I interviewed Dave Rakowski on January 25, 2014 as he was preparing to retire from the Navy and start a new life in the civilian world. Dave had some very interesting things to say, and I think the information in this interview is going to be valuable for current Navy Nukes, Former Navy Nukes, and anyone considering joining the program.
Here are the stats…
I like to start the interview off with a little personal information, just to get a feel for who I’m talking to. Dave is 40 years old, and has been married for 13 years. Dave has 3 kids (2 girls, 8 and 10 years old, and one 4 year old boy). Dave also has a 5 year old Walker Treeing Coon Hound.
Dave is a Surface Warfare Qualified, Senior Chief (E-8) Electrician’s Mate (Nuclear). He entered this man’s Navy on 7 DEC 1994, and his EAOS is 31 DEC 2014.
As usual, my questions are in bold, Dave’s responses are in normal type, and my commentary, if any, is in italics.
Dave, where are you from?
Dave circa 1994
Long Story: Born in Louisiana, lived there until I was 6 months old, moved to Chicago for 3 months, moved to Java, Indonesia, lived there until I was about 2, then moved to La Paz, Bolivia until I was about 3, moved back to Louisiana, lived there until 1979, then moved to Lakewood, Colorado (suburb of Denver), then in 1986, moved to Portland, Oregon, then in 1987, moved back to Lakewood, Colorado, where I lived until I enlisted.
Short Story: Colorado
Where do you want to live after the Navy?
Both the wife and I are from Colorado, and miss the snow, so we want to live in a place with SEASONS, and with good schools for the kids, with a semi-decent standard of living, so we are really looking closely at the Northwest or Northeast US.
Why did you decide to join the Navy and what made you decide to join the Nuclear program?
I graduated High School in 1991, and then went to the University of Colorado. I studied there from 1991 until 1994. During that time, I changed my major 5 times. Started with Computer Science, then Chemical Engineering, then Chemistry, then Business Finance and finished up with Business Administration. I ended up leaving after 3.5 years with no degree, and thanks to two incredibly supportive parents, no student loan debt either.
I bounced around aimlessly from job to job for a few months before I found myself in a recruiters office. I had a vague idea of wanting to someday work for the NSA or CIA, and figured the best way to do that was through Air Force Intelligence, so I made an appointment with the Air Force recruiter. Well, he blew me off, and the Navy Recruiter was there. After talking with him for a long time, I decided that the Cryptologic Technician rating was the one for me, and signed some paperwork. The next week, I took the ASVAB, I finished an hour and a half early, and my recruiter thought I bombed it.
Once the results came back as a 99, however, he told me he had another exam for me, called the “NFQT” to qualify for the most “Advanced Rating in the Armed Forces”. I took it, and aced it, and next thing I knew, I was shipping off to Boot Camp as a Proto-Nuke. Had no idea what it entailed, did some research and wanted to be an ELT, so I asked for MM first, ET second, and EM third. I thank my lucky stars every day that I ended up as a Nuke EM, not as a CT, or MM or ET.
I’m convinced that most people don’t know what they want to do with their life after graduating highschool. I’m a huge advocate of taking a little time off before heading to college. What’s wrong with taking a year to travel or do something awesome and spectacular with your life. James Altucher writes about this in his book 40 Alternatives to College, which is a great read for any parent or young student. I think that one of the greatest alternatives to college is a stint in the Military. Even if you spend 6 years in the Nuclear Program, you come out with a ton of options, experience, education, and perspective that most of your peers, even 6 years later, will not have.
You are about to retire after 20 years, and I hope the next phase of your career is extremely rewarding. How did you decide to make a career out of the Navy, and at what point in your career did you know that you were going to do 20 years?
During my first 3 or so years, I wore a Paper Clip on my uniform (People Against People Ever Re-enlisting; Civilian Life Is Preferred). Then, initial move-aboard happened on the Truman. Living on board the ship was the worst 6 months I had in the Navy up to that point.
