breckenridge stressed that, "Your integrity matters. If there's one thing you take away from (our) talk today apart from patriotic service to your country and being a leader for higher calling — is that your integrity matters. You need to set the example. You need to live impeccably by high standards, and it starts with your own personal honor."
"In my line of work, the U.S. submarine force, we place a very high premium on integrity," said Breckenridge. "When we ask a sailor if he rigged a space for dive, before we open the main ballast tank vents and submerge the ship, and he says, 'yes, sir, engine room level is rigged for dive.' Other people's lives are depending on the honest and accurate report of that individual. Integrity is important. Safeguard it closely in every way. Be trustworthy. Make your word a solemn bond that is understood to be unwavering, and highly respected. Let me tell you there are going to many opportunities, many temptations, many trials, where it'll be easier not to maintain high integrity. It'll be easier to skirt an issue, to cut a corner, to cover up an unpleasantry, but that's when you're going to have stick to your guns and be trustworthy and of high integrity."
Following Breckenridge, Keane opened his discussion by giving his definition of leadership.
"My definition of leadership has two parts: The first part is that a leader is someone who can motivate and influence others," said Keane. "The second part is that they can influence and motivate someone to do something important."
Keane echoed Breckenridge, saying, "I want to borrow something from Adm. Breckenridge's comments, he spoke about serving a higher purpose. In my mind, serving a higher purpose is an essential part of a leader."
In closing the leadership series, Cmdr. Mike Tooker, commandant, Hyman G. Rickover Naval Academy and the series' master of ceremonies, said, "several of you, ten years from now, will be in a civilian business and part of your job will be to go away to leadership conferences where you will learn a lot about leadership at a significant cost to your business," he said.
"I've been to a few of these and I can tell you that typically what we've heard today from Adm. Breckenridge and Mr. Keane would cost a business tens of thousands (of dollars) for you to [hear in the future]. The fact that you are getting to hear this now in high school gives you an incredible head start on the competition."
Jacob Smith, a senior at Chicago Military Academy at Bronzeville and future student at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY, the opportunity to discuss leadership with a senior officer was a tremendous.
"Preparing to transition to West Point this summer I had questions about, how a young officer just out of one of the service academies manages the relationships he or she will have with enlisted personnel," Smith said.
"Adm. Breckenridge told us that while we'll to want to be accepted and become a part of the group, I need to resist that urge because it'll be more beneficial for me to be a professional," he continued. "He explained the different aspects of being a professional, maintaining my own personality, and setting goals. He also stressed the importance of setting high expectations for the people I will be leading so they will respect me as a professional."
Breckenridge also visited Rickover Naval Academy where he had an opportunity to learn about the school's mission and to speak to cadet's about his experience interviewing with the school's namesake.
Speaking in front of 70 cadets, Breckenridge recalled the when he was a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy and making a trip to Washington, D.C., for an interview to join the Navy's nuclear propulsion program.
After completing a lengthy math and science problem solving interview with Rickover's staff, Breckenridge remembered going upstairs for a personal interview with the admiral. As Breckenridge tells the story, "Adm. Rickover's goal was to test your mental toughness. He'd sort of get in your face and try to jar you and to put you on edge in order to see how well you think while you were under pressure."
The point, according to Breckenridge, was that "Adm. Rickover always believed we could do better, that we often times aren't working to our fullest capacity. We get complacent even when we're doing a good job. Rickover challenged us to do our best and strive to be the best. That has stuck with me my whole entire Navy career."
On the final leg of his visit, Breckenridge stopped by the University of Illinois at Chicago and its College of Engineering, where he met with students in the Minority Engineering Recruitment and Retention Program (MERRP) and other science, technology, mathematics degree majors to discuss opportunities and benefits of the Navy's nuclear propulsion program and the challenges and sacrifices of serving in the 'silent service.'
Allen Curry, a senior majoring in civil engineering, said, "The Navy's nuclear program seems to be an awesome opportunity, especially if you really want to grow and learn as an engineer. I'm looking at possibly becoming an officer in the military and the opportunity to gain some insight from a senior officer in the Navy can only enhance my decision-making about which service to pursue."
Navy City Outreach is responsible for enhancing the United States Navy branding by creating opportunities for Navy representatives to engage and connect with youth, educational, civic, government, and business leaders within America's great cities; and, communicate the importance of educating and training future naval officers from diverse backgrounds for leadership roles within the United States Navy.