Man behind the Navy SEALS brings message to SIUE

News-DemocratNovember 15, 2013 

— From Belleville West High School to working with Navy SEALs, Justin Ponder has come a long way around to speaking in his home territory.

Petty Officer Justin Ponder was the keynote speaker on Friday at a project management symposium hosted by Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He is currently team leader of a special warfare combatant-craft crewman team attached to Navy SEAL Team 18, stationed in Virginia. When the SEALs are storming a beach, it's up to Ponder's team to handle transportation and extractions.

A native of Belleville, Ponder graduated from Belleville West in 2005 and attended the University of Missouri-St. Louis for two years. But the military was calling -- he described himself as "infatuated" with special warfare.

Since enlisting, he rose to the rank of petty officer and now leads a SWCC team, planning missions and working with his team. That was the subject of his interview-style presentation to the business leaders at SIUE: teamwork.

"Teamwork is every team member having a clear knowledge of what they are assigned to do and how they're going to do it," Ponder said. "Every teammate has absolute trust and dependency on the team."

Whether in the business world or storming a beach, Ponder said teamwork depends on situational awareness, effective communication and putting aside individual biases and issues to work together for a single goal.

Communication, for example: it helps everything run smoothly, "like oil to a machine," he said.

"We can't be on the radio for too long, so we need to say what we mean with as few words as possible," Ponder said. "As a leader, when building a team you want to instill that communication in them."

Ponder also recommended that businesses try getting together outside the workplace for something besides the project they're planning. Working together doesn't necessarily make everyone friends, but it's vital that team members help each other.

"If you're only out for yourself, you'd need to be in a different line of work," Ponder said. "You have to rectify that mindset immediately. You have to prove, as a leader, that you are setting the standard: to help each teammate, and (encourage) each teammate to help the others."

Ponder, 26, grew up with Zach Schaefer, the speech communications professor who conducted the on-stage interview and persuaded Ponder to speak at SIUE. He is in the area visiting his parents, Art and Mary Ponder, of Belleville, but expects to be called back to Virginia within the week.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at or 239-2507.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at or 239-2507.

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