Redesigning and Replatforming

You can’t talk about the digital transformation of Navy Recruiting without talking about the central tent-pole of the Navy’s recruiting efforts; When young men and women want to find out more about careers in the United States Navy, there’s only one place to go to answer their questions and raise their hand to become sailors.

I’m delighted to have led this effort. From concept to completion, I guided every aspect of this brilliant re-platforming of the Navy’s premiere public-facing website. Driving strategy, writing the brief, assembling the team, and working hand-in-hand with both the Navy and the superior VML technology crew responsible for delivering this award-winning state-of-the-art website.

In the time since launch, it’s been an unmitigated success. We’ve pretty much doubled every engagement metric and helped the Navy achieve its recruiting goals while racking up awards for both creativity and effectiveness. We’re delivering more high-quality sailors to commit to a life in the greatest Navy to sail the oceans of the world.

I couldn’t be more proud of the hard work and passion of everyone involved.


Presenting US Navy Recruiting at VML’s Annual Meeting

Last week, Captain Dave Bouve and I had the immense pleasure of jointly presenting some of the amazing work that VML has produced as a partner in The Navy Partnership at this year’s VML Annual Meeting. How we’re working with our great WPP partners to reach a new audience and introduce them to the US Navy’s unique form of National Service. It was an honor to stand on stage with the Captain and show off the amazing work our collective team has done. I couldn’t have been more proud of the team we’ve assembled.

This was a really fun afternoon. This was my second Annual meeting since joining VML and it was a great experience. Yours truly walks out around 9:17 and gets a chance to humblebrag on all the great stuff we’ve been able to work on with the Partnership. Captain was great, really knocked it out of the park. I was nervous… big audience… no pressure… but it wound up going off pretty much without a hitch!

As a bonus, I was honored to be awarded the VML Spark Award for Atlanta! It was completely unexpected and I was blown away when they started reading the winner’s bio… Podcast? Comic Books? Wait a minute… Great stuff and I have tremendous gratitude for all of the opportunities the VML has provided for me and was humbled beyond belief by the award. It was the topping to an amazing day.

Sea Story Podcast by America’s Navy

Sea Story Podcast by America's Navy
Sea Story is an ongoing series that brings you extraordinary tales of action, danger, and adventure—all directly told by the real Navy Sailors who’ve lived them. Sea Story is an official podcast of America’s Navy. [Click to Listen!]
One of the oldest traditions among sailors is the telling of “Sea Stories”. Those legendary tales told by sailors since the earliest days of sailing the oceans of the world. Every sailor has a sea story and if they say they don’t, they’re lying… or they’re just avoiding telling you something that they probably only share with other sailors. Bringing this time-honored tradition into the twenty-first century provided an opportunity that perfectly blended audience, content, and innovation and resulted in one of the most successful launches in recent memory… the Sea Story Podcast. 

By having real sailors tell true stories of adventure and drama, we allowed the men and women of the Navy to share what life is like aboard ship, overseas, and under the oceans in the most authentic way possible. 

The response has been overwhelming. Within the first month, Apple selected “Sea Story” for its “New and Noteworthy” promotional section within its podcast app, driving organic attention and resulting in huge audience numbers. Engagement, listens, likes and shares far exceeded expectations and everyone who listened became hooked. 

Give it a listen, subscribe, download and enjoy hearing from real sailors in the fleet what it’s like to live the life of a sailor in the world’s greatest Navy.

Why today matters to me a little more than most

I never forget about today.

Of all the days of the year, this one in particular is a little more special than most and it goes all the way back, not to 1941 but to 1986.

The story of how I joined the Navy isn’t that special. I wish I could tell you that sailing the world’s oceans working on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier was my life’s calling, but it really wasn’t. I grew up in Richmond, Virginia and when I was 17 I couldn’t wait to get out of that town. At the time I thought it was a small town (Chesterfield County, south of Richmond), I hated high school, I didn’t want to go to college and I just wanted to get the fuck out of there. So I did what anyone else with no direction or purpose would do, I went and joined the military. I walked into my local recruiting station and there were literally four doors I could’ve gone into. One for the Army, one for the Navy, one for the Air Force, and one for the Marine Corps. If memory serves, one door was closed, one door ignored me, the guys standing in one door were assholes, and the guy in the Navy recruiter office extended a hand and asked me what I wanted to do in the Navy. A question I hadn’t given any thought to until that very moment.

