On his 404th day as commanding officer of Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command, Capt. Sean Heritage remarked that his job used to be getting his former boss, Adm. Mike Rogers, a seat at the head table, while he sat toward the back of the room. “And now I’m here,” he said, gesturing to the head table as the audience laughed at an AFCEA event in Norfolk, Virginia, in September.
Heritage made clear his dedication is to improving the future of the U.S. Navy for generations of Sailors to come, emphasizing the need to “create a wake for those behind us” and encouraging Sailors to focus on partnerships and shared responsibilities. “All partnerships are important,” Heritage said. “All leaders are pioneers in this mission space [cyber].”
'Mission first' is the culture of the warrior ethos, Heritage said, and NCDOC is no exception. Its mission is not to merely defend the Navy's networks — its mission is to enable global power projection through proactive network defense. And NCDOC embraces the role of enabler very proudly.
There were some key questions addressed after determining NCDOC’s mission, such as what expertise is necessary to execute our mission, Heritage said.
Heritage said it was important to recognize that NCDOC’s workforce is comprised of warfighters – cyber warriors, to be exact, and a lot of them. Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command, which began in 1995 as the Navy Computer Incident Response Team (NAVCIRT) with a mere five employees on its roster, now boasts a robust team of more than 500 cyber savvy military members, civilians and contractors.
The most recent iteration of NCDOC has also proved long-lasting; the command celebrated its 10th anniversary earlier this year. At the ceremony, Heritage emphasized the importance of focusing on the future of NCDOC’s involvement in cyber defense. "The Navy is built upon strong traditions, and as important as it is to celebrate our history, it is no less important to chart our future and create new traditions in keeping with our progress. As cyber missions continue to grow in importance, the future of NCDOC seems certain and will continue to play a critical role in the defense of Navy networks," he said.
Heritage is an innovative, forward-thinker who isn’t afraid to ask the crucial questions about the future of NCDOC’s role in cyber missions. “What does our culture need to be?” Heritage asked, pulling on a Mark Zuckerberg-inspired hoodie decorated with the insignias of U.S. Navy captain.
“We [NCDOC] need to be a hybrid to realize our potential. We need to know what we should be standing for and what we should be experimenting with,” Heritage said. “It’s time to define the ‘How’.”
Heritage’s ‘How’ is a pyramid structure that builds upon knowledge, impact, partnerships and outcomes.
Knowledge, Heritage explained, starts at competency level, followed by proficiency, then, expertise, and finally, mastery. “What are we doing to grow expertise?” he asked. “How are we allowing people to achieve mastery? Masters create opportunities and solve problems using styles, tools and methods.”
“SOPs and checklists will not enable us to get there,” Heritage said.
When it comes to impact, Heritage said, “We start our journey as individual contributors.”
Heritage addressed tactical, operational, and strategic impacts, placing a special emphasis on the latter. “The strategic impact of today’s actions will last long after the people who put them in place are gone,” Heritage said. “How are we enabling awareness across the fleet?”
Heritage then talked about how successful partnerships require cooperation, coordination and collaboration; integration is key. “We are not conditioned to create interdependencies across teams, but we need to leverage the knowledge of others,” Heritage explained.
“We don’t go out of our way to recruit the curious. We don’t go out of our way to experiment. We need to have permission to play at work — that will expand into the mission area. Innovation will allow us to bring new ideas to the market in the quickest way possible,” Heritage said. “In five years, we will be irrelevant. We need to identify the possibilities.”
Entrepreneurship, Heritage continued, brings new value to the marketplace. “It brings capability that we didn’t know existed,” he said.
Success will be measured by the strength of partnerships and depth of knowledge, as well as the significance of the impact to the Navy, according to Heritage.
“The significance is measured by the wake we create. Are we creating a place where people will want to join our team? We have to think as much about how we do things as what we do. Traditional thinking is not going to take us to the next level.”
“There are lots of pockets of innovation around the Navy, but we don’t tell our story well. We’re under sourced to do our mission,” he said.
“We don’t do a good job of letting go of the past,” Heritage said. “We need to see a commitment to the future ….”
However, a silver lining can be found in the up and coming fleet forces. Heritage fully embraces ideas that new Sailors bring to the table, as well as the enthusiasm for innovation that accompanies those ideas. “There is a real commitment and care about the future,” he said.