Defense Media Network

Interview With Vice Adm. Mary Jackson, USN

Commander Navy Installations Command


Capt. Edward H. Lundquist (USN Ret.): How do we manage our Navy bases and installations today, and how do we work with the fleet to support their operational needs?

Vice Adm. Mary Jackson: CNIC was stood up 16 years ago to support the fleet commanders and CNO through the delivery of sustained readiness from the Shore. CNIC represents “the shore,” specifically our Navy installations, outlying locations and the tenants that reside within these bases. Our portfolio bins into support for three primary pillars: the fleet, the fighter, and the family. Let’s start with the “fleet,” which includes the headquartered staffs located on our bases, the ships and aircraft that deploy from our bases, the forces that train at our bases, and those units that conduct maintenance at our bases. Next are the “fighters,” the individual Sailors who need a safe and secure place to work and access the services they need to be ready for the fight, like medical, dental, gyms, MWR, etc. The final pillar is the “family,” whom we support through housing, schools, childcare, counseling, and other services. These three pillars provide the strong foundation for each fleet commander, warfare enterprise, other services, and partner nations that operate on and off our bases.


How would you explain your job to someone who doesn’t know about the Navy, and also to someone who does?

When speaking to people outside the fence line, I tend to use terms like “tenant-landlord relationship,” or our installations are cities and the base COs are the city mayors or managers. Within Navy leadership, CNIC is similar to a shore TYCOM (Type Commander) who is responsible to man, train, and equip our installations. Within this analogy, the CNIC regions are the ISICs, and bases are the platform. Like a ship, the installation is a system-of-systems with a more complicated C2 structure. For example, on a ship, you can secure the brow, get underway and communicate with everyone at once via 1MC. On an installation however, not every Sailor falls directly under your command. Bases host Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, family members, contractors, government civilians, international partners, etc. Every installation CO is responsible for communicating to all tenants, while providing the Component and Fleet Commanders a solid base of operations at our 71 installations around the world.

Our military is focused on great power competition, mission command, and articulating risk. Within the Navy, SECNAV’s guidance is to look at how we compare to industry standards and finding partnership opportunities to “buy back” resourcing or bandwidth. The shore is uniquely equipped to partner with local communities and the private sector since many of the services we deliver are similar to services delivered outside the fence line.


Like utilities, or transportation…?

…and ports, airfields, hotels, child care, firefighting, housing, movie theaters, roads, libraries, places of worship, and more. SECNAV has challenged us to learn from industry, to see if we’re meeting and exceeding industry standards, learning from their best practices, and building partnerships where most applicable.

One example where we have leveraged a real estate opportunity to “buy back” resources is in San Diego. The Navy is providing a large property near Broadway pier for mixed commercial use, and, in return, the Navy receives a new headquarters office building on the same property. This long term real estate contract enables the Navy to operate from modern facilities while providing property for other commercial uses. Our future challenge is continuing to find these “out-of-the-box” ideas to collaborate with local partners and “buy bandwidth back,” for both the shore enterprise and the warfighters we support.

Vice Adm. Mary Jackson

Vice Adm. Mary Jackson, Commander Navy Installations Command

Under CNIC there are regions, and then below the regions there are the individual installations. Are the region and base commanders trained as installation management specialists?

The preponderance of our base COs come from a traditional warfare area: submarine, aviation, or surface, with some exceptions like in Gulfport where there is a SEABEE in command. All COs are screened for major command within their respective warfare community, but beyond being a shore customer for the first 20 years of their career, this is the first opportunity they have to manage an installation. It is a steep learning curve, but that can be said of any major command. Their warfare experiences, aptitude and expertise as operators and leaders are foundational to their success as base commanders. Our base COs are operational commanders. It is different, but it is absolutely still an operational command with the same approach expected.


Because these commanders are going to be dealing with a lot of things that they’ve never really dealt with before, such as unions, hazardous materials, or local communities, do they receive training or an indoctrination?

