Mission and Motherhood: 1 Rear Admiral’s Journey at Sea – Danelle Barrett
Mission and Motherhood: 1 Rear Admiral’s Journey at Sea – Danelle Barrett
She made history while serving our country … Rear Admiral Danelle Barrett (ret.) is one of the few women to achieve the rank of admiral in the United States Navy. After three decades of active duty, she went on to become an advisor, speaker and author. Admiral Barrett discusses the threat of cyber-attacks on our military and the future of war in the digital age with host Charles Mizrahi.
- An Introduction to Danelle Barrett (00:00:00)
- A Balancing Act (00:06:34)
- Woman in Power (00:11:44)
- Becoming an Admiral (00:18:49)
- Protecting Our Freedoms (00:23:43)
- Keeping Your Assets Safe (00:30:01)
- The 21st Century Battlefield (00:33:44)
- Prioritizing Family (00:41:43)
- Rock the Boat (00:45:59)
Rear Admiral Danelle Barrett (ret.) has worn many hats. After graduating from Boston University, she worked her way up to one of the top positions in the Navy. She’s one of less than 200 women in history to achieve the rank of admiral. While in active duty, she served as the Director of Current Operations at U.S. Cyber Command and the Navy Cyber Security Division Director and Deputy Chief Information Officer on the Chief of Naval Operations staff.
Today, Admiral Barrett is a sought-after public speaker and writer. Her Amazon bestseller is below. Through a collection of “sea stories,” she explains how readers can become bold change leaders.
Before You Leave:
DANELLE BARRETT: I never used to say that. I’d say my mission was my most important thing because it was. None of us would be there if we didn’t have that mission we had to do. But parallel to that is taking care of your people. Because if you take care of them, they take care of the mission.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: My guest today is Rear Admiral Danelle Barrett. Admiral Barrett is one of only 30 women that have been in active duty in the United States Navy and achieved the rank of admiral. When she retired with the rank of rear admiral, she was the director of the Navy Cyber Security Division. Her latest book, Rock the Boat: Embrace Change, Encourage Innovation, and Be a Successful Leader, is an Amazon bestseller in business leadership and management skills.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I recently sat down with Admiral Barrett, and we talked about the threat that cyber-attacks are having on our military. We also discussed how war in the 21st century would be fought.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Admiral Barrett, thank you so much for coming on the show. I’ve been looking forward to it since the first time we spoke a few weeks ago. I’m really excited.
DANELLE BARRETT: Well, thanks. It’s an honor to be here. It’s a real thrill, definitely.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Thanks so much. You are a rear admiral — or were a rear admiral. You’re now retired. Would it be OK if I called you Danelle? Would that be proper?
DANELLE BARRETT: Yeah, absolutely.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: The reason I’m asking you publicly is because when we spoke on the phone the first time, I was calling you “Admiral,” and you said: “Please call me Danelle.” So, I just want our listeners to know that I’m in no way disrespecting you. I don’t want to piss off anyone who’s commanded a lot of people and has a lot of military power behind them.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Danelle, you retired a little less than two years ago as a rear admiral. I know that admirals are at the top. It’s like a general. What is a rear admiral?
DANELLE BARRETT: It’s the rank in the military that gets you into what is called flag rank. Up until that point, you become a commander — a captain. And then, when you make admiral, you get one star on your collar. That’s a rear admiral, lower half. Then, you get your second star. And then, you’re a rear admiral. And then, a third star is a vice admiral. Four stars would be an admiral — which is a straight admiral. So, one star is getting coffee for the four-star admiral.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Okay, good. That’s a good way of looking at it. You retired about two years ago, and you wrote a book, Rock the Boat: Embrace Change, Encourage Innovation, and Be a Successful Leader. But before we talk about your book — don’t worry, we’ll get to it — I briefed through it. There’s a lot of great stuff. I see that you’re on Amazon in business leadership. [You’re] No. 1. It’s burning up the chart. It came out a few weeks ago.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I want to talk about something. I remember the first time that I saw you were available to be on the show. I said to myself: “Here’s a lady who is about 5’2 or 5’3 rising to the top in the Navy — which I would say is an old boys club to some extent. And [you] not only [rose] to the top, but you were the head of cyber security. So, my first question to you is: How does someone like yourself — I don’t know how many females there are in the Navy — rise to the top in that old boys’ network?
DANELLE BARRETT: That’s interesting. All the women who are admirals and generals get that question a lot because it’s definitely a male-dominated field. Probably only 10% to 13% of the military is female. But those numbers are increasing — thankfully. It’s interesting. I grew up with three brothers, so I had a lot of training on how to hold your own. With three brothers, someone’s always getting shot in the head with a BB gun or getting shanked on the playground. You have to learn how to hold your own with three brothers, right?
DANELLE BARRETT: So, when I got to the point where I was entering the Navy, I kind of felt like I was with brothers. I’ll be honest with you now. There was a lot of sexual harassment and other things that happened when I first got into the Navy back in 1989. But that, thankfully, has changed. It’s night and day to what it was back in the day.
DANELLE BARRETT: And there were even things like combat exclusion when I first joined in 1989. I wouldn’t have even been allowed to go on a combatant ship — like an aircraft carrier or a destroyer. We were not allowed to go on the ships until I had been in [the Navy] for about two or three years. They changed the laws, and then they opened up all those jobs.
DANELLE BARRETT: Now, thankfully, we have women on submarines. They’re captains of ships. They’re captains of strike groups. They’re everywhere except the Special Forces. And I think that someday, as long as females can do the physical requirements for that — without lowering any standards — then they should be allowed to do those, too. And I think they will someday.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, you’re not for — and I’m just using an example — a woman doing 20 pushups and men having to do 50 pushups. You’re not for that.
