Posted by: Jacqui Murray | July 26, 2010

Qualifications of a Naval Officer

This short descriptor is included in a Midshipman’s Reef Points as a pithy discourse on what is expected of them. Long attributed to John Paul Jones, he actually didn’t write it:

Qualifications of a Naval Officer

USNA graduate

A new officer

It is by no means enough that an officer of the Navy should be a capable mariner. He must be that, of course, but also a great deal more. He should be as well a gentleman of liberal education, refined manners, punctilious courtesy, and the nicest sense of personal honor.

He should be the soul of tact, patience, justice, firmness, kindness, and charity. No meritorious act of a subordinate should escape his attention or be left to pass without its reward, even if the reward is only a word of approval. Conversely, he should not be blind to a single fault in any subordinate, though at the same time, he should be quick and unfailing to distinguish error from malice, thoughtfulness from incompetency, and well meant shortcomings from heedless or stupid.

In one word, every commander should keep constantly before him the great truth, that to be well obeyed, he must be perfectly esteemed.


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  12. Great web site and great info! Does the USNA still include this (John Paul Jones definition of a naval officer) in Reef Points today? I memorized it as a plebe in 1956-57. Spent 37 years in the Navy/Navy Civil Service as an engineer (submarines). Retired in 1993. Duane M. Tollaksen, USNA Class of 1960

    • You’re almost my daughter’s–what’s that called, the class that graduated 50 years prior to a class? She’s an ’08 grad.

      Yes–at least in 2008 it was.

      She’s right at that point of considering whether to stay in or get out. It sounds like you had an interesting career–with submarines. How do you match that in the civilian world?

      • Hi Jacqui- I would strongly recommend she should stay in if possible! I spent a year on destroyers while single and then spent 8 years in diesel subs (qualified in submarines in December 1962) I was blessed with finding a career in the Navy Deep Submergence Systems Project (DSSP) (Bathyscaph TRIESTE II submersible) while on active duty. Because diesel subs were being phased out, my career path in submarines was blocked as the nuclear subs were taking over. I resigned, but was then assigned to DSSP in Washington. During my last year there on active duty I was able to pass the Civil Service mid-level “exam” and get rated as a GS-13 in 1969. With this I was able to apply for openings and was hired as a Planning Officer with this project office. I worked for a couple of years in the test and training areas–contract management and then was shifted to work that was more engineering as a GS-14 General Engineer. I worked in Submarine Rescue—submarines, submersibles and oceanographic ships. At one time I had material support responsibilities for all the submarine rescue vessels and their rescue equipment to care for in the Naval Sea Systems Command. Of course in a 24 year career in NAVSEA and the Office of Naval Research, I had a chance to go to sea on many nuclear submarines, the rescue vessels and oceanographic ships. My father who was a retired Commander in the USCG advised me to join the Navy because of the wide career paths available. He was correct.

      • Hello Jacqui– I may have made a mistake in hitting the reply button below to answer instead of the normal reply. Anyway, just to let you know that I replied on the web site. I did make an error in the date for my qualification in submarines–it was December 1963, almost 50 years ago. Your daughter has my utmost respect for her service! I loved submarines until my career came up against a roadblock and I knew I had to resign or stay at sea for another few years to serve in surface ships again. Those things happen and we have to adjust. I was lucky to continue as a civilian (Civil Service) with the Navy. I retired in 1993 with over 37 years of Federal Service. I wish your daughter much luck and a happy life!! Duane Tollaksen

      • The Navy life is amazing. Her first tour was on a cruiser–traversed the Panama Canal twice, helped out in Haiti, around the tip of South America, played with the Brazilian Navy. Where else could you do that? Then she moved to an LPD, and now shore duty in DC. I don’t think she’ll find any civilian job to match, but kids–they have their own minds. I’m sending her a link to your amazing career. Thanks for sharing, Duane.

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