There is a long list of things that will be new to base COs, so we indoctrinate them through our Senior Shore Leadership Course, which is taught at CNIC headquarters. This is a two-week crash course focused on CNIC operations and management with an associated third week emphasizing force protection and emergency management. In most cases, future COs then visit their respective region to connect with their ISIC and gain specific details regarding their base. Our prospective XOs and CMCs also attend these courses to set an installation baseline prior to reporting. This shore-focused training is in addition to the Navy’s Command Leadership School and Naval Justice School, which is required for every major commander.


Do you have a XO/CO fleet-up rotation?

We have five bases that are XO/CO fleet-up: Naval Station Norfolk, Naval Air Station Oceana, NAS Patuxent River, NAS Jacksonville and Naval Base Coronado. Those five were pilot programs and we are scheduled to keep them as fleet-ups, but we are not growing more fleet-up locations at this time.


When screening people for these commands, do you have a special process? Are you looking for certain types of people?

The COs and XOs are screened and assigned by their respective warfare communities; CNIC doesn’t have a separate selection process. We do keep an eye on high-performing XOs, and we consider potentially reinvesting their talent at a region’s ops department or force protection staff. We also have an opportunity to track high performing officers into another installation CO job. Regardless, when they return to their warfare community, they have a much greater understanding of what the shore provides and a full appreciation for the shore’s direct correlation to warfighter readiness.

Naval Station Norfolk

The guided-missile destroyer USS Ross pulls into Naval Station Norfolk, the largest naval base in the world.

I would think that an XO can learn a lot about what makes a base run by walking around, kicking the trash cans, turning the water on, flushing the toilets, and watching the gates during rush hour. That’s an important level of knowledge about what’s happening on the bases.

It is the type of on the job training that you can only get by doing, you walk the walk and talk the talk every single day. The shore can be very unpredictable. On any given day, you don’t know what you are going to deal with on these bases and in the communities. You really get a lot of hands-on learning by working through the problems.


Isn’t there a sort of stability or predictability to the daily routine? The ships come and go; squadrons depart and come back; it’s kind of a steady stream of people coming in the gate in the morning and going out the gate at night.

Many factors impact that daily routine, and the volume of activity can change dramatically from one day to the next. The multitude of tenant commands each have their own activities and C2 reporting structures, with several different senior echelon commands operating simultaneously. Then the unexpected happens — things break, someone gets hurt, there is a fire or natural disaster. These are the types of things you really can’t predict.


Do you have your own operations center where you can monitor any incidents or situations on one of your bases? If you had a transformer blow up on one of your piers and it’s leaking PCBs and the fire department is there and it’s on the local TV, do you have some visibility to what’s happening and how the base is responding?

Yes, at the installation, region, and here at CNIC headquarters, we have operations centers. The bases will activate their ops centers when there is a crisis or they have a major evolution. If they have a large event or exercise, they plan well in advance to stand up their EOC – Emergency Operation Center. For unplanned events, I also have CCIRs — Commanders Critical Information Requirements — that are reported to the appropriate level. Like a ship CO’s standing orders, this is a formal list of things they need to report to me.


What are the things that the bases have to deal with; and then what are some of the things that are really unique or unusual at some of those bases?

We have a lot of “number one priorities,” with security/force protection of Navy installations at the top of that list. Additionally, I expect the region and installation to be tuned into their customer’s requirements, and every base’s customers – or tenants – are different. There are some clear similarities between Naval Base San Diego, Norfolk, Hawaii and Mayport, but every base is different. They’re unique in terms of their tenants; they’re unique in terms of where they’re geographically located – CONUS or OCONUS; and they’re unique in terms of the political environment and their relationship with their community. I expect the base COs to take command and get smart very quickly on their operational environment. From day one, they are expected to cultivate many different relationships and have open, honest conversations.

USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10)

USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) is moored at Broadway Pier in San Diego for public tours of the newly commissioned combat ship. Giffords is the newest Independence-variant littoral combat ship and one of seven LCS homeported in San Diego U. S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Marie A. Montez

You are referring to both internal and external stakeholders.