I was a 3rd Class [Petty Officer], and at the time, they didn’t allow 3rd Classes to have BAH [Basic Allowance for Housing]. So, I decided to bite the bullet, and did the STAR Re-Enlistment just so I could get BAH and move off the ship (STAR Re-Enlistment allows E-4 Nukes to be advanced to E-5 upon re-enlistment).
Fast-forward 3 years, and I’m getting married. 2 years later, some financial debt…Make the decision with the wife to wipe out debt and re-enlist. That would take me out to my 10 year point. I was fully planning on getting out then, after my tour at Prototype (The School where Nukes train on actual nuclear power plants). Then, I made CPO [Chief Petty Officer, E-7]. When that happened, I finally decided on the full 20 year career. Now that I had my Khakis on, I wanted the rest of my career to be comprised of me trying to make the Navy just a slightly nicer place for junior guys so hopefully the attitude I had in my beginning years would no longer continue.
I want to touch on 2 things here. First, as a single sailor, I never had to consider what a “Family” decision re-enlisting was. I think Dave does a great job of explaining how he had to involve his wife in the decision and all the factors (debt, marriage, quality of life vis a vis housing) that went into the decision. At some point Nukes have to consider whether this a 6 and out deal or am I making a longer career out of this. A lot of the NNJF message board posts are from wives asking about the economy on the outside and is it a good idea to leave the safety and comfort of a steady paycheck (and family health coverage) right now.
Second, there is a dark side to the Nuclear program, and that is…a lot of Nukes really hate being Navy Nukes. I was one of them. I was a PAPERCLIP wearing, I hate the Navy, 6 & Out, 807, Nuke. At any given time I could tell you down to the minute, how much time I had left on my 6 years, and I could adjust it for terminal leave upon request. Some people loved it, some people hated it, and some people like my good friend Iron Michael Nunez handled it like a true professional and made the absolute best of their time in the program. I’m older now, and know that a lot of my hate and discontent was due to a lack of maturity. When Dave says that he, wanted to spend the rest of his career trying to make the Navy a better place, it really brings a smile to my face because while a lot of my hate and discontent was caused by my own immaturity, a lot of it was also caused by poor leadership in the enlisted ranks, particularly the First Classes and Chiefs that had a direct bearing on my day to day life. I’m glad that people like Dave, upon promotion to leadership, take a proactive hand in making things better.
In your 20 years, what was your favorite duty station and why? What job did you do there and what did you like about that job?
Putting on the Anchor
Every duty station that I have had has been my favorite. I loved the USS Harry S. Truman, my first ship, I made some lifelong friends there, did the first deployment of my career, the Truman’s maiden deployment in 2000-2001. I made First Class [E-6] on that Cruise. I loved my staff tour at Prototype, I had never been that challenged in a position in my life, I loved the many complexities that arose from keeping a 50+ year old Reactor running while continually performing student training. I loved my tour on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, where I matured as a Chief Petty Officer, I learned more from my guys there than I have learned from any instructor in any class in my entire life. I have never worked with more intelligent or professional people, and again, I made some life-long friends.
I am also thoroughly enjoying my tour at Nuclear Power School, having the opportunity to influence the next generation of Nuclear Operators is something that I am incredibly honored to have the opportunity to do. Not to mention the ability to train Officers for 2 full years, teaching 6 consecutive classes, nearly 200 Officer Students the principles of Electrical Engineering, and finally get the opportunity to stress to them the importance of Electrical Safety, and KNOWING the Electric Plant has been amazing.
I know that you have done a lot of teaching at NPS Charleston, and that you have taught both Enlisted and Officer Nukes. What are the differences and similarities teaching Officers vs. Enlisted?
I was filled with a lot of trepidation prior to heading up to the “3rd Deck” and teaching Officers. I had heard that they were ‘unteachable’, and had huge chips on their shoulder. Nothing could be further from the truth. Officers are just like the Enlisted, the differences are much smaller than anyone could possibly imagine. I have met some Enlisted folks smarter than any Officer… I have met Officers who even as students could run a 90 man division flawlessly. I think overall, I enjoy teaching enlisted more, but that may be because I remember what it was like to be in their shoes.
