SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- A class of 51 Navy 1st class petty officers and two Air Force tech. sergeants graduated from the Navy Region Southwest (NRSW) Chief Petty Officer (CPO) Foundation's newest training program, known as The Foundry, Oct. 23, 2015.
The Foundry, a weeklong leadership training for those at the rank of E-6, draws many of its lessons from the leadership of heroes past and present - heroes who sacrificed themselves to ensure a better Nation. From Navy SEALs who unselfishly smothered grenades to save their shipmates to current personnel issues at small outpost commands, The Foundry discussed their stories. Mentors told the stories of real human beings who worked through unimaginable conflicts; Sailors who fought the enemy at seas, who provided humanitarian aid and disaster relief to those in need, and people who simply provided mentorship and guidance to someone in need.
Chief Hospital Corpsman Tristan Cavender, one of the mentors said, "It's been a really amazing experience, especially in the evenings when we do the 'fireside chats.' We break out into smaller groups, so it's not really structured, there's not necessarily an outline to follow; it's really an opportunity for these sailors to vent a little bit - and some of them have had huge breakthroughs."
The Foundry is not set up to tell people how to lead; its intention is to share stories of leadership. From walking the Fort Rosecrans Cemetery and sharing stories of heroes past to listening to current military and civilian leaders speaking of their own stories, The Foundry simply aims to inspire.
"I didn't really come in with a lot of specific expectations on what it was going to be. I wasn't real familiar with what The Foundry was about or what the leadership concepts were going to be. If I assumed anything, I thought it would be more like a heritage academy," said Cavender, assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Expeditionary Support Unit One and native of Charleston, West Virginia.
Cavender was pleasantly surprised near the end and said, "I've been in 22 years and this is one of the few times that I have been a part of a group and thought, 'this is really something.' This is something that, when it catches fire and the word gets out, I really see it exploding and getting implemented earlier in the career process"
Cavender is one of 10 mentors for this class of The Foundry, all between the ranks of E-7 to E-9. The mentors were tasked with shaping and molding the attendees into the future leaders of the deck plates; people who will turn orders from above into a realized solution on the ground. The Foundry looks to forge and instill the heroic qualities of people such as Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Michael Anthony Monsoor, a Navy SEAL Medal of Honor recipient, who perished after diving on and covering a grenade to save his shipmates.
Even to a brief observer, it becomes obvious that the chiefs, senior chiefs, and master chiefs at The Foundry are truly interested and invested in the future of their Sailors. They did not do this for bullet points on their next evaluation or to make themselves appear superior to their counterparts. They applied for this opportunity to enhance the Navy as a whole. They believe in the value of leadership and realize the true impact that it can have on people's lives.
"This is the most incredible leadership program that I have ever attended. Ever." Logistics Specialist 1st Class Robert Walker, assigned to Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach and native of Kingston, Jamaica said, "I think that there should be a lot more people that should know about this. It could really help and change our military for the better in the way they create leaders."
Air Force Tech. Sergeants Stephanie Chastain and Mark Philpott, both from Naval Consolidated Brig, Miramar in San Diego, were taken in by the NRSW CPO Foundation for The Foundry and expressed extreme gratitude for it.
"It was an honor to even be a part, the Navy has been great with us and I just can't say enough how honored I am to have the opportunity," said Chastain, a native of San Diego.
Philpott, a native of Chicago, Illinois, said he found the training to be deep, inspirational and exceptional.
"I feel like I've never gotten any thing like this anywhere else," Philpott said. "I feel I can take so much back with me to share with the rest of the Air Force."
Philpot reflected on the sense of humanity, respect and deep honor with the cemetery walks, hardly able to express in words how meaningful it was.
The success of the Foundry was accomplished not only from the 'fireside chats' and cemetery walks but also from the quality of the volunteer speakers.
One particular standout was Chris Van Gorder, a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE) and president and CEO of Scripps Health, also in San Diego. Van Gorder's rise to the top of one of the Nations leading health care providers was unexpected and unconventional. He began in the security department with Scripps after being medically retired from the Los Angeles police department when one day he was thrust into the helm in an interim capacity. That was in the year 2000 when the company was nearly bankrupt. Since then, with Van Gorder still at the helm, Scripps had made the Forbes Magazine "Top 100 Companies to Work For" list eight times and remains a major staple in the healthcare industry.
Van Gorder, who routinely volunteers to speak to foundry participants, said of the experience, "For me just taking just an hour or two out of my time to spend time with future navy leaders, that an investment in the future. I am truly honored to be able to come spend a couple hours with you."
As to how Van Gorder still relates so well to the enlisted population of the Navy, he said, "I'm still a grunt, I'm still a street cop, and that's never really changed. I don't think any differently than I did when I was a front line employee or a cop. I really don't. I have a different title and a different salary but I never forgot that what's most important is the work you are actually doing."
An experienced speaker and storyteller, Van Gorder held the room almost completely silent for his near two-hour speech, as seemingly everyone waited with bated breath to hear what he would say next.
"I was engaged the whole time, I couldn't really take my eyes off of him - with everything he was saying, it's definitely going to make a change in my leadership," Walker said. "He completely changed my mindset on what it is to run and organization and to lead people, it's incredible."
The real challenge of the future for The Foundry may not be maintaining the quality of speakers and strength of their curriculum, but it may lie in controlling the demand.
"It's not only to build more effective Navy leaders, but to build more leaders in general," said Foundry committee member Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Ric Bolton, assigned to Naval Medical Center San Diego. "I think if everyone understood that there would be even more demand."
Bolton, an Orange County, California native, won't be alone in spreading the message.
"Once I leave here I will be recommending this training to everybody, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Army, everyone," said Philpott.
Either way, as former Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral George Anderson once said, "The Navy has both a tradition and a future - and we look with pride and confidence in both directions."
For more information about NRSW CPO Foundation, visit http://www.nrswcpof.org.
For more news from Navy Public Affairs Support Element, visit www.navy.mil/local/npasehq/.