December 3, 2023

NAVAIR Officials Learned a Lot From Mom

Gary Kessler and mom
Gary Kessler and mom

Gary Kessler, executive director for Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, at a baseball game with his mother, Nancy.

Started as a simple tribute to moms with the wearing of a single white carnation, Mother’s Day is now more than 100 years old. As a tribute to Mother’s Day, we asked several NAVAIR leaders to share lessons learned from their moms. Here are their responses:

Capt. Tracy Barkhimer, program manager for Air Combat Electronics (PMA-209)
“My mom, Shirley, stayed home with me and my brother until I was out of grammar school and went back to work on Wall Street as a vice president of a corporate bond department in the 1980s. She passed away when I was 30, before she saw me become a mother myself. She taught me many, many things but several stand out and I use them today in my everyday life. As I was getting ready to ‘fly the coop’ and enter the big world of business in 1986 she wrote me a letter with some tidbits of wisdom that I look at every mother’s day when I remember her. The ones I still rely on routinely are 1) ‘Always be yourself. Don’t waste energy trying to be someone else. It never works and you’re perfect just the way you are.’ 2) ‘It can’t hurt to ask. All they can say is no.’ This particular lesson was used when I asked to go into the Navy, when I asked to fly helicopters, when I asked to go to Test Pilot School and even when I asked for PMA-209 [Air Combat Electronics]. I use it now when I ask to tailor programs/processes within PMA-209. ‘All they can say is no.’ It’s served me well. And finally, the one that always makes me laugh, is 3) ‘Whatever you do, don’t ever, ever tell anyone you can type.’ That’s still a good lesson even today.”

Rear Adm. Bill Shannon, program executive officer for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons, PEO(U&W)
“One of my late mom’s favorite phrases was: ‘That’s life … Roll with the punches.’ I had to recall her words at one of the lowest emotional points in my life. My mom died when my son, Tommy, was 5. Tommy was heartbroken when I shared the news with him. I didn’t realize how close he felt to his grandmother. Trying to comfort him, I asked, ‘What would Grandma tell you if she were here?’ He tearfully replied, ‘That’s life … Roll with the punches.’ Just as those terse words comforted my son, they have gotten me through many ups and downs, in both my military and personal life.”

Gary Kessler, executive director for Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division
“When I reflect on my childhood and the fond memories of my mom, I think about how hard she worked and how dedicated she was to her family. Working full time and raising three kids, she never stood still. I think I have some of that in my DNA, but the thing I admired the most about her is how she would always do things for people and help friends and neighbors. She would always tell me to ‘Look out for other people and lend them a helping hand.’ That has always resonated with me and has helped me to be a better leader by looking out for and taking care of people. I enjoy mentoring others and helping them succeed in their careers and life — something I can say I learned from my mom.”

Keith Sanders, assistant commander for Acquisition (AIR 1.0)
“My mother was a gentle woman who loved, and was loved by, all those around her. Above all, she showered everyone in our family with unconditional love. In spite of her soft, caring nature, she managed to prepare her growing kids for the world they were about to venture into. We often were reminded that:
-The best things in life are worth working for.
-You can do anything you set your mind to. Remember, though, it’s better if someone will pay you to do it.
-To get things done, you’ve got to work with people. Some of those people require a whole lot more work than others.
-If you commit to something, give it all you’ve got. Giving anything less than your all is letting everyone down, especially yourself.
-In a race, there’s one winner and a bunch of also-rans. You don’t want to be an also-ran.”

Lisa Nyalko, deputy program executive officer for Tactical Aircraft Programs
“My mother always told me to do everything in moderation, including moderation.”

Source: NAVAIR Headquarters

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