What did the Navy teach you about being a leader? I left the Navy as an E5, and I feel like I missed a lot of valuable leadership experience that I might have gained as an E6 or E7. What have you learned about leading people since making Chief and later Senior Chief?
When I was an E-6, I think I had a tremendous chip on my shoulder. I felt like I had something to prove. As a Staff Instructor at Prototype, I felt like I had to be mean in order to be heard. I made Chief Petty Officer toward the end of my tour at Prototype, and I ended up as a JUNIOR CPO on the Roosevelt. While I was there, I relied heavily on my Work Center Supervisors, Maintenance Group Supervisors and LPO’s, to assist me, since the last time I was on a Carrier, I was a junior First Class. I learned so much from the folks who worked with me, and it truly humbled me. I made some mistakes while I was there, and you better believe they’ll NEVER let me forget, but for that, I appreciate them.
I never would be where I am now if it wasn’t for them. I will never forget that. And that, I suppose is what I am taking away from the Navy as a leader. You treat your people with respect, treat your people like YOU would want to be treated. It sounds trite, but it is shockingly effective. And the hardest lesson to learn of all: Never be afraid to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out for you”. Pride has gotten more people into more trouble than any other trait.
There are a lot of Nukes out there like myself, who leave the Navy at E5 and in civilian life are suddenly thrust into leadership roles as Engineers or Lead Technicians. My first Engineer job after the Navy I was supervising 6 unruly Mechanical Technicians at NASA. What advice would you give me to improve my leadership skills?
Try to put yourself into their shoes. Why were they unruly? Did they have issues at home? Are they unsatisfied with their work? Are they working too many hours? Too few? Are they actually engaged in working while they are at work? Remember all the stories about bored Nukes. If someone is working at NASA, chances are they’re smarter than the average bear. People like that NEED to be challenged. If they are not, they get bored, and hijinks will be sure to follow.
Let’s switch gears a bit and talk about your job finding process. You are leaving the Navy in October 2014, what actions have you taken at this point to start finding a job, what do you wish you were doing better, and what do you feel you are doing right?
Right off, I’ll say that the concept of switching gears completely and starting over at the bottom of the totem pole frightens me to no end. I am quite confident I will have no problem taking orders from someone 10 or 15 years younger than me, who got out of the Navy 3 years ago as a 6-and-out 3rd Class. That doesn’t bother me. Just the true uncertainty that exists in the civilian job market, it is quite intimidating, and the thought that my family depends upon me finding a job.
This has led to me researching as much as possible different job opportunities that exist in the civilian world for someone with my specific skill set and experience. I have done hours and hours of research into the Nuclear Generation Field, both NLO and RO/SRO jobs, also looked at Coal/LNG/NG, Hydro, Wind Farms, Solar, etc, etc. Looked at Data Centers, Manufacturing Facilities, I have taken a college course in Programmable Logic Controllers, I finished a degree in Nuclear Engineering Technology.
I am finishing up my NERC Reliability Coordinator Certification. I wrote a few resumes, I have a profile on monster.com, I have a LinkedIn profile. I have joined a few different groups on Facebook, and I have been talking to numerous friends out there in the real world, in attempts to get a good handle on what industry I would be most happy in, and the best way to go about getting a position in that field.
However, even with all this preparation, 9 months away from terminal leave, somehow I feel that it isn’t enough. I need to really start getting out there and start getting ‘practice’ interviews, so I can be familiar with the interview process. The last time I interviewed for a job, it was for Wal-Mart in 1994.
I think he’s doing all the right things. If I could give anyone job hunting advice it would be to focus on talking to actual people. In any economy, it is important to know how to Crack the Hidden Job Market. In my field at least, you get the best jobs by talking to actual people, as opposed to focusing your job search to online tools. Use LinkedIn, Navy Nuke Job Finder Facebook Group, and other online tools to get acquainted with actual people and to call, visit, have lunch with those actual people (people who are working where, or in the industry where, you want to work). Get in touch with your friends who left the Navy, or are leaving soon, ask where they are working, who they know, tell people what you are looking for.