DANELLE BARRETT: No. I mean, the standards are a little bit different — just a teeny bit different on the way that they measure you for your body fat composition and things like that. Men and women are a little bit different. The standards for your performance — at work and your physical performance — should be on par so that people aren’t getting special treatment. No women in the military want that.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I love military people. You folks sacrifice so much. The freedoms we have are because of you. We’ve had several Navy SEALs on the show. I love having them on the show because you folks have a different way of looking at the world. I asked once — off camera — about the requirements for men and ladies in the Navy SEALs. He goes: “Look, if there is a female that can drag me — sopping wet — out of a situation when I’m totally unconscious and drag me 100 yards, I’m in. But if they can’t do that, it’ll put everyone’s lives at stake.” Do you feel that way?
DANELLE BARRETT: Yeah, absolutely. Most jobs in the Navy don’t require that kind of physical level anymore. I’ll be honest with you. A lot of our war fighting is information and digital. It’s on ships. But we do get in situations. I was in Iraq — boots on the ground — and other places where Navy people get sent. [Those are] some of the places where you have to be more physical. So, you have to be able to do the job — regardless of gender. You have to be able to take care of your shipmates and save their lives — just like that SEAL was talking about. If you can’t meet the standard, you shouldn’t be in that environment.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Did you have kids when you went into the Navy?
DANELLE BARRETT: I did not, no. I joined right out of college and went through ROTC at Boston University. And then, I joined at 22. I had my daughter when I was 29. She was actually born in Bahrain when we were stationed overseas.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Your husband went with you to all of these places?
DANELLE BARRETT: He did. He’s a good sport, honestly. Even to this day, he’s a good sport. You mentioned my book. I needed someone in my book to share some pictures where someone was wearing a tin foil hat and looking like a nerd — and someone with their tongue stuck in the keyboard. And he was all in. So, his picture is in there — poor guy. He’s always a good sport.
DANELLE BARRETT: He came with me. He was a physical therapy assistant for many years. He worked in Navy hospitals and things like that. Now, he volunteers. He’s a Reiki master, and he volunteers to do alternative ways to relax and deal with stress for people with PTSD and wounded warriors. So, he volunteers at the VA hospitals and things like that.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: It seems like, for a military family, one spouse has to give up a lot for the other’s career. No?
DANELLE BARRETT: Yeah. I know people who have had dual career tracks and both were very successful. But it comes at the expense of being together. Normally, they end up spending time on what we call geographic bachelor or “geo-bach tours” — where one [person] is in one city or country, and one [person] is somewhere else on an operational assignment. Even within my career, I tried to focus on making things as easy as possible for my family with regard to moving and staying together.
DANELLE BARRETT: But if there was a choice where they could do what they needed to do, and they were happy, then I would go somewhere else — if that’s what it took. So, you do make a lot of sacrifices in terms of family time. Trying to get your work-life balance is a challenge in the military — as you can imagine with anybody but particularly in the military with deployment.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: We have five kids. When they were growing up, a handful of times, on business trips, I would go away for one or two days. It was tough on my wife. We had a lot of young kids at home and had to help them do their homework, take them to school, make lunch and bath time. We delegated who did what. I was missing them every night.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: On YouTube, when I see these homecomings — where a soldier or shipman is away for a year or nine months. And they see the kids — my heart breaks. These kids are growing up without a mother or father. And it’s really hard. The stress on them — that they can be killed — has got to be enormous.
DANELLE BARRETT: Yeah, I think it depends on the field that you’re in, too. But, just as an example, when I was in Iraq, I never wasn’t truthful to my daughter when I was in a deployment or something like that. But I didn’t tell her, at the time, where I was going because she would have been very nervous about that. So, I led her to believe that I was deploying like a normal deployment. [It was] not going to be boots on ground in Baghdad. And so, eventually, she found out through a friend who said: “Oh, I see that Danelle is working Saddam Hussein’s palace” at her ballet class.
DANELLE BARRETT: So, she kind of figured it out, and we discussed it. But I told her that I do the things to keep safe like everybody else. I wasn’t in harm’s way like the poor kids knocking down doors in the streets. I was mostly on a base. But I do remember that it was hard on the parent who was left back home.
DANELLE BARRETT: I remember one time I got an email from my daughter when I was in Iraq. She must have had the thesaurus or spell check on. She said: “Mom, I grievously injured my eye. Dad continues to read his newspaper. He doesn’t care.” And then, the very next email was: “She knows I care. I hate when she does that kind of stuff.” I remember I looked at everybody in the room and said: “OK, I need 10 minutes to solve a war problem on the home front.”
DANELLE BARRETT: So, I got them both on the phone, and we talked it out: “Haley, apologize to Dad. You know he loves you.” But it’s tough — just like with any single parent. That’s kind of what it’s like for several months. Then, you come home. And when you come home, you don’t want to barge in and disrupt their routines. They’ve learned how to do things without you around. So, you have to be really respectful of the fact that they have their routines now. You insert yourself back in, of course, but not be the bull in a china shop — disrupting what they do.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Didn’t the military do something recently where they were going to keep families from moving around so much in the early stages? I read something to that effect. They saw the attrition rate was so high — moving families every 12 months, the kids not going to the same school, making new friends and all sorts of things.
DANELLE BARRETT: Yeah. Usually the moves are about every two to three years. And it is very disruptive. What the military has done in the past is allowed you to repeat tours in the same area as long as you can get competitive jobs that help you continue to develop professionally. So, they haven’t looked against that. What they look against is if you stay in one area, go from one job to the next and not put tools in your toolkit to advance. But they do encourage that. At least, in the Navy, they don’t look down upon that as long as you’re taking jobs where you contribute a lot.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Let me ask your question that’s on my mind. You look like such a nice lady. If I didn’t know you were a rear admiral, I would say you’re a bank teller. You’re a sweet lady. You’re a librarian. I’m a 6’3 — at one time, I was 6’3, but I think I shrunk — and a 240-pound guy. I come to you, and I’m 21 years old. I have to take orders from you. And I’m saying: “This lady has my life in her hands. She’s a commander of a ship.” You’re in a position of power. Did you have to face that? Well, you definitely had to face that. But how did you deal with those situations?
