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Spotlight on Commerce: John Murphy, Chief Operating Officer, National Weather Service

Guest blog post by John Murphy, Chief Operating Officer, National Weather Service

The National Weather Service (NWS) is proud to employ 1,034 U.S. military veterans -- about a quarter of our total workforce. Veterans bring a wealth of experience and extensive training in many areas to the civilian federal workforce, and we are fortunate to have them in our ranks. As Chief Operating Officer, I am responsible for the day-to-day operations of NWS.

I retired with the rank of Colonel from the U.S. Air Force in 2011 after a rewarding, 30-year career supporting important and sensitive military operations. For example, as a Captain, I was Officer-In-Charge of the Theater Forecast Unit (TFU) during Desert Shield/Desert Storm. My unit ensured all U.S. Central Command units received consistent, accurate and timely weather information to support critical decision making. We learned from events of the past that weather plays a vital role in the success of military operations, making weather forecasts one of the most fundamental decision support ingredients needed to accomplish precision and protect the lives of our troops. What we call Impact-based Decision Support Services at NWS, the military calls mission or warfighter tailoring. We understood the unique needs of the units we supported and provided relevant environmental services to the decision maker so each mission could be optimized.

My military experience began with centralized support to units in Korea and Europe. I then did several deployments supporting new weapons, training units in Panama just prior to Operation Just Cause, the TFU mentioned above, support to Peacekeeping operations in the Balkans, and support to both Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. My military meteorologist career culminated as the Air Force Weather Agency commander, where we supported intelligence and military operations worldwide similar to what National Centers for Environmental Prediction and all its centers do for NOAA.

Transitioning from active duty military to the civilian workforce is something I didn't know I wanted to do, but it’s been a marriage made in heaven. It became clear shortly after settling in at NWS that this is what I trained my whole life for. Every day on the job as Chief Operating Officer, I use knowledge and skills that I learned during my time in the Department of Defense.  Supporting military operations with credible weather forecasts and mission support is parallel to NWS forecasters on the civilian side supporting decision makers across the United States every day, in every community, to protect lives and property here at home.

I come from a family where service to the community is a hallmark and set the tone for my life. I was active in scouting and achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. My Scouting leaders encouraged leadership growth, and I believe scouting is where I developed many of the traits I carry to this day. They also instilled in me a motto I hold dear: "leave a place better than you found it." Meteorology was a calling; something I knew I wanted to do since grammar school. Science teachers in grammar and high school encouraged and challenged me. A military recruiter offered a full college scholarship to fill a critical USAF need for meteorologists. My goal at the time was to cover my bills in exchange for a couple of years of military service, but God had other plans for my life! I graduated from Lyndon State College with Bachelor of Science degrees in mathematics and meteorology and an Associate of Science degree in Physics and was commissioned into the USAF in 1982. My education continued throughout my military service. I earned a Master of Science degree in Meteorology from Penn State in 1992 and a Master of Strategic Studies in 2002 from Army War College.

Many people molded and shaped me as exceptional mentors and role models throughout my Air Force career, including Brigadier General Al Kaehn. He was both respected and revered by the men and women who served for him due to his understanding of the science and for his amiable personality. I learned from him that you could be a good leader and a nice person; you did not have to sacrifice one for the other as many believed. I aspired to be like him. I worked with many great leaders as I achieved rank, and the level of interaction grew until I witnessed some of the best leaders I've ever come across both in combat and in peacetime.

I believe almost anything can be accomplished with great relationships and willing collaboration, but these need to be built and nurtured through intentional effort. One of my main goals as NWS COO has been to implement changes to better enable and encourage teamwork at all levels of our agency. We have lowered barriers that previously encumbered our offices from sharing information, skill, and resources. I know that the sum of our parts is more powerful than the individual pieces and by collaborating more, we can work smarter instead of harder. As NWS evolves its products and services to meet the Nation’s growing demands for weather, water, and climate information, we are ensuring that FEMA and emergency managers receive one, consistent forecast as opposed to a variety of inconsistent forecasts coming out of our different offices and centers. Today, our strong relationships and great collaboration both inside and outside NWS with core partners is making the United States more ready, responsive and resilient to extreme weather.

Selfless Service is a core tenant of the Armed Forces. Military members sign a blank check to Uncle Sam and hope it isn't cashed. While serving, one always puts mission above concerns for self. It is a trait I also find in many NWS employees and what instantly connected me to them. Speaking of our employees, there is nothing more important than them; they get the job done. We need to thank them everyday for their sacrifices; working midnight shifts and through unimaginable destruction in their own communities to keep the public informed and safe. NWS consistently ranks highest in dedication to mission among government agencies, and I am proud to continue my national service as their Chief Operating Officer.

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce Military Veterans in honor of Veterans Day.