By Intelligence Specialist Chief Petty Officer Jonetta Heckard
Editor’s Note: Sailors find the greatest mentorship by watching their leader’s everyday actions. Often times we do not know which Sailors of today will be the trail blazers written about in history tomorrow; but one thing we do know is their success is forged, in part, by the Sailors that served before them.
Growing up in humble settings, I had no idea my life would take the positive, significant turn that it has while serving in the military. I grew up in a single-family home with my mom, who wanted nothing but the best for my older brother and me. I didn’t have a clue as to what I was getting myself into when I decided to join the Navy at age 17. Along the way, I have had some of the best mentors who challenged me, both personally and professionally. Sometimes, the biggest motivator is to have someone who truly believes in you. When I was in Deck Department, one of my mentors always told me to make sure I stay two steps ahead and perform two paygrades above what you are currently.
Thinking on those who have inspired who I am today, Fleet Master Chief April Beldo, the Navy’s first African-American fleet master chief, would be my first choice. Her motivation, determination, and steadfast will to succeed has taught people world-wide that you can achieve your goals, despite any shortcomings, setbacks or character flaws, and not be defined by the color of your skin. There are numerous African American trail blazers who have served in the United States Navy throughout history. If it weren’t for historic leaders such as Master Chief Carl Brashear, ADM Michelle Howard, and Doris Miller, who made the impossible possible, I would not be where I am today in my naval career.
Junior Sailors often ask me how I have managed to be successful at every command I’ve been assigned to. My answer is simple: take care of your subordinate Sailors and your chain of command and the rest will fall into place. In my 13 years of naval service, I have encountered leaders who, in my opinion, have an “it’s all about me” mentality. Fortunately, those individuals have not done well and have not lasted very long in the military. One thing a mentor provided me, that I still follow and keep written in the back of my notebook is being a “5-star Sailor.” That means sustaining superior performance, having command collateral duties, attending college, having command involvement, and participating in community service. If you’re doing these things and staying consistent, everything else will fall in to place.
One thing a mentor provided me, that I still follow and keep written in the back of my notebook is being a “5-star Sailor.”
Today’s African-American Sailors stand proudly knowing the accomplishments of their predecessors, and it makes me even more proud to be a United States Sailor. I have been taught to not be afraid to challenge the norm, and to be willing to take a chance. Don’t be afraid to ask why. Make your own track, and don’t just follow the well-defined path. Chart your own course and destiny. Be the person you were meant to be.