Editor’s note: This instructor profile is part of a series profiling some of the best instructors and company commanders within the FORCECOM enterprise. Force Readiness Command will be featuring outstanding instructors regularly who go above and beyond to help shape the future of the Coast Guard. Petty Officer 1st Class R.F. Williams is an experienced Training Center Cape May company commander and has trained hundreds of recruits during an almost three-year tour.
Interview conducted by Lt. Donnie Brzuska.
1. What made you decide to become an instructor?
If we are being honest, there were two reasons that motivated me to become a company commander. First, I wanted to give back to the service that had been so good to me for 12 years. I had a personal desire to make the biggest positive impact on the future of the Coast Guard I could and what better place to do that than TRACEN Cape May? This place is literally step one, ground zero, the event horizon for more than 80 percent of the Coast Guard’s entire workforce. Second, I needed a break from calibrating radar’s and replacing chart plotters.
2. What do you find most motivating or rewarding in your role as an instructor?
Hands down, the most rewarding part of being a company commander is watching the training and behavior we suggest and sometimes force upon recruits influence and change them into proud Coast Guardsmen who are prepared to serve in the fleet. You get to stand back every eight weeks and actually look at what you have accomplished. There are not many jobs that can offer that level of job satisfaction.
3. What are some of the lessons you have learned from your students?
Those lessons have been many! In my opinion, the most important would be that everyone is different, not everyone thinks like me. As a company commander, I have had recruits from all over the world; Nigeria, Poland, Romania and everywhere in-between. Every recruit has different values, motivations, customs and goals. I need to be aware of those so that I can assist them in aligning their personal values with the values of our service and find out what is going to motivate them to succeed.
4. Where do you want to go for your next assignment, and how will this tour as an instructor help you in your career?
I requested to go back to sea because, to me, it’s what the Coast Guard is all about. My request was granted and I am slated for the Coast Guard Cutter Cypress in Pensacola, Florida. I have gained a vast amount of leadership experience during my tour at Training Center Cape May through training, motivating and supervising people from all walks of life. After a tour as a company commander, I know I will be a much more effective leader than I was before this assignment.
5. Share a memorable anecdote or “sea story” from your time as an instructor…or, describe the most significant challenge you have overcome as an instructor.
My biggest challenge was confidence in making decisions. This was not my strongest quality and is absolutely vital to be a good leader. I quickly realized that company commanders need to make quick and intelligent decisions all day, everyday and see those decisions through to the end. Sometimes you have to course correct along the way. Sometimes you fall flat on your face, but the most important thing is to realize why it did not work and use that lesson in your next decision making process.
6. Describe some new or innovative methods or equipment you are using in the classroom.
I am a big fan of the recruit guidon recognition program that we use in recruit training. This is neither new nor innovative, but it is extremely effective in my experience. It is basically a progressively harder series of challenges for which recruit companies can earn different color pennants to be flown from the company guidon after they earn their colors. If the company commander plays up the program the company will take it very seriously, and they will often come together as a team faster because they want all of those pennants and the sense of pride that comes along with it. On the flip side, this program will often bring companies the feeling of failure. This is not the type of program where everybody gets a trophy. Failure is something that recruits need to face in basic training, they need to learn what it feels like and how to keep their heads up, learn the lesson and use past failures to ensure future success.
7. How do you ensure that you keep current, teaching students the most up-to-date information and skills they will need?
Constant review of lesson plans and policy. I regularly train and evaluate new company commanders both in the squad bay and in more formal classroom settings. This is great for staying current because it forces me to look in the manuals and lesson plans more often and more in depth to ensure I am teaching the most current information to new instructors.
8. Are there specific experiences, skills or knowledge you have found helpful in this tour as an instructor?
All of my experiences in 14 years of service have been helpful as a company commander. Everything from the types of units, schools, having a family and being underway are things that recruits have questions about in later weeks of training. We don’t think about these things much from a day-to-day perspective, but an 18-22-year-old who has never been on their own needs this basic knowledge. Because of my experiences in the service, I can educate them on these important aspects of military life. As far as skill, I believe the most critical skills for a company commander are flexibility and adaptability, these are absolutely crucial to success.
9. What would you say to someone who is considering a tour as an instructor?
You won’t regret it! Yes, it is a lot of hard work and long hours, but once you see the results it is all worth it. Prepare yourself mentally and physically! Don’t worry about how bad you are at public speaking, close order drill or manual of arms because you will learn all of these things. All you need is the desire to make a difference…and a high and tight.
10. Who do you think would make a great instructor? What would you say to encourage them to pursue assignment to an instructor billet?
You will be responsible for not only the future of the Coast Guard, you’re giving a lot of young people the chance to succeed who may not have been capable of success on their own. You have shown them failure and how to learn from it, that the world does not revolve around them and that hard work and dedication lead to success. Even if they don’t stay in past their first tour, these are lessons that will help them succeed in anything they do. You’re getting the chance to positively influence the lives of hundreds or maybe thousands of young men and women, putting them on the path to lifelong success.