Fast forward a year or so later and I’m working on the flight deck of the USS Kitty Hawk as an Aviation Ordnanceman in Attack Squadron 165. I couldn’t have been happier, I was having the time of my life traveling the world working on jets. I hadn’t really ever dawned on me exactly what I had signed up for.

That all changed the first time I pulled into Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

There’s a tradition in the Navy called, “manning the rail“. Basically, the crew lines the edge of the ship in their dress whites (or dress blues depending on the time of year) at “parade rest” as they make their way into port and I had done it once or twice before. The route to the dock at Pearl Harbor is kinda long and as it slowly winds its way into the harbor, you pass the monuments to ships that were sank on that Sunday morning, ultimately arriving at the USS Arizona Memorial.

It was then that I realized that on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941 those kids that woke up that morning, whose lives were changed forever, were no different than me. They were doing their jobs, same as anyone else that day. They woke up with plans to go to Church, or maybe go to the beach, or play ball… they never imagined that they’d be fighting off almost the entire Japanese Navy in what would be one of the deadliest attacks in American history. As I slowly made my way into that harbor and passed those memorials to those sailors, my decision to join the Navy, and the sense of history and pride that I felt in that moment changed me forever. The gravity of that decision finally dawned on me.

I never forget about today.

My Brush With Fame, Or, That Time I Met The American Dream Dusty Rhodes

The American Dream, baby... Dusty Rhodes
The American Dream, baby… Dusty Rhodes

I was in the Navy in the mid to late 1980s. I grew up in Richmond, Virginia and had family in North and South Carolina. So during the 70s and early 80s, I was a huge Jim Crockett Mid-Atlantic/NWA fan who attended shows in NC,SC, and VA religiously. I grew up on Rufus Jones, Ric Flair, Blackjack Mulligan, Greg Valentine, Dusty Rhodes, etc. During the time I was in the Navy, I was stationed out west in Seattle. I didn’t get to fly home all that much, but this was one time I was heading home for vacation. I don’t recall if it was a direct flight from Seattle to Charlotte or not, but I know that I had a layover in Charlotte, and was flying from Charlotte to Richmond for leave.

So the flight from NC to VA was a brief little hop, and it was a late night flight. Like, around midnight. Not really a redeye, but a late flight nonetheless. Back in those days, fllghts would fly with barely anyone on them. It happened. This was one of those flights. If memory serves, there were less than a dozen people on the flight and my seat was towards the rear of the plane (the smoking section at the time). When I boarded I walked past the first few rows and seated up front, taking up nearly two seats, was Dusty Rhodes… THE Dusty Rhodes. Given that this was around 1986, there’s the very real possibility that he’s the current NWA World Heavyweight Champion, at the very least, he’s a contender and running Jim Crockett at the time. So this was a big deal.

I recognized him immediately and made my way back to my seat. There was nobody sitting around Dusty at all, and across the aisle, in the same row, it was completely open.

When the plane took off, the moment the seat belt light went off, I made my way up front and moved to that row. There I was, same row as the American Dream. I looked over and he had a spreadsheet out, was wearing little wireframe glasses that rested on the bridge of his nose, and was working on something… I’m guessing it was travel expenses or something of that nature. I just remember that he was engrossed in whatever it was. Now I was 18-19 at the time and starstruck, I certainly didn’t think anything about trying to strike up a conversation and potentially spending the next hour or so talking with Dusty (in my head we were already on a first name basis) about all things wrestling.

So I waited a moment, cleared my throat and said, “excuse me, are you the American Dream Dusty Rhodes?”.

He stopped what he was doing, looked over the rim of his glasses at me for a moment and said, “Thon, is that your athigned theat?”

Without a word, I got up and made my way back to my seat.

EDIT: Now with more bonus Dusty. This is from right around the same era. Dusty’s cutting a promo in October 1985, just before Starcade ’85. So a little context… He’s booking Crockett’s “Mid-Atlantic Wrestling” at this time. He’s A-list right now. Imagine someone in 1985 with Orton/Batista/HHH levels of heat and power. He’s not Flair… but he’s chasing him!

A trip to Seattle, a couple of days with the Marine Corps & Microsoft, and a day on Whidbey Island.

