By Dolly Rairigh Glass
Timing is everything. For Captain Wes Naylor, his career in the Navy was all about timing and happenstance. The Virginia native was in finals week during his senior year at his family’s beloved Kansas University, when he was involved in a very bad auto accident. Having already accepted a job working in D.C. on Capitol Hill, university officials allowed Naylor to walk at graduation and made arrangements for him to finish up his degree later while working in DC.
Although exciting, working for a Senator in the middle of an election year leaves no room for schoolwork. And then, with an election loss, Naylor was forced to look elsewhere for a job, taking the journalism and political science major to the House side, where he got a job as the press secretary for a Kansas Congressman.
“My ideas of the amount of time I would have to complete my education was completely wrong,” admitted Naylor. “And after working for a while, I found I really wasn’t ready to work behind a desk.”
Naylor decided he wanted to go into the Navy. “I had only applied to two schools – Kansas and the Academy,” explained Naylor. “There was a lot of pressure to attend Kansas, and as a fourth generation Jayhawk, with both my dad and granddad a very big part of the decision, somebody was going to Kansas! Had I known then that I was going to make a career out of the Navy, I would have gone the smarter route and gone to the Academy.”
But instead, Naylor joined the Navy through an enlisted commissioning program called Navy Aviation Cadet Training (NavCad). This program, originally established in 1935 and suspended in 1968, was temporarily reopened in 1986, to meet the demands of the expanded Navy. Because Naylor had completed his first two years of college, but had not yet completed those last courses to graduate from Kansas, he was eligible for this program, which required non-degreed candidates between the ages of 18 and 25. The program was finally cancelled altogether on October 1, 1993.
“There was about a two year waiting list for regular OCS (Officer Candidate School), and because of the auto accident, I hadn’t finished my degree, and lucky for me that was the quickest way in,” said Naylor. “Fortunately, I was accepted to this program and off to flight school four months later.”
NavCad candidates signed a contract and were enlisted until they received their wings, so candidates who didn’t do well in the school, were fleet enlisted for four years as an undesignated seaman. “The motivation to succeed was very high,” said Naylor. He later earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Government with High Honors from George Mason University and also graduated from the National War College in 2007 with a Masters Degree in National Security Strategies.
Fast forward to today, and a little more than two months since Naylor was named as the Executive Officer for Naval Air Warfare Center Training Services Division (NAWCTSD) and Naval Support Activity (NSA) Orlando.
As the XO, he is charged with making sure the people and the plan are taken care of so that everyone’s needs are being met – both personal and professional – and that the facilities are properly maintained and adequate to make sure the workforce can execute its mission.
“Here, we serve both as the XO of the base, and also the XO of the Warfare Center, which are two different hats, reporting to two different admirals,” said Naylor.
He described his Warfare “hat” as more of a chief of staff role. “It’s my job to work with senior leadership to be sure we’re executing the Admiral’s and the Commanding Officer’s visions for the aircraft division and for NAWCTSD,” explained Naylor. “We bring the policy and research together, focusing on the day-to-day operations, so they can focus on the strategic plan.”
In preparation for his leadership role at NAWCTSD/NSA, Naylor’s operational tours were completed with Patrol Squadron TWENTY-THREE, Brunswick, Maine; USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (CV-67), Mayport, Florida, as the Air Warfare Officer and a Tactical Action Officer; Patrol Squadron FIVE, Jacksonville, Florida, where he served as the command’s Officer in Charge, Keflavik and Maintenance Office; and subsequently returned as the Commanding Officer/Executive Officer of Patrol Squadron FIVE, Jacksonville, Florida.
While in command of the Mad Foxes, he successfully led the squadron on deployment in both the PACOM and the SOUTHCOM Areas of Responsibility where the squadron’s exceptional operational performance led to its selection as the Isbell Trophy winners in 2010 recognizing it as the Fleet’s top Undersea Warfare aviation squadron.
In addition to his operational tours, he also served as Mission Control and Evaluation (MC&E) Officer and Current Operations Officer on the staff of Commander, Fleet Air Keflavik, Iceland; Flag Aide to Commandant, Naval District Washington; Officer in Charge, United States Navy Ceremonial Guard; as well as other assignments. Most recently, he stood up the PMA-262 BAMS Future Increments IPT. The IPT is charged with the planning and execution of BAMS Increments 2 and 3, which will provide an enhanced communications capability and a SIGINT capability for the Navy and its supported customers.
But before he was developing his leadership skills in the Navy, as a student at Kansas, Naylor joined the national Fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, as a third generation member. He is still involved with his Fraternity and credits the fraternity for their efforts in developing innovative programming, beginning with their “Balanced Man” program.
“Our Fraternity had to take a strong look and ask ourselves, ‘Are we developing the types of leaders we want?” said Naylor. “The answer was no. But now we’ve taken a more corporate approach, involving alumni, and there is a lot of structure and support coming from our national offices.”
Naylor said that much of what Sig Ep was experiencing, with a refocus on the core values, was interestingly enough, something the Navy has also done since he joined. “When I joined the Navy, we didn’t focus on the core values of honor, courage and commitment the way we do today. That was something that came along after I was already in the Navy.”
“For Sigma Phi Epsilon, our cardinal principles are virtue, diligence and brotherly love, and they reflect exactly the same type of traits (as the Navy’s). Doing the right thing, taking care of your shipmate or your brother, and serving your community or your fellow man,” said Naylor. “I’ve found that they’re very complementary in that way.”
Naylor admits he didn’t know it then, but his experience and development as a Sig Ep member certainly helped to prepare him for a career in the military. “Now, when I look back, I can put the Navy’s honor, courage and commitment together with Sig Ep’s virtue, diligence and brotherly love because those really mesh well,” said Naylor. “So it’s a continuation of those lessons learned through the Fraternity.”
