ANN ARBOR, Mich. (NNS) -- "Every night I heard gun shots. My mother was in jail for drugs. I never knew my father. I was raised by relatives, and went from home to home as one by one they got tired of caring for me. I knew I had to make a change, or I was going to end up a single mother, a criminal, or a corpse."
Capt. John Meier, commanding officer (CO) of Pre-commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), explained to audiences ranging from Job Corps students to World War II veterans that he was retelling a story from one of his Sailors. During her check-in brief, Meier explained he had learned about her past and how grateful she was for the opportunity to be in the Navy serving aboard the world's most technologically advanced warship.
Meier and two Michigan-born crew members visited their namesake's home state Nov. 16-20, participating in several community outreach events and meeting with local veterans and community groups. Meier used his speaking and media engagements to update Michigan residents on the progress of the ship and its crew. More importantly, he emphasized the relevance of President Gerald R. Ford's homegrown Michigan values of integrity, loyalty and service. Leading a team with roots in all 50 states and at least 18 countries, Meier said building the crew is his top priority.
"We come from all walks of life," he said, speaking to the Economic Club in Grand Rapids, Michigan. "We are an unbelievably diverse organization. So it's very, very important that I get them inculcated into our culture of excellence and create an environment on board where people are judged by the content of their character and the quality of their work."
Meier said he has about a two-hour conversation with every Sailor who checks aboard Gerald R. Ford; he gets to know them and their reasons for joining the Navy and their goals.
"The more you know about your people, the better you'll be able to be their commanding officer," Meier said. He also uses this time to set the standard for their tour and emphasize his guiding principles of safety, training, and a command climate based on dignity and respect."
"It's kind of a running joke in the command; when you go to meet with the CO, you're going to be there awhile," Chief Electronics Technician Jeff Simmons from Battle Creek, Michigan, told a crowd at the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor. "You're going to get to know him a little bit, and he's going to get to know you."
As Meier expanded on his leadership style, he explained that he relied on the support, or "buy-in," of his department heads, Chiefs Mess and junior Sailors to create a command where every Sailor on board Gerald R. Ford would want to serve.
"His commitment to the people he's working with and to the mission of the ship is very evident," said Andrew Earhart, a 21-year-old naval architecture student at the University Michigan who heard Meier speak at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum in Ann Arbor. "He is very aware of his role as a conduit to Gerald R. Ford's Michigan values and very committed to his vision."
"I think we're very fortunate to have that kind of leadership and that kind of style shown to us on board Gerald R. Ford," said Simmons. "It's not everywhere."
For more news from Pre-Commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn78/.