DANELLE BARRETT: Yeah. Since day one, first of all, coming in at 22 years old, you’re going to have people working for you who are 20 years older than you. And when you come in, they know you don’t know anything. They know you haven’t been in any leadership jobs — unless you’ve been managing a restaurant or something like that. So, don’t go in with the hubris and think you have all the answers. Even at 22 years old, I knew that. I would rely on my chiefs, master chiefs and senior enlisted folks to teach me — not just the technical things that I need to learn but the leadership things, too.
DANELLE BARRETT: Those guys have so much experience. You have to go in with what we call “the sign of the wolf” — ears open and mouth closed. Go in, and listen. Do a little more listening than talking. And realize that you don’t know what you don’t know. But the other piece is to have the confidence in yourself to display those leadership things that you do find important. What are your values? What are your priorities? What are your expectations? Make those clear, and hold people to count on that — regardless of what your gender or size is.
DANELLE BARRETT: I know some female admirals who are shorter than me. It’s not even an issue beyond the first couple of seconds that you meet them because of their presence and command. Their presence of themselves — and not in a blowhard kind of way — and the confidence you feel in them is right there. They know their jobs. They’re good at their jobs. They take care of their people. And that’s all that matters.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, you had that from the beginning? You had that presence?
DANELLE BARRETT: Well, I’d like to think I had the confidence. I’m not saying I was smart enough to know everything because I wasn’t.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I’m not talking about knowledge. Some of the Navy SEALs we’ve had on here — I’d follow these guys through anything. We had Colonel Allen West. He’s amazing. He said something to the extent of: “I’d go through hellfire with a gas can for my men.” He’d do anything for his troops. I have kids. I would sleep better knowing that he was in charge of my kids — that kind of guy. He’s strong. I looked at him, and I got scared. That’s kind of an “it” thing. I don’t know. Could you develop that kind of presence?
DANELLE BARRETT: I think that you either have that kind of confidence, or you don’t. But what you can do is build some leadership skills that help you feel more confident. For example, if you know your job very well, then you can have people help you understand your job better. Some of the technical aspects — that builds your confidence.
DANELLE BARRETT: Then, there are leadership scenarios you’re put in that test you. Honestly, being a leader is about being in the gray. There’s not a lot of black and white. There’s not just one answer. And so, you establish your reputation as you go along. You establish a track record of: “Hey, does this person have good judgment? Can they balance things, or are they just focused on the mission and not their people?
DANELLE BARRETT: So, you have to understand that it’s the whole context of leadership. It’s not just one trait that gets you something. One of the traits that I see you have to have as a good leader is tenacity. You’re not going to give up. You need to be humble — humble, servant leadership. You need to understand that you’re there to serve the nation and the people who are working with you and for you.
DANELLE BARRETT: You need to have a strong moral compass, so people know that you’re going to be transparent in your communications and what you’re doing. Your moral compass is true, and you’re not going to be someone who they can respect. You want to have integrity as a core value that you would never compromise. As long as you display those kinds of values in everything you do, then I think that leadership becomes a lot easier. That’s not to say there are not challenges and problems because there are. It becomes really hard and uncomfortable sometimes. But those things will get you far.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: You don’t wake up one morning and say: “I’m going to have integrity.” You either have it or you don’t, right?
DANELLE BARRETT: That’s a fact. And that’s one thing I’ll tell you, too. When you have problems with people, you have to determine: Is this a character flaw or a mistake? You allow for people to fail. You allow them to recover and learn from it. You root out character flaws like a cancer because you can’t fix that. You get them out.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I think the problem is that a lot of people think they can fix those. They spend their time — in business, partners and life — thinking that they can change people. And I don’t know. I have seen that happen. I think many people romanticize that and think they can change people, but it’s hard to change one trait of my own let alone try to tell someone else to change one of their traits. It’s virtually impossible.
DANELLE BARRETT: Yeah, I agree.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, you started out as an officer?
DANELLE BARRETT: Yes. [I started out] as an ensign — the first rank in the Navy. It’s similar to a second lieutenant in the Air Force or Army.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: You started because you went to school to get that rank, right?
DANELLE BARRETT: Correct. I went to ROTC at Boston University — NROTC. I didn’t have a scholarship. I had to finagle my way into getting a commission. I think it’s funny. Most of my path is always very circuitous to get what I want. It’s not direct. I remember I started at Boston University, and I had a scholarship for about half of my tuition.
DANELLE BARRETT: I wanted to do the ROTC program, but at the time, they were requiring — I think they still do — calculus and physics. I am like mathematical antimatter, Charles. I’m awful at math. No public math for me, right? So, I was like: “Oh gosh. If I take calculus or physics, I’m going to lower my GPA. And I may lose my university scholarship and then not even get a Navy scholarship.” So, I went to the unit there and said: “If I take all your drill classes and all your other classes” — because you have to take a few extra engineering and history classes for the Navy — “will you give me a commission at the end? But you don’t have to pay for my schooling.” And they said: “Sure, we’ll do that.”