I’m on the plane heading back from Seattle after finally scoring an upgrade on a cross-country flight, so I’m relaxed, in a good mood, and reflecting on a pretty awesome past couple of days. I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to attend a couple of days with our Marine Corps client, our media partners, and several different disciplines within Microsoft. We spent yesterday on the Microsoft Campus in Bellevue with several members of the advertising team, the Xbox team, and a few different groups within the Kinect team. Today we were lucky to get some time before we took off for the airport with the Skype team and had a really great discussion around the possibilities of their platform. Lots of great conversation, great ideas, and great technology. It’s tremendously rewarding to have chances like this to sit around a table with incredibly smart, enthusiastic, passionate people who love what they do and spend an afternoon brainstorming ways to make something better. To make an experience better. To make a process better. To work on something that’s already good, and make it great.

I know the specs are out there, and anyone can see on paper how much of an improvement the v2 Kinect (The Kinect on the Xbox One) is over the v1 (360), but witnessing a presentation and seeing some pretty compelling demonstrations of it up close, is another thing entirely. The increase in resolution and camera/microphone capability, plus the leaps in software development have enabled the former “Natal Project” to begin to realize its potential as a game changing User Interface. Microsoft is one of the leaders in Human-Computer Interaction research – Natural User Interface (NUI) is something they’ve spent a lot of time looking into – and the things they were able to demonstrate beyond gaming are amazing to see. I was completely blown away by some of the ways the technology is being used.

In addition to the time spent with Microsoft, we had a really great time with the Marines. It was a real pleasure to have a chance to spend some time with Maj General Brilakis & Lt Col Hernandez and their respective teams, and hear firsthand how the work you’re doing is impacting the challenges that go hand in hand with recruiting the best & brightest and turning them into Marines. We had an absolutely amazing dinner on Lake Union and were able to continue our conversation about technology, recruiting, advertising. We were even able to swap some stories and I learned what everyone’s first car was! I hadn’t thought about that Mustang in years!

Without a doubt, one of the highlights of the trip for me, was a chance to spend a day driving up to Oak Harbor and Deception Pass. I haven’t been back there in years, and it turned out that Sunday was the ceremonial, “first beautiful day of the year” with a 70 degree day and not a cloud in sight. My friend/co-worker Dave and I made it to Mukilteo in time to catch the 9:30 ferry over to the island and got to Langley just in time to grab an incredible breakfast at The Braeburn Restaurant before making our way up the Island. After spending some time wandering around the park at Deception Pass we headed back south to Oak Harbor. I made Dave drive the long way around so I could snake back through “downtown” and was pleased to see that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Downtown Oak Harbor still looked exactly the way I remembered it. We stopped at Seabolt’s Smokehouse, grabbed some lunch (again, with the crab) and I made sure not to leave without getting a gift box of Seabolt’s Smoked Salmon to take back to the ATL. A gift I’ll be sure and pass along to myself for a job (some job… any job) well done!

All in all, a really great trip. Both professionally, and personally, this was one that I really enjoyed and can look back on and really soak in what I was able to see, and discuss, and think about. These things cram a lot into a few days, but I have no doubt that I was sufficiently inspired to go out and make cool shit. Lots of cool, cool shit.

June 2, 2011

From the top of the hill, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. Oak Harbor Washington

(Click The Photo To View A Much Larger Version)
Standing at "the top of the hill", overlooking my old stomping grounds. I shot three images and stitched them together using Adobe Photoshop's Panorama Tool. From my May, 2011 trip to the island.

The Fourth of July and Douglas Dimberg, Parts one and two.

I originally posted this on my first blog. In fact, it was THE reason I started blogging. I had an experience in my life that I never forgot, and I always thought, “you know, if I die, I’d really like to at least get that thought down on paper… or something”. So I started a blog over on blogger and tried to put it into words. I wasn’t very good at it initially, and it sort of psychologically and creatively exhausted me and I wound up splitting it into two posts that were spread out over a couple of weeks.

I just got an email that the domain name for my old blog was expiring, and I finally decided that I was going to go ahead and delete the account and shut it down.

But I really didn’t want to lose this one post (well, two posts actually). So I’m going to just re-publish them here as one long post… for posterity. At least until I delete THIS one…

So without further ado…

The fourth of July and Douglas Dimberg

It’s the fourth of July as I write, and this is what I remember:

It was November 30th, 1988 (by the way, as a side note, I had to go look that up in my cruise book. Sad isn’t it?). I had worked about eighteen hours that day. I was an Aviation Ordnanceman on the USS Nimitz and was working “CAG Arm-Dearm” and was on Cat 3. This meant I was working the third catapult all day, which meant takeoffs and landings, or as they’re more commonly known, cats and traps. Those days are rough because you have to be up well before the first takeoff, and stay until the last trap of the day, which is usually just before midnight. So getting up around six, and working until midnight was pretty much the standard “Cat 3 day”.

