State 06: Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. | September 12-13, 2017

VETERAN: Shelby Kopp
BRANCH: U.S. Navy

ARTIST: Neha Agarwal
WEBSITE: www.nehaagarwal.com

VIDEOGRAPHER: Endrit Faslliaj, FS Investments
PHOTOGRAPHER: Tyler Way

WORKSPACE: Fort Dix, FS Investments
PARTNERS: AIGA Philadelphia, Travis Manion Foundation

STATE SPONSOR: FS Investments

THE BEST TIME

U.S. Navy Veteran Shelby Kopp and graphic designer Neha Agarwal collaborated to create the design “The Best Time,” an illustration that expresses Shelby’s outgoing personality and focus on fostering friendships. Adopted from her radio host grandfather, she lives by his sign-off and motto, “The best time to make friends is before you need them.”

While in bootcamp, Shelby had an inspiring Chief Petty Officer (CPO), motivating her to become one herself. Integral leaders within the Navy, CPOs train and counsel sailors, setting the tone and attitude of their service. A CPO initiation and a deeply cherished tradition by Shelby, the center banner of their design is from a pocket on the front of Shelby’s personal charge book.

A sailor through and through, the Navy’s anchor centers the design while also transmitting a signal, representative of Shelby’s work with radar in the Navy, and referencing her grandfather and father’s work in radio. Lastly, it symbolizes Shelby’s contagious optimism and the hope that her design inspires others to take the time to connect with those around them.

In collaboration with Alpha Industries, the designs from the 50 States: Veterans + Artists United tour are produced into a limited number of fifty t-shirts and embroidered patches. Click the product images below to purchase Shelby and Neha’s collaborative “The Best Time” design exclusively on AlphaIndustries.com.

SHIRT: $30.00

Size Shown: Large (Unisex)

PATCH: $17.00

Patch Width: 4.0in

DECAL: $5.00

Patch Width: 4.0in

 BEHIND-THE-PROCESS: 

[Written by: Kendra Clapp Olguín | Photos by: Tyler Way]

The second you meet Shelby, you see that she is a born leader. Attentive, caring, and stern, she is the person in the room you keep an eye on and follow her lead when you’re not quite sure what to do.

A sailor through and through, the Navy provided her a way out of her small town and led her to a life of service, travel, and leadership. While she may have left that small town for the Navy, Shelby brought her optimistic mentality and positive outlook she was raised with, and in particular, continues to live by her radio host grandfather’s sign-off and motto, “The best time to make friends is before you need them.”

While in boot camp, she had an influential Chief Petty Officer (CPO) that inspired her to utilize her natural charisma and refine her leadership skills to become one herself after years of hard work and dedication.

After three deployments, Shelby affiliated with the Navy Reserves and is still active to this day. Seeing all experiences as opportunities and through her work as an Ambassador for the Travis Manion Foundation, Shelby jumped at the chance to partner with AIGA Philadelphia member graphic designer Neha Agarwal.

Because Shelby was the first Veteran on the tour still active in the Reserves, we were excited to share her unique experience of previous and continued service. As she has a full-time job in combination with her military responsibilities for the Reserves, we all were happy to meet Shelby at Fort Dix, located 50 minutes northeast of Philadelphia, on the first Design Day where she had been working earlier in the morning.

Typically military bases are dedicated to only one or two branches but Fort Dix is a joint-base to all of the military branches. Due to safety and clearance reasons, Shelby picked up Neha, Tyler, and myself at the base’s entrance and checkpoint.

With Neha in the passenger seat and Tyler and I comfortably sitting behind them in her Subaru, Shelby took us on a quick tour of the base and explained how self-sustaining military bases are with banks, grocery stores, restaurants, schools, and neighborhoods in addition to various military buildings.

She pointed things out like the striking difference between the fancy Air Force buildings and the minimal Army ones. Eventually, we got to the Navy area of the base where she worked.

With all of us seated around the Chiefs’ conference room and area with Naval flags and insignia about, Shelby explained to Neha what led her to become a Sailor.

“I lived in a small town with just four stoplights. Education wasn’t necessarily a strong suit that was enforced on me and I knew I wanted to get out and see what else was out there. Being in a small town, you’re a little sheltered. It’s not a knock on the town because I think there is something to be said for that simplicity of life, but I knew I wanted to have more of an impact and purpose. By joining the military, I was going to be able to do that. Both of my grandfathers were in the Navy, one in the Marine Corps and one in the Navy,” she shares.

“My grandfather was on a sub and told me of all the places he had gone. I have always been super patriotic and I joined the Navy right out of high school and as with anything I do, I went into it with a positive attitude.”

In the transition from her small town of DeKalb, Illinois, to the Navy community, Shelby enjoyed meeting people different than herself.

“You have such a diverse community in the military. You have folks from the inner-city, folks from the south, folks that don’t know where their next meal was going to be, and I was sort of in the middle of all of that,” she describes.