DANELLE BARRETT: Then, I promptly got a job. I worked for my room and board. I managed a restaurant for 30 hours a week, took out student loans, took 21 credit hours a semester and graduated. I was able to get my commission — albeit it was more challenging. But I got my commission as an ensign — just like everybody else in the unit. Sometimes, you have to appreciate that you have an opportunity to do something. It may not be the easiest one. And don’t begrudge anybody else who has a good deal put on them for having a scholarship. I’m happy for them. Just be glad that you’re able to do what you need to do — however you need to get there.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, did you wake up one morning and say — when you started out and had your first commission — “I’m going to be an admiral.” Was that something that was going on your head, or did you say: “I’m just going to do the best job I can — wherever it leads me”?
DANELLE BARRETT: Oh, my God. I remember being in the Navy the first day. Everybody talks in acronyms in the military — as you see in movies and things like that. I remember thinking: “I’m never going to survive in this organization. I can’t understand what they’re talking about. I don’t think I’m speaking the same language!” I don’t think anybody goes in thinking that they’re going to be a rear admiral. I’ll be honest with you: It’s rarefied air, and I’m blessed. I’m very lucky to have been made an admiral. When I got selected, it could have been me or ten or fifteen other officers. The wind could have blown a different way that day, and they would have been picked. I never take for granted the fact I am very blessed and lucky.
DANELLE BARRETT: And also, when you get in, you don’t think about it in terms of being an admiral. I didn’t anyway. I thought about it in terms of: “I want to do a really good job at whatever rank I’m at and continue to contribute and continue at a higher level.” That was always my goal.
DANELLE BARRETT: There are so many factors that go into selection. We have selection boards that pick people. As you get up the food chain, the pyramid gets tighter at the top. So, when you’re a captain or commander, they’ve already weeded out a bunch of people who aren’t top-drawer. And so, you’re starting to deal with a very competitive, qualified and exceptionally eye-watering group. At those ranks — anybody who gets selected for anything — you’re just happy and grateful because it could be anybody. The way the wind would blow that day.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: You go to an Ivy League school as a freshman, and every one of those kids got a 1600 on their SATs. So, you’re in a group where everyone is really competitive. The sun doesn’t shine on you.
DANELLE BARRETT: That’s right. And then, you have to figure out: How am I going to contribute where I’m going to make a difference and make something better? That’s what you focus on. Don’t worry about all the politics and the rest. That’ll take care of itself.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, there are only 31 females in the Navy at the rank of admiral?
DANELLE BARRETT: I’m not sure of the exact number now. I think there are about 120 in the history of the Navy. There’s probably 30 now I would say. I’d have to go back and look at the numbers.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Right now, we could put all the admirals who have females in the Navy in one room. That’s amazing.
DANELLE BARRETT: It’d be a tight squeeze, but yeah you could do it.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Well we’ll get a big room. But that’s astounding. It’s astounding. To move up the ranks and to do it … How many people are in the Navy? A couple hundred thousand or so?
DANELLE BARRETT: Hundreds of thousands, yeah.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I’m in awe of that. I graduated second to last in high school, so I can’t even think about where you’re at in the top quarter of 1% of anything.
DANELLE BARRETT: Charles, don’t discount that. I was second to last in my ROTC unit. What do they call the guy who graduates at the bottom of medical school?
CHARLES MIZRAHI: A doctor.
DANELLE BARRETT: A doctor, right. So, you’re doing just fine.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: You’re a lot smarter than me on that. So, you go into the Navy. As you go, when do you have life and death? When is it in your hands? How old were you at that time?
DANELLE BARRETT: Well, I didn’t really have that until I was in some operational jobs. And like I said, I wasn’t allowed on combat ships for the first several years — probably the first five. But once you start to be able to go to combatant units, that’s when you can come into those situations. Most of the time, the Navy, in general, is doing things from ships that are operational — unless you’re with the SEALs or something.
DANELLE BARRETT: We’re a little bit removed from the hand-to-hand combat. But it’s also still very dangerous. The coal, for example, or different things like that. On the last deployment I was on, we were doing all the air operations and support of ground troops in Afghanistan. So, they would call in and say: “Hey, I need an air strike.” And then, our aircraft would go and do that airstrike. So, we’re a bit removed from that perspective.
DANELLE BARRETT: But we also have times when we’re sent ashore for different things. For example, we had Navy people who were stationed on the ground in Afghanistan or Iraq. I was in Haiti for the last relief operations in 2010. So, there are opportunities to do things like that. And I always found those very rewarding. I always loved being at the operational jobs — even though, like you mentioned earlier — you’re away from your family. And that’s really awful. That’s the part that I hate the most. But when you’re in those operational jobs, you really have a sense of purpose, teamwork and doing something for the greater good. That’s always rewarding, emotionally. You want to do your best for whatever situation you’re in.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: You’re on the front line for our country. You’re the barrier between freedom and everything else. The responsibility there. Let’s face it, you’re risking your life to do that — regardless of where you are and what function you serve.
DANELLE BARRETT: Yeah, it’s true. One of the things I’m most proud of in the military is that we do what’s called the oath of office, which is when you raise your hand and say: “I swear to protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” I really take that to heart.
DANELLE BARRETT: I remember the first time that I saw the Constitution in the National Archives. It was probably about six years ago. I actually teared up. I was so moved by that because, to me, those words are so important. We are so blessed in this country and so lucky to have the freedoms we do. You don’t realize that until you go and live other places. You realize: “OK, people can’t do the kind of things we can.” So, even with all the flaws in our country — I’m not saying we’re perfect — we live in the best country in the world. And I would die for our ability to continue that freedom — as would anybody in service who wears the cloth of the nation.
