Monday, July 19, 2010

An Old Boss Dies...

I just received word of the passing of VADM Mike Kalleres in Jacksonville.  This is a very sad day for me and for all who called him a friend and mentor.  I served as Mike Kalleres' aide for a year, from September of 1992 to September of 1993, and it was a memorable year for a very young man.

Mike Kalleres came to the Military Sealift Command from commanding the Navy's Second Fleet in Norfolk, VA.  He had then, a senior LCDR as his aide (now RADM Dave Thomas--with whom I commiserated about our days with Mike just last Thursday), and I really expected to be moved into some other job when he showed up.  After all, at that time, VADM's in DC ALL had LCDR's as their Flag LT's, and I was just a 27 year old post Divo--nowhere near promotion to O4.  The man Mike replaced (and who had picked me) was VADM Frank Donovan--and Donovan gave Kalleres an upcheck on me--so Kalleres kept me.

What a wonderful year it was.  I got to watch a true master communicator at work every single day.  I watched a man driven by a desire to succeed balance it with a never-ending devotion to his wife Cookie, daughter Deme and son Pete.  I spent a few days once with Kalleres and ADM Boorda, when the latter was CINCUSNAVEUR.  Here they were, two old salts at the top of their games--and all they argued about was who the better Destroyer Captain was.  It was a message ten years before I took command of a destroyer that I never forgot.

I would get to work at about 0615 each morning, and Mike would get there about an hour or so later.  In that hour, I received no less than five phone calls each day with exactly one thought processed in each.  Most times he'd be on an exercise bike while he talked.  By the time he got to work, I'd already accomplished a great deal.

We traveled the world looking in on the Military Sealift Command's far flung interests.  At the time, the office in the UK only wore uniforms once a week or so--maybe not even that much.    Kalleres told me he wanted to meet with them in their uniforms, a desire I duly passed along to the CO.  When we got there, we were ushered into a meeting room with the with the CO, and the command's Operations Officer--where OPS sat with her uniform rigged with all the stuff on the wrong side, a mirror image of what would have been correct.  Kalleres said nothing, but he handed me a note during the conversation that said "Nice rig, huh?  Be gentle".   I loved that moment.

Like many flag officers, Mike had an inbox that his staff would re-arrange, putting the hot things on top.  This makes sense, but it invariably means that there was a lot of stuff on the bottom of the box that languished.  He and I did a lot of travel to NY during that tour, and I suggested once that we take the train--much more civilized way to travel.  He agreed--and it became the time where we dove to the bottom of the inbox, or "mowing grass" as he used to call it.  The COS and I sometimes sought out meetings in NY just so we could get to the bottom of the box.

Mike took great care of his aides, and he made us feel important--like we were much more than bag carriers and travel agents.  In addition to RADM Dave Thomas, other Kalleres aides (we kept track of each other) include RADM Tony Kurta and CAPT Bill Parker (2009 Stockdale Award Winner). I was clearly the underachiever of the bunch.   Mike and Cookie took each of us into their family and their hearts, and his loss diminishes us all.   RIP, Lead Huskey.


Sally said...

I'm sorry for your loss. How did he die? He couldn't have been that old.

SamShapiro said...

CW, did you guys have a civilian secretary? I remember speaking to someone very nice in your office a few times.

The Conservative Wahoo said...

Sally--he was 71

SS-we sure did, and you sure did!

BigFred said...

I am sorry for your loss. He was a force of nature.

Bryan secured for me an interview to be Big Mike's Aide, or to get the up-check to become an Aide from Fran Galbraith via Big Mike, as I had a checkered past, and a shadowed future. LT Bill Parker was a prince to me, and I always got a chuckle out of the fact that Big Mike made a brand new one star wait an extra 25 minutes as he yucked it up with me beyond my allotted 30 minute time block. I would have failed in that job I now realize, and while he did put in a good word for me, I went off to a different assignment.

In honor of one of my three favorite Greek-American Navy leaders, I shall enjoy a third Martini tonight, with Feta cheese stuffed olives. It is only fitting.

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