NEWPORT, R.I. – Senior Chief Petty Officer Karen Tower, a native of Cookeville, joined the Navy for the opportunities the military offers.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve always said I’d serve in the military to travel and earn my college degree,” said Tower. “I had a few family members that served before me, and they were certainly proud of my decision to join. My goal was to do four years and then return home and become a teacher, but plans changed after living the adventure and meeting my husband. Now, I love serving in the Navy. We will eventually settle down but for now, my family is enjoying this life.”
Today, Tower is part of the highly respected Senior Enlisted Academy (SEA), a leadership development program for the United States Navy’s active and reserve senior chief and master chief petty officers. The SEA is the Navy’s only professional military education institute for its senior enlisted force.
“I enjoy the leadership tools and networking opportunities the academy facilitates,” said Tower. “Having leaders from every branch of service and our allied countries come together for the leadership development program is an experience like no other. It teaches me something new with every class.”
According to Tower, the values required to succeed in the military are similar to those found in Cookeville.
“The life lessons of ‘work hard for everything, treat everyone with dignity and respect, and always dream big’ are all lessons that have made me the person I am today,” said Tower. “I miss Cookeville, and it will always hold a piece of my heart as my home, but now my life is about giving my children greater worldwide opportunities and adventures, while I still can, through the military lifestyle.”
The mission of the academy is to strengthen senior enlisted commitment to professional excellence and mission accomplishment through learning and leadership development.
In 1979, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) expanded the role of senior and master chief petty officers. No longer would they be just senior technicians; some would serve as mid-level managers. As a result, commands throughout the Navy appointed many senior and master chief petty officers to positions of greater responsibility. While some performed well in these expanded roles, others lacked the education and training needed to successfully carry out their new managerial duties. To meet this new challenge, the Navy established the SEA.
The U.S. Navy SEA is a six-week leadership development program for active and reserve E-8/9 personnel from the U.S. Navy, Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, National Guard, as well as our international service partners. The SEA focuses on management, leadership, national security and physical fitness.
On April 1, 2021, a $1.77 million renovation was completed to accommodate an increase of class size for a total of 162 students per class and graduate 1,782 students annually. This expansion was implemented to meet the demand of the Navy’s senior enlisted promotion eligibility requirement to master chief petty officer. With the expanded class size SEA will also be increasing faculty advisors to support the larger class size.
This course helps to further develop senior enlisted leaders in their ability to provide ethical decision-support and communication skills for leaders in naval, joint and multinational environments.
Selection for the academy requires a combination of dedication and sacrifice, but Tower believes the accomplishments achieved along the way make the hard work worth it.
“I am proud of all of my awards and accomplishments,” said Tower. “Specifically, my volunteer service medal for giving support to the community I’m serving in. Being selected for both chief petty officer and then senior chief petty officer are also huge honors. Lastly, I’m proud of graduating from the Joint Special Operations Forces Senior Enlisted Academy after eight months of hard work.”
According to the Navy Leader Development Framework, “top leaders inspire their teams to perform at or near their theoretical limits. By making their teams stronger, they relentlessly chase ‘best ever’ performance. They study every text, try every method, seize every moment and expend every effort to outfox their competition. They ceaselessly communicate, train, test and challenge their teams. They are toughest on themselves; they routinely seek out feedback and are ready to be shown their errors in the interest of learning and getting better. When they win, they are grateful, humble and spent from their effort. By doing all these things, great leaders bring their teams to a deeply shared commitment to each other in the pursuit of victory.”
According to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday, four priorities will focus efforts on sailors, readiness, capabilities and capacity.
“For 245 years, in both calm and rough waters, our Navy has stood the watch to protect the homeland, preserve freedom of the seas, and defend our way of life,” said Gilday. “The decisions and investments we make this decade will set the maritime balance of power for the rest of this century. We can accept nothing less than success.”
With opportunities such as the SEA’s course available, Tower and other sailors continue to learn and take pride in serving their country in the United States Navy.
“To me, serving in the Navy means being proud to be an American while leaving behind a legacy my family can be proud of, and a country that is safe and free for my children to grow up safely in,” added Tower.