DANELLE BARRETT: Our goal is to make sure that freedom never goes away. I don’t care that you take a knee, honestly. If that’s your way to protest, that’s fine. I will die for your right to take a knee. That’s so important to me — for you to be able to express yourself in this country. You know what I mean? I think there are a lot of military people who feel the same. It’s really important for us to make sure that our way of life here — our democracy — endures.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Growing up, I remember that, as a kid, if someone bothered you or something — you got near their game or stood in their area — they would say: “Get away.” And you’d say: “Well, it’s a free country.” As an adult, I think: “How many places in the world can one say that?” We take so many of our freedoms for granted. It’s like the air we breathe. You don’t think about oxygen until you don’t have it. It’s astounding that so many young people today don’t recognize the sacrifices of people like you — and the rest of the military — who are there on the front line while they’re partying, protesting and doing all those things. You’re the reason they’re able to do that.
DANELLE BARRETT: And you know what? As long as they understand. If they don’t want to do that, that’s OK. I mean, there’s all sorts of service. You could be a teacher. You can volunteer time at a church or organizations that help people. There are all sorts of ways to serve the community and country. But you do want them to appreciate that they have those liberties. Whether or not they appreciate the people who give them those liberties or enable them, that’s OK. We’re not looking for thanks. But you want them to appreciate the fact that this country gives them those liberties.
DANELLE BARRETT: My husband is from Colombia in South America. His family has never been able to visit us because they can’t get a visa — a tourist visa. They don’t have enough bank accounts and property. They’re not rich. So, it’s things like that. You and I would go get a ticket, get our passport and be on our way. We don’t even think about it. But there are countries in the world that can’t do that kind of thing. Or, they don’t have clean water or the right to speak up.
DANELLE BARRETT: We need to always make sure that we are the country that provides that guide and do our best to have the best moral compass we can. You know what I mean? And the best values that we can have when it comes to democracy. And again, we’re not perfect. I get it. I’m not going to be Pollyanna about it. I know we’ve got our own problems. We’ve got a history of doing some shady stuff, too. But I think, all in all, our Constitution has endured because our Founding Fathers wrote a pretty solid document that stood the test of time.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: And we’re a testament to that. Any time there’s calamity in the world, it’s the American people who are the largest charity-givers. We send people on the ground to go help. That’s an ethos that our country developed — not only by being one of wealth. We have drinking water. How many people in the world can have clean drinking water or sanitation? Every time I flush my toilet or turn on my sink when I’m in my bathroom, I say: “God bless America.”
CHARLES MIZRAHI: In 1990, I was in Russia when it had just changed from Soviet Union to Russia. I remember walking into a supermarket, and there was nothing on the shelves but a couple of dented cans. There was one piece of meat on a hook with fat on it and a whole bunch of flies. When I came home, I told my wife: “Ellen, I’d like to walk around Costco or Walmart and say, ‘You don’t realize that most countries don’t have drinking water, and we have 48 different brands of mustard.'” That doesn’t come from air. It comes from a system of government and people who are willing to do amazing things.
DANELLE BARRETT: Yes, absolutely.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Operationally, what was the hotspot? You said you were in Iraq. You were in Afghanistan?
DANELLE BARRETT: I was in Iraq. I was on a carrier that was in the Gulf of Oman — supporting Afghanistan. I was in charge of all the communications for those kinds of things. I would be in charge of communications or data and stuff like that. So, when we were doing the Afghanistan operations, I needed to make sure that our planes could talk to the ground forces and other ships in the area so we could command and control those operations.
DANELLE BARRETT: We were providing air strikes for troops that were imperiled on the ground. So, someone would call in an air strike and need help. And then, our jets would go off the carrier, go over there, do the strike and come back. It was that kind of thing. I was in charge of making sure all those communications worked.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: What rank were you at the time?
DANELLE BARRETT: I was a captain.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: How many people were under you when you were doing this — who you were responsible for?
DANELLE BARRETT: Well, you have an immediate core that works with you. But then, in the whole strike group, there would be communications people on each of those ships. So, [there were] several hundred across different ships and places, and you would be coordinating all their efforts.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: How old were you at the time?
DANELLE BARRETT: At that time? Well, when I was a captain, I would have been 45.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: You have as much responsibility as a CEO who is running a business. You’re in charge of tens of billions of dollars — at the minimum — of hardware and people’s lives. I still marvel at the fact that the military is able to take young people and turn them into such responsible leaders. Not only are amazing amounts of money being controlled by these people but also so many lives. If one screwup happens, it’s over for someone somewhere.
DANELLE BARRETT: Yeah. And that’s one thing you think about all the time. I always used to try to put myself in the shoes of that 18-year-old. The more senior you get, the more you kind of forget what it feels like to be 18. It’s probably your first job. You got your tongue stuck in the keyboard, and you’re like: “Oh, my God. I don’t know what’s going on.” And you also put yourself in their parents’ shoes. You want to keep their kids safe. It was always really important to me — no matter what we did — to take care of those sailors like their parents would want. As a parent, I would want them to take care of my daughter. You know what I mean? I think that’s a really important obligation.
DANELLE BARRETT: No matter how old that person gets, taking care of your sailors is really important. People talk a big game about taking care of your people. People are my most important asset. I never used to say that. I’d say my mission is my most important thing because it was. None of us would be there if we didn’t have that mission we had to do. But parallel to that is taking care of your people. Because if you take care of them, they take care of the mission.
DANELLE BARRETT: And when I say: “Take care of people,” I mean do the tough leadership stuff of the day-to-day. When they’re having a really stressful day, you [need to] recognize that and say: “Hey, shipmate. You don’t look like yourself today. What’s going on? Can I help?” Or, make sure evaluations or rewards are done on time. Recognize them for good contributions — or course-correct when they need a little corrective action. Make sure they understand the importance of a second chance.