So there I was, just getting off work, and looking forward to catching up on a little rest. I was finished, showered, dressed for bed, and ready to call it a night when I heard it,


Without missing a beat, off came the sleepwear, on went the greens, redshirt, and boots, and out the hatch I went. My berthing at the time was on the level just beneath the arresting gear aft, pretty much under the 4 wire. I was above the hanger bay and below the flight deck. When I woke up every morning to go to work, I normally would proceed out of my berthing area, thru a hatch leading to the catwalk outside. This would place me along the edge of the flight deck, on the port side, where the landing safety officer would normally stand. I’d hop up the ladder, up on deck, and I could cut straight across the flight deck to work. Honestly, since it was after flight quarters, and there was nothing landing or taking off, it would be fine to head out to my shop in this manner, even at night under general quarters.

So off I go, getting ready to head up the catwalk to the flight deck when “Tucker”, another AO, came down from precisely where I was going. “Can’t go that way,” he said. “Why not?”, I asked. “Because it’s all on fire”.

It took a couple of seconds for that to sink in.

End of Part One.

The fourth of July and Douglas Dimberg Part Two

So there it was. The flight deck was on fire.
Later, we’d learn that an A-7 Corsair II had shot its M61 Vulcan rounds into a KA-6D tanker that was full of fuel. The rounds were high explosive rounds that were packed with White Phosphorus that ignites on contact with Oxygen. They were depleted Uranium shells, so you figure out how that was supposed to work. High Explosive round with an armor penetrating casing. It’s created to go INTO something (a tank), and set the INSIDES of it (the tank) on FIRE. Imagine how that works on a tanker aircraft that’s full of fuel. The tanker was parked near the bow, between Catapults 1 and 2 in an area known as “the street” with the A-7 parked directly next to it facing its side, over cat 2.
I know, I know, you’re saying to yourself, “how on earth can guns fire on the ground? Aren’t there steps to ensure that nothing like that happens?”. Oh how right you are. That’s why the people who were responsible for this were made to pay. Leavenworth, from what I understand.
It’s very simple. Weapon systems won’t work on the ground.
It’s easy. There’s an actual switch in the landing gear called “the weight off wheels” switch. When the plane is on the ground, the weight compresses the landing gear and the switch is active. Weight is ON the wheels, and the weapons systems are not “allowed” to arm. Missles can’t fire, Guns can’t shoot. In order to “fool” the airplane, sometimes you have to use a “weight off wheels” actuator. It’s just a wedge that you wedge into the weight on wheels switch to actuate it and make the plane think the landing gear is up. Of course, before you do this, you’re supposed to go thru a lengthy checklist that include disconnecting any plugs or wires that might lead to the accidental firing of a weapon.
Not so in this case. Gun is connected. Weight is OFF the wheels, and some poor sucker in the pilot seat of the A-7 pulls the trigger, thinking nothing is going to happen. The whole team was negligent and sadly, people paid with their lives.
What happens is in the second he pulls the trigger, he blows rounds into a KA-6D tanker not 15 yards away igniting the fuel inside and engulfing the whole immediate area in flames. Several people are killed instantly including Douglas Dimberg, who was on his way to an EA-6B Prowler to work on it. Doug and I had gone to boot camp in Orlando together in May/June of 1985. Upon completion of boot camp, he went off to his “A-School” and I went off to mine. I eventually made my way to the VA-165 Boomers stationed on NAS Whidbey Island where we ran into each other months later. We’d occasionally pass each other on base, or, as we were deployed, we’d see each other in the chow line, on the flight deck, FOD walkdown, etc.
So that’s what I’m faced with as I make my way to the flight deck. It’s probably been on fire now for about four or five minutes as I head up there on the starboard side, forward of the island. I’m an Aviation Ordnanceman, so starboard side of the island is the weapons farm, where literally all of the weapons are staged for loading onto aircraft on the flight deck. There are enough people already worrying about the weapons staged there and that was their job, and I wasn’t about to get in the way. Instead, I’m grabbed and led across the flight deck, behind the fire, to the port side. There I run into my best friend Mike, who’s on a team and slowly advancing toward the fire. My team grabs a hose and maneuvers to the left of Mike, coming at the fire now from almost the top/bow direction. So I’m on a hose advancing, and Mike’s on a hose advancing.
I don’t really remember when the AFFF kicked in, but I do remember fighting the fire, helping move aircraft, and walking around in the early morning hours in several inches of foam, so I know the system kicked on at some point. I remember watching the sun come up and getting the first chance to see the devastation on the forward flight deck. Our KA-6D was a complete loss. Over the side it went, but not before our squadron spent the better part of the day stripping out every useful component in her. I remember the kind of stunned silence of walking around up there. People going about their jobs with a focus and determination that cut thru the tragedy of the day. I don’t really remember a time to reflect on the accident, or think about what had happened until much later. It just seemed like there was so much to do.
I have pretty vivid memories of fighting the fire with Mike. Later, I think Mike and I would acknowledge the moments, and maybe talk about how crazy it was there for a couple of hours, but I don’t think we ever sat down and really talked about it. At one point during the fire, I remember thinking that we were getting cut off from the rest of the ship because the fuel spilling out of the tanker was on fire and it was literally spreading liquid fire across the deck as it spilled, and the combination of the ship turning and the fuel spilling was making it extremely difficult to see how we weren’t going to wind up completely cut off on the bow with no place to go but over the side. I remember thinking, “if I go over, there’s no way they’ll ever find me, what a shitty way to go, I wish I could tell my mom goodbye…” and that was about it. The rest of the time seems like a blur of getting what needed to be done, done.
I can close my eyes sometimes and make myself see Dimberg. I don’t remember exactly what he looked like, and that’s a shame. I wish I could. I can see a sort of rough outline of him, like he’s not exactly in focus, and in that outline, I can see him smiling. I don’t ever want to forget that out in the ocean, far away from military bases, and “action”, and “hot zones” a man named Doug Dimberg gave his life for his country. He died doing his job. He had friends and they remember him.
The flight deck of an Aircraft Carrier is a dangerous place, and occasionally people die up there. Right now, while you’re reading this, there are young men and women who are working on one of those very same flight decks, doing those very same jobs, and who deserve our respect and admiration.
Here’s hoping every single one of them makes it home in one piece.