Naylor notes that both the Fraternity and the Navy have had challenges throughout the years with stereotypes and the transition into what is acceptable today versus expectations of tradition in their histories. “Tradition is great and important,” he added, “but we have to do them in a way that really reflects our core values, and both the Fraternity and the Navy went in the same direction, so it’s very easy for me to support both.”
As Naylor gets to know his new community, he says he’s already telling the NAWCTSD/Team Orlando story all over the place. “This isn’t the national, but the world hub of modeling and simulation,” he says in describing his new home. “Orlando is still a Navy town, but not a lot of folks outside of our community know that.”
“The Services who are involved with this are intimately involved with each other, because of proximity itself, we’re literally in the same building,” said Naylor. “We don’t have to wait for I/ITSEC each year to see what the other guys are doing. We’re with them every day.”
And Naylor noted that opens a lot of opportunities for leveraging technology, and also leveraging off each other’s contract devices, or research already being done. “If we were located in various parts of the country, we would never know what the others were doing. Because we’re here and we see them, talk to them all on a daily basis, we work on joint projects and have access we wouldn’t have anywhere else. That is really nice,” said Naylor.
“Technology is wonderful, but there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction and networking,” added Naylor. “You’re able to build relationships in person that you just can’t build over the phone or over email. And that branches out beyond the military, but also the entire Team Orlando group, and our industry partners.”
In the past there was a perception that government was on one side and industry was on the other side, and at times they had to knock heads to get the job done. But Naylor said that’s not where they are anymore because it isn’t constructive for either side. “We have a lot of shared interests, and it’s important we maximize those,” said Naylor, “and having good, personal relationships with the leadership at the working levels is vital.”
He added, “It’s just easier to shape those interests as they come together to benefit both government and industry when you’re able to have that contact on a daily basis through organizations like Team Orlando. Whatever we can do to make our relationships better and more productive with industry, it benefits all of us, and most importantly it benefits the warfighter.”
Naylor’s interests, outside of his new XO role, are diverse. He’s a runner, although admits that he runs because he likes to eat, but that would make sense for the self-proclaimed ‘frustrated chef want to be,’ who prefers to dabble in BBQ recipes. “Were I not in the Navy, I’d probably be in the restaurant business and would have attended culinary school.”
Back in Florida now, he hopes to play more golf, but says his biggest ‘hobby’ is his daughter and spending any free time with her. “She has decided that she wants to be a figure skater, which means at my advanced age, I have taken up figure skating,” said Naylor. “I’m taking figure skating lessons with my daughter every week.” He pointed at a picture hanging above his desk, noting how his wife had snapped the candid photo of the two. “As you can tell by that picture up there, I’m pretty hung up on my daughter.”
Living close to the Mouse House is certainly beneficial in keeping up with friends from all over, and they just had a visit from dear friends from Iceland. Naylor talked about their time in Iceland, and about the sacrifices made by his wife to “follow him around the Navy.” He joked that she only agreed to marry him because he was getting out of the Navy and going to law school.
“That didn’t quite work out for her,” he chuckled. “She had never moved more than five miles from where she was born and within two years, I had moved her to Iceland.” They made some wonderful friends there, and he said she never complained (until they were on the plane leaving Iceland!). “We’ve been blessed with the ability that she could be a stay at home mom,” said Naylor. “She is the most wonderful mother in the world.”
Naylor’s move to Orlando comes with some goals of his own. “My two biggest areas of interest are intelligent tutoring and the entire LVC (live, virtual and constructive) wide area of gaming,” said Naylor.
“I believe that intelligent tutoring is not only important to the military but also to education in general,” he said. “It’s an area that is important for us, as the Navy, to really get into deeply and be on the leading edge because it’s how we’re going to educate and train going forward.
For training systems and the LVC gaming area, he noted it’s how we lay that out in a manner that’s more accessible to the users. “How do we construct something so that we don’t have to wait for big fleet exercises? Perhaps if we follow the way of industry in a lot of gaming situations like Doom and Halo, it would be a great thing.”
“When I was a commander it would have been helpful if I could have picked up the phone and called the CO of a destroyer in the Mayport Basin, and then the CO of a helicopter squadron, both of whom I was planning to do a live exercise with in two weeks,” explained Naylor, “and said, ‘Hey we’re getting together in two weeks for real, so let’s get together in the trainer tomorrow.”
Naylor notes that currently they have to wait to coordinate big exercises and that what they need is a way to plug in and play on short notice. “That world is always there, so at anytime, you can go into it and just play,” he said. “That’s not where we are today with military simulation, but if we really wanted it useful for the user, that’s where we need to go. Think about how much we would save in aviation fuel, and how much safer we would be. I think it has enormous potential for increasing the value of the trainer, saving money and increasing the safety of the training.”
There are two people, with two very divergent personalities, that have always been inspirational to Naylor – Vince Lombardi and Winston Churchill. He noted that they both focus on the idea that anything is possible if you have the will to do it. “That’s the kind of world we work in,” said Naylor. Anything is possible and we have proved that over time, if we have enough money, time and will. “Sometimes you’re short on money and time,” he added, “so you have to have a lot of will.”
“If our folks aren’t coming in here every day with smiles on their faces, ready, willing and able to make NAWCTSD a better place, and turn out a better product for our warfighters out there, then we’re doing something wrong,” said Naylor. “And, that all comes down to people. It’s all about the people.”
And Naylor? “I’m the happiest sailor in the Navy,” he smiled. “You couldn’t pry the smile off my face with a crowbar.”