DANELLE BARRETT: Like we talked about: “Was that a character flaw? Or, did that poor kid just screw up and need a little bit of course-correcting?” They’ll learn from that. So, the day-to-day thing of leadership is what takes time. And [it’s] what’s important — and all that mentoring. If you’re truly a good leader, you’ll take the time to do those things day to day. You don’t talk a big game about it.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Every one of those sailors is someone’s mother, father, brother, sister, or son or daughter of a parent. Once you start thinking like that, well, thank God I’m not in the military because I’d be terrible. I would be paralyzed to do anything. To have that kind of awesome responsibility…
DANELLE BARRETT: You’re a dad of five. You would fit right in.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: You’re being too kind. So, you move up in the ranks. And I think it was your last position where you became the director of Navy Cyber Security.
DANELLE BARRETT: Yeah. It’s interesting. When I started out, I couldn’t program my VCR. I was a history major, OK? Now, I can program routers. It’s all the crazy stuff that you never think you’ll learn that someone will teach you. I found that I really love the technology piece. And I found that, as the Navy started to get computers and networks, it was a natural fit for me. So, I got involved.
DANELLE BARRETT: Within my last two jobs, I was Director of Cyber Offensive and Defensive Operations at the United States Cyber Command. So, anything that the Department of Defense was doing with cyber operations, I was responsible for — anything in the next 72 hours. Then, after that, I went on to be the Deputy CIO of the Navy and the Director of Cybersecurity for policy — writing it and helping make sure that we funded the right capabilities for the future.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I read in The Wall Street Journal about companies with cyber-attacks in terms of businesses with ransomware and all that. But in the military — and I don’t know if you can disclose this or not — but it must be repeatedly hit with all types of attacks on its systems.
DANELLE BARRETT: Yes. Millions of times a day. And those stats are out there on the military networks. People are always going after military networks. They also go after what I would consider the soft underbelly. We have a lot of defense industrial-based partners — people who we buy equipment services from who are commercial vendors. So, they have a lot of our data and information. The hackers will also go after them — knowing that they may be easier targets and can still affect the military if they get the information.
DANELLE BARRETT: So, we have a broad swath that we work with a lot of agencies on, too. The National Security Agency. The FBI. The Department of Homeland Security. We work with a lot of other agencies. It’s not like we go at this alone. It’s a whole of government effort to get after that problem.
DANELLE BARRETT: You’re right, Charles. It doesn’t just affect the military. It affects our critical infrastructure like our SCADA and the things that control our power and water. We have to keep all of that safe. Those are all national security concerns for our government and people.
DANELLE BARRETT: And you’ve seen it recently, too. It’s like you said with the increase in ransomware. They’ve been going after people to get money. But what if it was Iran, North Korea, China and Russia — who are our big cyber four adversaries? What if they’re going after those kinds of things?
DANELLE BARRETT: It’s a constant cat-and-mouse game. You’re never going to have an impenetrable network or perfect solution. But you just have to be resilient enough that if you do take that hit, you can fight through it. And you can give that hit to somebody else. As a nation, we don’t want to get punched in the face all the time. We may want to do the punching sometimes. And sometimes, that may be a cyber one — as opposed to a dropping a bomb.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Is this the battlefield? Is cybersecurity or cyber-attacks the new battlefield of the 21st century? A war is going to be fought in ether and not on the ground? You could do so much more to a country by knocking out its electricity.
DANELLE BARRETT: Yeah, I believe so. There are some traditionalists who don’t believe that. But I totally believe that future wars will be information-based. Or, they will be information-impactful — meaning I can, like you said, disrupt your water and food supply — your agriculture. Just think about cyber agriculture attacks. Everything in agriculture is automated now.
DANELLE BARRETT: I have a niece who is marrying, a dairy farmer. His whole dairy farm is automated. The cows come in and milk themselves. He wouldn’t even have enough people to milk those cows anymore if someone cyberattacked him. Everything is so disruptive, and we don’t think through second and third order effects a lot of the time.
DANELLE BARRETT: For example, after 9/11, I don’t know if you remember, but they shut down all the train trestles while they looked underneath — in case there were any bombs there. They wanted to make sure there weren’t bombs underneath all the train trestles. So, they shut down railways for several days. What they didn’t realize was within three days, L.A. would have run out of fresh water. The only way to move chlorine, which you need to purify water, would be a rail. And no one had thought about that. What if you run out of fresh water? What are the second and third-order effects? Well, you can’t do generators. You can’t do AC. Then hospitals don’t work. It starts to get dystopian. It goes crazy.
DANELLE BARRETT: But we have to, as a nation, be able to fight through those kinds of attacks because I do believe, like you said, future wars will be that. And they’ll also be disinformation or misinformation campaigns that can cause you to do something.
DANELLE BARRETT: [It’s] like we saw recently during elections and other things. The Russians didn’t have to get in and do it all themselves. They just had to plant the wrong story with the right group of crazies to get it all spread out. People don’t question: “Hey, is that’s factual? Where am I hearing that from? Should I be reposting on social media or passing that on?” That influence operation could achieve an effect that dropping ten bombs wouldn’t. So, we have to be smart about that as a nation.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: We have so many great defense systems. Anyone dropping a bomb on New York City — that’s not my fear. My fear is the subway tracks. I remember The Taking of Pelham 123 — the original one — where a group of thieves take over the trains. The original one was before Denzel. I think it was Walter Matthau. And I remember being so fearful on the trains. The trains used to have emergency stops. I thought: “Oh, my gosh. If you’re on those trains…” When we have blackouts — which are pretty rare in New York. We had one. You could take a country back to the Dark Ages in a heartbeat. And today, with all our communications being on the internet and wireless, if we’re done with that, we’re back to the 1700s in a heartbeat.
DANELLE BARRETT: And we’re not prepared for that. We don’t drill to that. Or, if we do drill to it, they do what’s called a tabletop. They talk their way through it. But until you actually force yourself to do it … Look what happened in Texas with those blackouts. That was a hot mess. And that was caused by something they figured out could have happened. There weren’t any cyber-attacks or anything. But that wasn’t that long. What if that had gone on for four or five months? People think: “If there’s a cyber-attack, we’ll get back up and running in a couple of days.” Well, maybe not.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: It’s not just rebooting your computer. Think about old people without air conditioning in the summer who’ll die. Young babies in incubators. People who need dialysis. I get scared just thinking about it.
