Words of Wisdom: A CMC’s mentor

This blog post is the second of a series that will come from enlisted leadership to highlight the mentors who molded them into who they are today. The blog series will be published the first Wednesday of every month, right here on Coast Guard All Hands.

Written by Command Master Chief Jason Vanderhaden, Deputy Commandant for Mission Support

I am often asked, “What does it take to become a Gold Badge Command Master Chief?” There are many factors involved to answer that question, but the biggest reason for me was an inspirational leader who I was fortunate enough to work for: Boatswain’s Mate Master Chief Mark Schweiger.

BMCM Schweiger and FS2 Vanderhaden

BMCM Schweiger and FS2 Vanderhaden, July 4, 1997

Most enlisted people in the Coast Guard have the potential to be a Command Master Chief. It often only takes a great leader to recognize that potential and push the person to reach higher. Master Chief Schweiger pushed everyone who worked with him to be their best; however, many of us didn’t appreciate what he was doing for us at the time. As it is with many great leaders, you can’t truly understand how helpful they are until well after they have made their impact on you.

The Coast Guard is the best organization to work for. We’re small enough that great leaders, like Master Chief Schweiger, can devote time to develop junior people on a personal level.

I’m sure if you reflect on your best leaders, they are the people who pushed you to be a better person instead of being the easiest to work for. Master Chief Schweiger first set the example for hard work and dedication, then spelled out his expectations for the crew and never wavered in those expectations, even when we couldn’t appreciate what he was doing for us. He recognized his crew for their hard work and never took credit for himself.

As I’ve advanced through our service, I came to appreciate another of Master Chief Schweiger’s key leadership traits. He consistently modeled maturity to his crew and focused on what is truly important in life, not just the Coast Guard mission. Personally, he helped me focus my goals on long-term outcomes that involved taking care of my family and helping me to become a better person. He constantly asked us to think about what was truly important to us, which helped keep us on the right track. He never got too busy to a do a daily check to be sure we were focusing on our long-term goals.

Master Chief Schweiger reflected on his mentoring of me saying, “Every now and then just a little course correction is all we need to get us back on track to meet those goals we have set for ourselves.”

CMC Vanderhaden portrait

Command Master Chief Jason Vanderhaden, Deputy Commandant for Mission Support

If you want to be a leader worth remembering, like Master Chief Schweiger was to me, set high standards for yourself, set high standards for your crew, communicate those standards and help your crew reach the maximum of their potential. Do not let your crew take the path of least resistance. Push them to work harder than they thought they could. Make sure you are setting the standard for maturity and judgement while making sure your crew’s actions are focused on long-term personal and professional goals.


Author’s note: MCPOCG Cantrell’s Enlisted Leadership Blog post from last month featured Master Chief Jerry Alverson, who was Master Chief Schweiger’s predecessor as the officer in charge of the CGC Cheyenne. I had the privilege to work for both of these outstanding leaders.

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