Yes. When I talk with every prospective CO, I discuss internal and external engagements. The expectation is they will do both, and they can’t do one at the cost of the other. Having been both a customer of bases and now essentially the type commander for shore installations, we must never lose sight of our supporting role to the warfighter. If I’m standing by myself and I’m saying, “I need this,” or “I need that,” I don’t have nearly as much credibility as when all stakeholders are united on requirements. As a personal example, when I was the CO of Naval Station Norfolk, if I had an issue on the waterfront, such as pier degradations or shore power issues, I had a much stronger justification if I could articulate that requirement along with SURFLANT and the Fleet Commanders. When we are aligned, it’s a force multiplier, and we have a synchronized approach to advocate for issues that are most critical to the warfighter. Back to my three pillars, the internal engagement with the fleet happens continuously, but we must be intentional in our communication with the other two pillars – the fighter and the family. The shore needs to articulate what we’re doing to align ourselves with our customer’s needs. Issues like base safety, providing the fighters with fitness facilities, and the one in the news now, housing. Each of these impact the readiness of our fighters and their families. We must meet, or exceed, these needs so our customers don’t have to worry about it.

Our external stakeholders are vast and diverse. Giving command briefs connects with and educates our neighbors on what’s behind the fence line in their community. Just like a mayor would provide a “state” of their city brief, many of our bases do the same type of “state of the base” brief periodically to public and private entities. We often meet with the mayors and community leaders to discuss things like partnerships involving land use, encroachment, noise abatement, and find mutually agreeable solutions. Some of these issues directly impact the ability of our bases to carry out their mission. When you know and understand the community’s concerns, then we collectively make the most progress. It is worth noting, our COs are not alone — they have resources such as legal advisors, NAVFAC’s significant environmental expertise, Public Affairs Teams and a Community Plans and Liaison Officer. These installation experts often have a wealth of knowledge about the community issues, have a strong linkage with local government, and know who to contact for both Navy and community issues.


How do you measure your capability, productivity and success?

We use many measures of performance as a way to rate our readiness. At Navy Region Europe Africa Central Command, they track the available ramp space, berthing, and fuel, so they can advise Combatant Commanders of how best to support operational units. In that AOR, the number of people who need billeting or the number of aircraft that need ramp space on an airfield can change dramatically from one day to the next. We are reviewing this model to see if it applies elsewhere and whether it can be automated. Base capacity and logistics are something we include in war games because we need to understand how to use our infrastructure to achieve maximum lethality if needed. The way we provide support to the warfighter changes as the environment changes, whether it is moving from Phase Zero to Phase One on the conflict continuum or facing a natural disaster.


I would imagine in a case like a hurricane, you could either be supporting the community or you could need support from outside the base.

Correct. When we measure our readiness, we have a long list of services delivered, such as port ops, air ops, galleys, security, berthing. A base CO thinks of their base as a platform, just like a ship CO does. It’s a system-of-systems, and we expect that base CO to be accountable for the readiness of the base across all the programs and services provided on that base. Our challenge is to use data to quantify base readiness and link that to Fleet readiness. We have a lot of data in each program, but measuring readiness needs a holistic approach. It also needs to be real-time. The goal is that on any given day, a CO or a Region Commander could say to a numbered fleet commander, PacFleet or Fleet Forces, “Here’s the readiness of my base.”


Have you had any situations that were really unusual?

There are always those things that fall under “you can’t make this stuff up,” but mostly it’s being able to respond to those things that you can’t predict. It could be anything from a death on a base to a catastrophic failure of one of our facilities or equipment, or preparing for a natural disaster that’s on its way, or responding to the aftermath of an event. Whatever the situation, leadership must be ready to respond to and work through the process quickly. The COs, XOs and CMCs have grown up in traditional warfare areas and know how to dissect a problem. As operators, they start with the governing instruction, then peel the layers away, understand the policy, and implement the controls to manage the risk. Maybe they have a union issue they have never experienced, but it just landed on their desk and they’ve got to do the forensics, dissect it, solve it, articulate risk, make decisions, or make recommendations up the chain. That is the real value in having leaders with an analytic ability to “push us past our theoretical limits.”