The day I went, “holy shit, this is a real job”.

USS Arizona Memorial

Trust me, this would've changed your point of view as well.

I joined the Navy in 1985 at barely 18. I actually joined at 17, with my parents’ (reluctant) permission. When I was 17 I couldn’t WAIT to leave Richmond, Virginia. I chose the service (Navy), the job (Aviation Ordnanceman), and the duty station (Whidbey Island, Washington) precisely because it afforded me the opportunity to get as fuck-all far away from Richmond as I could get.

And get away I did. I went everywhere. You name it. Asia, South Pacific, Africa, Europe, the Mediterranean, Pacific, Atlantic, Middle East. You name the continent, I visited it. Did I have fun along the way? You bet your ass I did. With some of the greatest friends a guy could ever hope to make.

So when we pulled into Pearl Harbor for a couple of weeks of fun in the sun in Hawaii, for me, it was business as usual. Of course we’ll make a show of things. We’ll all get into our dress whites, and “man the rails” standing on the flight deck to make the Aircraft Carrier look even more majestic than it already does. We slowly make our way into the harbor to where we’ll ultimately dock. I knew that “manning the rails” was a time-honored tradition for all US Navy ships entering the harbor, and I really didn’t give it a second thought.

Then I see it.

It’s the USS Arizona. I’m sure you’ve heard of it, and I had too. I knew what happened at Pearl Harbor. I was, after all, in the Navy, right?

I just didn’t realize what it meant. Until that moment.

As the ship slowly passed the final resting place of 1,102 sailors killed on December 7, 1941, I saluted and it hit me.

“They were just like me.”

They were. They were kids. Boys. Sons, Fathers, Brothers. They all had someone back home they loved and who loved them. They all had a job to do, and when called upon, they did it, and ultimately sacrificed their lives for their country.

From that moment on, I wasn’t just some 19 year old asshole who got as far away from his shit-hole home as he could hope to get. I was a sailor, in the United States Navy.

So today, I think about all of them. I think about the kids right now who are getting planes ready to launch on some flight deck someplace in the middle of the Indian Ocean, sitting on Gonzo Station waiting for their next port. Writing letters to family members who miss them. This day is theirs.