DANELLE BARRETT: Yeah. And I don’t mean to freak you out. I don’t want to be all death and gloom. But our nation needs to think through how we’ll be resilient in those situations. How will we do traffic control? How will we do hospital work? How will we do electricity? How will we do water? We just need to think through how we’ll do those things so that we don’t have a breakdown in law and order. We have to think through it and have some plans in place that we can practice and exercise should we have to do that.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: In New York, if you want to create chaos, just have one traffic light go out. People don’t know what to do. No one’s letting anyone go. Traffic becomes a nightmare!
DANELLE BARRETT: Then you add New York City — where no one wants to give anybody room.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Oh, no, forget it. That’s all I’m talking about. Even with traffic lights, we have all this road rage — an alpha trying to be the first one. No one lets anyone in. How prepared are we for any types of cyber-attacks on a national level?
DANELLE BARRETT: I think they’ve done a lot of good work in the last couple of years — particularly on the areas of critical infrastructure: finance, water and electric. But because we don’t own all those — some countries like Russia and China own all that. It’s state-owned. They can control that in a different way. Because we don’t own those, we have to have a partnership with our commercial vendors and industry partners. And they’ve been good because they recognize, too, that these are problems. So, everybody’s working toward the same goal. It’s a never-ending thing. The cat-and-mouse game. You have to keep trying to be one step ahead of your adversary — sharing information and putting plans in place that’ll work.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Being a mother and wife — rising to the top in the military and especially the Navy — would you recommend that a young woman today join the Navy?
DANELLE BARRETT: I absolutely would. One, you can balance both. You can do both. My daughter and I talk every day. She was able to realize her dream — like I was mine — because I made it a priority for her. She’s a professional ballerina, and I made that a priority for her so she could get the training she needed — from when she was very little all the way up until she started in her career. And so, you just have to think about it.
DANELLE BARRETT: And it’s the same with my husband, too. I made sure that I took orders to a communications station in Puerto Rico where he could study his medical things in his first language to make it easier for him. So, you can work these things and balance. But you have to make deliberate choices.
DANELLE BARRETT: If I could give you an example — a little sea story — about how this hit home for me at a very early level: I was my first tour on a ship. I was in the Navy about four or five years. It was about five years at that point. My daughter was having a hat parade at school in a little child development center. She was about three and a half years old. It was about three miles down the road from the ship. A hat parade is where they make some contraption out of paper and glue — whatever glue they’re not eating — and they walk around the parking lot like: “Hi mom!” That’s it. That’s the hat parade. It takes five minutes.
DANELLE BARRETT: So, I dropped her off in the morning. I said: “Mommy will be there, and I’ll see you.” I got to the ship, and we were getting underway the next day for a very big exercise. We had a lot of people coming aboard — probably 600 people in addition to the staff and ship. And a lot of them were Air Force people or people who weren’t familiar with the Navy. So, they’re like: What’s the port? What’s the starboard?” So, it was complete chaos. And I was in charge of the network — getting them on the accounts and things like that.
DANELLE BARRETT: So anyway, the hat parade is supposed to go down at 10:00 a.m. I got out of the ship maybe five minutes to 10 a.m. I get over to the child development center, and the hat parade is over. There’s nobody in the parking lot. Nothing. I see the kids out on the playground. I was like: “Ugh.” So, I got out of the car and went over the fence. My daughter saw me, and she was across the playground.
DANELLE BARRETT: You know those pictures that they freeze and feel like the Great Wall of China — or you can see the Grand Canyon. That’s what my kids mouth looked like. See started bawling. She ran over to the fence and said: “Mommy, you promised you were going to be here, and you weren’t.” And so, I was like: “Rip my heart out. Take it now — bad parent of the decade award.”
DANELLE BARRETT: But then I said: “What am I doing? I’m not going to be that parent who always puts their family back — regardless of service.” There are times of service where everything comes first because of the service. But it’s not every time. And it doesn’t have to be every time. You have to be confident enough to say no sometimes. I need a little bit of time to do this thing with my family because it’s just as important, and we’re not at war. Or, it’s just a normal day at the office, and I don’t need to spend 12 hours here in this baseball game or whatever.
DANELLE BARRETT: And so, no lie. About six months after that, I had melting cupcakes in the car. It was the same scenario. We were getting underway the next day for an exercise. We got a ton of people on. I went to my boss, and I said: Listen, I need one hour to go to the child development center to have a birthday party. He said: “You can’t leave now! It’s crazy.” And I said: “Sir, it’s going to be crazy in an hour. It’s going to be crazy all night. I’m to be with you over the next three weeks. Just give me an hour.” So, he said: “OK, but you be back here in an hour.”
DANELLE BARRETT: So, I went over, and we did the cake. She was all excited. Kids were getting jacked up on sugar. I’m sure the child development center loved me that day. But do you think that when my promotions board for lieutenant commander came up — which was my next rank — that somebody said: “Barrett? She missed an hour of pre-underway comms checks back in 2016. There’s no way we can promote her!” No. Nobody is going to remember or care about that. But would my daughter have remembered that I missed her birthday? Yes, she would.
DANELLE BARRETT: Whether it’s in the civilian or military world, you have to look at how you balance that. How do you do that work life balance? You can do it. You’ve got to consciously work at it. I was never perfect at it. Believe me, I made my mistakes. I was never a perfect mom or officer. But you do your best and try to balance it.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: All right. You wrote this book, Rock the Boat: Embrace Change, Encourage Innovation, and Be a Successful Leader. It’s No. 1. in categories on Amazon. Briefly, because our time is running up, I want you to explain to me: There are a zillion books out there on leadership. What is the message of your book? I found that a lot of these books have one page of great stuff and 300 pages of fluff. I know your book is pretty concise. It’s short, which I liked. What is the message? Why am I reading this book? What am I getting out of this?