Shore Enterprise Commander Visits Navy’s Only Boot Camp

Commander, Navy Installations Command, Vice Adm. Mary Jackson, right, speaks with recruits during pizza night for graduating divisions at Recruit Training Command (RTC). Jackson is visiting to observe advancements in training designed to improve the basic warfighting skills and toughness of the Navy’s newest Sailors and also served as reviewing officer for a graduation class of 528 new Sailors during her visit. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Amanda S. Kitchner

Some of your support is provided to deployed or transient units who may need something but not necessarily know where to get it. What’s the ethos at your bases about taking care of those units as they come through?

It is understood that as the shore integrator, taking customer service to the next level is the expectation. Our bases take that responsibility very seriously and are rightfully proud of what they deliver. High quality service doesn’t just happen. The base CO has to be the facilitator to get everyone there and ready when a ship or a unit, comes through. The list of deliverables can be everything from ensuring the branch medical clinic is present to knowing that the Navy Exchange is ready to take foreign currency when we have international visitors.


You have different, disparate functions that would all need to come to support that ship if it comes in and it needs fuel, it needs food, and needs to be hooked up to shore power, it needs to have phones, it needs to have buses, it needs to have sedans, may need to have some contractors come down to repair something or a crane to get stuff on or off the ship. Those might come from all different providers.

Our COs are the enablers, and some of the services you mentioned we own, while some we don’t. NCIS, the Navy Exchange, the Fleet Logistic Centers are organizations that do not work for us, but they are critical partners, and we have to be synchronized. The base is a facilitator and integrator to unite teams together and ask, “Okay, are we ready for this event?”


As a commanding officer of a ship, you were a customer, a user of base services, and probably pretty focused on your mission and what was going on inside the lifelines. But having had that perspective, you talked about managing expectations, and that the CO has a right to expect that his or her crew will be taken care of, that the ship will get what it needs so he or she can do his job.

Absolutely. Our bases are the foundational platforms that support the warfighter, and the installation CO is responsible for supporting the ships CO. Command is command, and it doesn’t matter what pay grade or type of command you’re in, the CO owns it: owns the program, owns the mission. There are many responsibilities I hold the base CO accountable for that they don’t really control, but I expect them to take that ownership to heart, work with all of the tenants and to deliver services to meet any emergent requirements. Our base COs take very seriously their contribution to logistics, readiness, and supporting the warfighter. Their contribution is a huge factor towards the Navy’s future success.


In this job you have visibility to every installation. Have you found some places where you said, “We have a base there?”

I know where the bases are, although I am still learning about some of the outlying areas where we have Navy property that I was not familiar with before. It is true there are places where the public seems surprised to find out we have a Navy base, like at Millington, Tennessee. Currently CNIC is comprised of 71 bases and 10 regions – which is less than when CNIC was first stood up.

CNIC Admiral Visits NSE

Vice Adm. Mary M. Jackson, commander of Navy Installations Command, front right, tours Naval Station Everett (NSE) with Capt. Mike Davis, front middle, commanding officer of NSE. Jackson’s tours of Northwest installations were part of a routine visit to see base operations firsthand, view facilities and meet with Sailors and civilian employees. NSE’s mission is to provide a secure platform for Navy and Coast Guard forces, important mission capabilities, and quality of life for service members and their families. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jonathan Jiang

Is that because of BRAC or just consolidation?

A little of both.


But every now and then we get a new base, like AEGIS Ashore, in Romania and Poland.

Yes. As the shore integrator, we have added installations where needed. We also need to be prepared to operate in areas where we may not have an enduring base, but need base-like functions for a period of time. We work closely with OPNAV and the fleets on when and where we need something like a commercial facility for forces to operate for short periods of time or a commercial airport where we need a laydown for a long period of time during a phased escalation.