Before leaving for boot camp, Shelby laminated the Eleven General Orders, carrying them around with her, even going so far as to take them with her in the shower, and memorized them by heart.

“I left for boot camp and I had a renewed purpose at that point.  I knew where I stood and knew that I was successful at following directions.” 

Neha then asked Shelby to elaborate on what she meant by finding a renewed purpose at such an early stage in her military career while still very young.

“When I was in boot camp, my Chief was absolutely amazing. When I met my dad for lunch after boot camp, he asked me what I thought about the Navy and I told him I wanted to be a Chief. You can ask any Officer or Sailor in the Navy who their favorite chief is and they’ll have one,” she explains.

Shelby has been deployed three times as an Enlistee. The first was in April of 2001 on the USS Rushmore (LSD 47) for a CARE Cruise when she partook in a variety of community relation and medical training projects in South East Asia and traveled to different countries including Bali, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, and Singapore. On the Rushmore, Shelby got the opportunity to work in the Auxiliary Division where she earned her Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist qualification.

From the Rushmore, she went to the USS Mustin DDG-89 in 2004 and was deployed on a WESPAC deployment to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. She was eventually assigned to the Operations department where she was a damage control Petty Officer, Work Center Supervisor, and then Watch Supervisor.

She then went to the Littoral Combat Ship Class Squadron LCSRON in 2006 where she served as the Leading Petty Officer in the Operations office where she trained ships crews, managing hundreds of personnel.

When she completed her enlistment, Shelby then joined the Naval Reserves where she remains active.

On June 10, 2015, she was selected to become a Chief Petty Officer and went through 87 days of CPO training. Since then, she has been selected to be the Senior Enlisted Leader for USFF Command Maritime Air Operations Headquarters in Norfolk, VA and acts as a liaison for the four MAO units located around the country.

Since being in the Reserves, Shelby has also worked full-time as Corporate Facility Security Officer with a Defense Contractor.

Shelby’s ability to quickly list her Naval career and accomplishments that led up to her advancement to CPO almost diminishes the gravity of it all. But that’s just how Shelby is. While telling Neha all of the things she’s done while in the Navy, it’s never “me,” but instead, always “we.”

It’s about the leaders that inspired her, the camaraderie of the Navy and friends she’s made, the amazing places she’s gone and the delicious food she’s eaten there, and the opportunities she’s thankful for. She’s proud of becoming a Chief, of becoming part of a community that’s important to the Navy.

“CPOs are the backbone; we unify. We are the counselors and folks getting the call at two in the morning. By having these traditions, it fills your heart with pride,” she explains.

While reminiscing of her path to where she is now, Shelby brought out one of her most prized possessions, her charge book.

A little history of the CPO charge book from goatlocker.org:

During WWII, Commanding Officers were authorized to advance and promote deserving and qualified Sailors to the highest enlisted rank of Chief Petty Officer (CPO). The determination of those deserving and qualified could be difficult for the Commanding Officer. The situation also presented challenges to the Sailor who aspired to attain a Chief’s rating. How best to prepare? How to plan and track preparation? How to best display your qualifications? From these dilemmas sprang the original charge books.

Chiefs began to direct First Class Petty Officers to prepare themselves to assume the additional responsibilities by recording all the details of those responsibilities. Ships professional libraries were generally nonexistent or poorly stocked and much had to be learned directly from conversations with the Chiefs themselves and taken down to be studied later. In addition to the technical aspects of the various ratings, Chief Petty Officers also talked to the First Class aspirants about leadership, accountability, supporting the chain of command, and other professional subject matter often using personal experiences to illustrate how something should (or should not) be done. The collection of notes and study material eventually came to be called by some a Charge Book perhaps because the Petty Officers who kept them were their charges; (entrusted to their care) for professional development or perhaps because the entries included charges (authoritative instructions or tasking of a directive nature).

Today’s Charge Book then is a great tradition which has its roots in a magnificent period of our history. Chiefs have preserved it and have returned it to its original purpose… It is valid and valuable learning tool. It is treated with respect and as a badge of honor by all concerned. Even better, when CPO Initiation season is over, it becomes a treasured keepsake and the repository for the accumulation of the most precious of our career photos and mementos.

Safely guarded in a wooden box with the USN Insignia burned onto the front, Shelby sets the box down on the table, charge book inside. “We were charged to build these boxes and engrave them with rate, rank, and name,” she says.

Neha stands to get a better angle and as Shelby opens it, we all see the glimmer of the navy velvet lining the inside. 

“The inside is all up to you; that’s where you put in personal stuff,” she tells Neha. She then points to the uniform pocket on the outside of the book. “This pocket was given to me by a Senior Chief that was one of my mentors.”