DANELLE BARRETT: Yes, I want it to be like we’re having a conversation now — a practical conversation that you would have with your mentor. Someone gives you some actual advice that you can do something with — and not in big formulas or heavy theory. It’s like having a conversation with somebody. “Hey, what do I do if my boss is a jerk?” That’s kind of a basic thing, right? Or, finding three positives out of any failure you have — allowing for failure.
DANELLE BARRETT: Or, how do you inspire somebody? People always ask me: “Who inspires you?” And it’s not John Paul Jones or some big Naval figure. It’s Walt Disney. I had a picture of Walt Disney hanging in my office at the Pentagon — where he’s walking underneath Sleeping Beauty’s castle before the park opens and all the crazy kids run around. He’s just thinking. Think about somebody who looks at swampland in Florida and sees flying elephants with adults and children on them having a great time. And then, he makes it a reality. That is inspirational to me. How can you inspire somebody and with simplicity and care?
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Wow, beautiful. Great. I’m looking at some of the reviews, and there are some heavy hitters here. You have the sales director of McAfee. You have a U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant general, a former supreme allied commander at NATO. These are guys you really don’t want to piss off. This is good.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I always felt that if I was going to read any book on leadership, it was going to be from someone in the military. In business, it’s money. In the military, it’s lives. You can’t redo those mistakes. You can’t write a check for [them]. You’ve got to be good, and you’ve got to be right. As you said, you never have all the facts. You can only deal with what you have at that moment to decide.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I find that in investing. You never have everything. It’s an imperfect world, and you have to have enough pieces of the puzzle to make an educated decision. And yes, sometimes you will be wrong. But you don’t want to be wrong from 10 feet off the ground. You want to be wrong from one foot off the ground. I see that in the military — especially with people like yourself. I consider it a blessing that you — and many others like you, who are in the military — have shared not only your inspiration for what type of people you could be, but also leadership and how to get ahead. We could talk about these things, but it’s nothing like someone who’s seen real firefights and had to put their life on the line to give those lessons.
DANELLE BARRETT: I always say leadership is so easy a monkey could do it. I really believe that, at its core, regardless of what industry you’re in. Those kinds of concepts — taking care of people and the mission, being tenacious and resourceful, and having empathy and a strong moral compass — don’t know an industry. There are no bounds there. You may have a different perspective, like you said, because of the nature of the military work. There’s a life-or-death aspect to it sometimes. But for the most part, the leadership day to day knows no industry bounds. If you’re a good leader in this industry, you’ll be a good leader in another industry.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: That’s true. One of the things I do in my newsletter, Alpha Investor, is I look for companies … I’ve done this my whole career, and I consider it a shortcut. But most people don’t even look at it. They look at the company. They look at the balance sheet. But they miss looking at the CEO. I always say that you should follow the CEO. Great CEO’s — no matter where you plant them — are going to do great. Terrible CEOs — who lack integrity and continually talk a great game but never produce — you follow them, and the businesses that they do are OK at best. And at worst, they destroy them.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: But a great business leader, I’d follow. We follow them. We have a database. It’s like trading baseball cards. We follow these guys from whichever companies they’re going [from]. And if they’re great — male or female — we want to invest alongside them. So, you’re right. I have a colleague and friend who was a captain in the Marines. We’re going to have him on the show in a few weeks — Dr. Wesley Gray. He was a Marine. When I first met him 12 years ago, he said: “Grow where you’re planted.” That’s what they teach in the Marines. So, don’t bitch about anything. Just grow where you’re planted. You’re here. These are the conditions. And that has changed a lot of my thinking. I don’t say: “I wish this were this.” Just deal with the problem at hand, and grow from there.
DANELLE BARRETT: Yeah. And it’s so funny. I’ve heard people say that before. One time, I had a boss, and I was going to a job. And I wasn’t really excited about it. It didn’t seem all that interesting. But he said: “Make lemonade out of lemons. Figure out what you’re going to learn out of that job and what you’re going to contribute to it. Stop complaining, and get work.” So, there’s a lot to be said for: “Grow where you’re planted,” and “Grow like a tree.”
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I like that. I don’t know if I could ever make good lemonade, but I’m just thinking: “Grow where you’re planted.” Wherever you end up, deal with the facts that you have, and make the best of it. Bitching about it is not going to change it. You’re still back to the same spot.
DANELLE BARRETT: Yeah. And you can make it better. You’ve got to go in with that positive attitude.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Beautiful. Danielle Barrett, I want to thank you. The name of the book is Rock the Boat: Embrace Change, Encourage Innovation, and Be a Successful Leader. I know that you’ve heard this so many times — and I’m sure you feel the same way each time — I sincerely want to thank you for your service. It’s people like you who allow me and my family to sleep well at night. And it’s that sacrifice. I didn’t make it. You did. So, thank you so much.
DANELLE BARRETT: Thanks, Charles. Thanks to you — and everybody else who supports the military. It means a lot to us. So, thanks for the kind words. I really appreciate the opportunity.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: It’s my pleasure. God bless you, and keep doing great stuff. Thanks so much, Danelle.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Charles Mizrahi Show. If you’re a new listener, welcome! If you’ve been listening for a while, we’re glad to have you back. Either way, we’d love to know what you think of the show. Please leave a review if you listen on Apple Podcasts. Reviews make it easier for others to find the show. You can also see the video of the interview on The Charles Mizrahi Show channel on YouTube.
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