Another CNIC focus is working with other shore experts, like NECC, NAVFAC, NAVSUP, and the Marines, to bring all of our talent together. They routinely operate from places that are not in my portfolio. In a contingency, we need to be prepared to use every resource and expeditionary capability to be able to project power in a contested environment.


Looking at your own career today, if you were doing some mentoring to young officers – male or female – what would you tell them about their career opportunities as a young junior officer?

One of the greatest opportunities for officers as they go through their commissioning program – whether it’s Naval ROTC, the Naval Academy or OCS – is that they are exposed to the different warfare communities. I would tell them to do their homework, to ask questions, to listen, and take every opportunity to actually experience that warfare arena, like driving ships or spending time on subs. As I watch my own children grow up and decide what they want to do, the opportunity to learn prior to making an educated decision about where they want to contribute or serve is invaluable. It is similar to universities that have co-ops and allow people to learn through internships.

Today there are so many doors that are open to everyone in the Navy. During my career, doors have opened as I’ve gone along, and young women entering the Navy now have a different frame of reference because the doors are already wide open–and I think that’s great.

In addition to doing their homework, and keeping all doors open, I’d say to never forget the honor and privilege to serve with Sailors, to work towards a common mission, to build on each other’s strengths and overcome weaknesses, and to see the team really step-up and deliver. There’s nothing like that feeling of seeing the team come together and know that you’re delivering at the highest level for an important and higher purpose. Every one of us is both a leader and a follower.


Did your midshipman cruise help you decide what you wanted to do?

I had a great first-class midshipman cruise, and I wouldn’t be a SWO if it hadn’t been for that cruise. That opportunity helped me visualize and understand what it was like to serve on a ship and be a part of that team.

Recruit Training Command

Naval ROTC midshipmen candidates train handling ship mooring lines on the USS Marlinspike Seamanship Trainer at Recruit Training Command (RTC). The young men and women from across the country are entering their freshman year of the Naval ROTC program at universities nationwide this fall. U. S. Navy photo by Scott A. Thornbloom

How did your first couple of tours as a SWO on ships prepare you for your command tours, then as an installation commander, and today, commanding this enterprise?

Well, you’re never fully prepared! Every day is a day of learning. As long as you are still willing to learn, I think that’s a really important characteristic. The basics that I learned in the beginning still apply today– fundamentals like our core values and the governing instructions that that apply in every job. It’s one thing to work with programs, it’s another to truly know your team and to bring that team together. Like I said earlier, we’ve all got our strengths and weaknesses, and a leader’s mission is to figure out how to maximize that advantage by creating a culture of continuous improvement. As you get more senior, your team gets bigger and more diverse. Today my team includes military and civilians of all types of occupational skills and disciplines, stationed around the world. I am incredibly proud of my team and humbled by their service.


Have you had some officers that you’ve mentored and you’ve watched grow and come along and succeed wildly, and get that sense of gratification that comes with that?

Absolutely. I’ve had some amazing mentors along the way, and not necessarily in the sense of a formal mentor-mentee relationship, but people who have just taken the time to sit down and share their story. What was their experience? How did they do it? They planted ideas of what might be the art of the possible for me. Now I am honored when anyone comes forward and says, “Hey, can we talk?” I can be that sounding board and talk about either something I learned the hard way, or how I navigated something, or saw someone else navigate it. It’s always wonderful to see people that you’ve worked with along the way succeed.


Any last comments you want to make about your staff?

My people are amazing! It’s no secret that the shore is resource-constrained, and we often end up being the “bill-payer” for higher priorities. Our team works diligently to be as efficient and as effective with less than, perhaps, they should have. We ask an awful lot of them, and they are dedicated to the mission – many of them, especially our civilians, have been working in this area for years. They are extremely passionate about supporting the Fleet, the Fighter, and the Family, and I could not be prouder of them.


Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...