Before the interview you sent me a short bio, and looking over your career in the Navy is quite amazing: Pre-Commissioned the Truman, Taught at Prototype, Lead Petty Officer at Prototype, Training Coordinator at Prototype, Lead Chief Petty Officer on the Roosevelt, made Senior Chief at Nuclear Power School, where you taught Electrical Engineering to Officers and Math to Enlisted students.
I don’t know how to convey the magnitude of all that to somebody in the civilian world. You’re basically a superhero. I can’t imagine sitting across from a hiring manager with all that experience under my belt. What kind of career do you want after the Navy, and why?
Superhero? No. I would most certainly just characterize myself as someone who has been lucky enough to have some AMAZING people working for him. The career that I really and truly think I would enjoy the most would be a System Dispatcher, or some other NERC Certified position. Ever since my first Electrical Operator watch on the Truman, I’ve enjoyed operating the electric plant, and since I’ve been studying the civilian electrical distribution system, the more I learn, the more I want to learn. It is an amazing system, and one that I think I would enjoy operating. The sheer amount of information that is required for its operation though is intimidating to say the least. I’ve been studying for the last 2 months, and I only feel like I’m barely scratching the surface, and I have nearly 20 years of Electrical Operator experience behind me.
Take a look at this post from the Navy Nuke Job Finder Facebook Group:
With all of your instructor experience, I imagine that this would be the perfect job for you, but my question is, do you have any entrepreneurial desires? I’m looking at your career, and I can’t imagine you working for someone else. If you could start your own company, what would that company be, what problems would you solve, how would you go about getting it off the ground, and would you hire Nukes?
That job actually looks incredibly similar to what I’ve been doing for the last 3 years at Power School, and one of the things that I really enjoyed doing on the Roosevelt, writing and giving training. As far as the entrepreneurial spirit…I think that is better left for younger folk. I have missed both my daughters first words, their first steps, I have missed so many important events in my wife and children’s lives that I don’t think that I would be willing to dedicate the 90-120 hours a week that starting a new business would entail.
That being said, the career transition from Military to Civilian is going to be a huge culture shock for both me and my family, and I am fully expecting 60-80 hour work weeks. But I think I’m about 15 years too late for anything involving starting a company. Would I hire Nukes? Hell yeah. Without a doubt. People talk all the time about how the pipeline is now a pump instead of a filter, and that the students we’re putting out in the fleet are so much worse than students years ago…I strongly disagree. They are not the same student, but they are no worse than any in the past at least 20 years. Maybe even smarter. Granted, there will always be those bad seeds, those sailors who just can’t cut it in ANY job, but the interview process is designed to weed people like that out.
Thanks for your service Senior Chief, fair winds and smooth sailing
Two more things I want to discuss with you Dave, and this really just comes from the heart because I don’t often get a chance to say stuff like this to the Nuclear Community. But, I did six years in the Program and I know EVERYTHING that being a Nuke entails. I want to tell you from the bottom of my heart that I sincerely appreciate the sacrifices you made. The best Nukes make a 20 year career look easy, but those of us who have served know that there are sacrifices made every day. You served from 1994 to 2014, which means you probably enforced the No Fly Zone before Gulf War II, you were on duty when the USS Cole got bombed, you were standing watch when Al-Qaeda attacked on September 11, 2001, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Global War on Terror, you answered the call when this country needed you and you trained a generation of Nukes, Officer and Enlisted, to keep this country safe. And I want to say thank you for your service, my family and I appreciate it.
Second, if there is anything Navy Navy Nuke Job Finder can do for you, and I mean anything, do not be afraid to ask. Is there anything else you would like to share?
Absolutely. If you are still in the Navy, take advantage of the Government. The Government is taking advantage of you, so why not return the favor? Get your degree before you get out. Get a certification. That is all FREE. Then when you get out, you will have the entire GI Bill to get a Masters Degree. And the most important piece of advice: As you move up through the ranks, NEVER forget where you came from.
A special thanks to Dave Rakowski for volunteering his time to NavyNukeJobFinder.com. You can contact Dave via his Linked Profile by clicking here.
Before You Bail…
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