San Diego veteran helps enlisted service members become strong leaders with non-profit

Posted at 9:08 PM, Jan 11, 2022

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Leadership comes in many forms. For one local leader, it's about helping others become strong leaders.

“It's unfortunate that in the Navy only 20 percent or less of the E-6s will ever make chief,” says David Dearie, “I thought, I wonder if I could start something.”

David didn't just start something, he started something unique, the Enlisted Leadership Foundation or E.L.F., an organization that helps overlooked mid-level enlisted service members develop the skills to become Chief Petty Officers or CPOs.

“The best aren't always the ones who need it. We want to capture the best and all the rest.”

David's determination to lend a hand started with his own journey when he was a recent high school graduate in Carlsbad.

“Right after Christmas of '84, I joined the Navy."

But for David, it was hardly smooth sailing from the start.

“I hated the first few years of my career, he says, “I did not understand myself, I needed to grow up some more.”

That meant listening to some influential people. He says some good leaders made a big impact on him early on in his military career. That’s why he decided to stay in the Navy where he grew as a leader, ascending to the highest enlisted rank, E-9, as a Command Master Chief Petty Officer.

When asked what he thought in him allowed him to achieve that level of success David modestly said, “It's the great people I had to lead. We don't get where we're at because of what we do so well, we get where we're at because of what everybody who we get to lead does so well.”

It's with that humility that David launched E.L.F. in 2014, about a year before he retired from the Navy. The foundation has four main programs that focus on everything from networking to the basics of good leadership to teamwork. The workshops teach active-duty members how to relate better to others.

“They learn how many leaders out there are introverted and do well, so they learn how to come out of their shell a little bit,” David says.

In the last almost eight years, David says more than 22,000 service members have benefited. Last year the programs had to go virtual, but that grew their reach by about 50 percent.

“This is truly a team effort. I couldn't do this without the other Board of Directors and we couldn't do it without the enlisted military and the students having the faith in us.”

David says they plan to expand E.L.F. into San Antonio next year.

For his dedication to helping others be better leaders, ABC 10News and LEAD San Diego have selected David Dearie as the ABC 10News Leadership Award winner for the month of January.