She opens the book, turning the many pages of handwritten notes, advice, and stickers, many flagged with little neon stickies. “You meet and learn of folks along the way,” she explains of the inside of the book. “People will sign other people’s pages and use it as a way to communicate. It’s a brotherhood and sisterhood, the world’s finest fraternity.”

Neha asks Shelby if there are one or two charges that stand out to her in particular. She pauses, then responds. “The process of becoming a Chief was something that really impacted my husband and I, the late nights, early mornings… they ask for your significant other to write something about why you want to be Chief,” she says as she looks onto the page.

She goes on to mention another important charge, “One of my first charges was from Chief Lyons, he was the hardest Leading Petty Officer I’ve had… When got back from deployment, he asked me to be in his retirement and I thought, ‘Why would I get all dressed up and do this for you?’ But I didn’t want to burn a bridge and I’m glad I didn’t. He told me, ‘Fireman Feather [Shelby’s maiden name], I just want to let you know that you changed my view of women in the military.’ That was pretty badass. I was floored and very humbled at that point. I still to this day call and talk to him.”

Neha then asks Shelby, “What role does the charge book serve to you now?”

Shelby responds, “It’s my trajectory. It’s how I remember I was once washing my hair with ketchup because it smelled like fuel, how I went from the Top Side of the engine room to an Operations Specialist (OS) in the Combat Information Center.”

For a change of scenery, we all hopped in the car again and headed to a nearby park since it was so beautiful out that day. As we situated ourselves on a picnic table, Neha asked Shelby to share some of her most fond memories from her deployments to help brainstorm potential visual elements for their design.

“The sunsets I’ve seen have been absolutely breathtaking, having the wind blow through your hair, the fog in front of you with the skies, seeing the water go on and on and on forever,” she reminisces. 

Neha goes on to ask another question, “When were your beliefs challenged or transformed in some way?”

Shelby responded that the Navy exposed her to new things, things she hadn’t experienced in her small hometown. “It expanded how I view the world and showed me the bigger picture,” she tells Neha. “Especially spending eight years in San Diego, the melting pot of the world. It was nice to see various communities. We can all find something in common.”

Crediting her grandfather and father, both radio hosts, for her outgoing personality, Shelby shared her grandfather’s sign-off that has become the motto she lives her life by, “The best time to make friends is before you need them.”

“Especially in the military,” she explains, “you never know where your path is going to take you and you should have the ability to find common ground with somebody… Once you allow someone else to dictate your happiness, you cut yourself short and I think that’s why the phrase, ‘I’m not here to make friends’ drives me crazy. Why not enjoy where you’re at and enjoy the space people are sharing with you?” She goes on to share her hopeful legacy, “That’s one thing I want to be remembered for: my love for building those relationships and those bridges. I think we get wrapped around the daily grind and that we’re busy. We’re not making time to have those moments, to talk to people.”

I think we were all thankful at that moment to have had the opportunity to meet each other, connect, and be engaged in conversation while sitting outside on such a beautiful day.

Our Pennsylvania project sponsor, FS Investments, hosted the second Design Day and Shelby was able to meet AIGA Philadelphia President and FS Investments’ Vice President of Design Christine Sheller as well as FS Investments’ Video Producer Endrit Faslliaj who would be producing the video for the project. Unfortunately unable to attend first Design Day, Christine asked Shelby how the first day had gone.

“Well I definitely didn’t know I was going to be able to speak about myself for four hours,” she laughed and joked.

“I think this is a great opportunity for me to relive my career, to bring it down to the basics and rebuild myself from that- all those memories I’ve been through. It’s cool because it’s allowing me to reflect and realize that, ‘oh, not everybody does that’ about myself. Last night I read a little bit of my charge book to re-invigorate myself. It puts the wind back in my sails!”

I could tell Neha, feeling the increasing pressure of having the responsibility to create one graphic that would be representative of Shelby, felt incredibly appreciative and thankful of how Shelby had just set such a positive tone for the day when describing how inspired she felt from the day before.

The next few hours entailed Neha, Tyler, and Shelby brain-dumping phrases, tidbits, symbols, and potential themes from what Shelby had shared about her experiences.

Looking at the various possible ideas on the whiteboard, Neha asked Shelby what message she wished to convey through the design.

Not exactly sure yet what final message to convey, she mentioned that she wanted her grandfather’s “the best time to make friends is before you need them” phrase to be included. Wanting to portray her optimistic outlook on life, Neha gravitated toward Shelby’s ability to recognize the opportunities smaller moments in life present.

Limited to just a few words for the design’s title, the pair toyed with shortening her grandfather’s motto to “The Best Time,” realizing that it can represent both the phrase as well as Shelby’s positivity and encouragement for others to take hold of the opportunity that’s in front of them and not get caught up in the daily grind.

With a clear message established, Neha was then tasked to visually bring in elements of Shelby’s Navy career and path of becoming a CPO.

Fortunately, the military is riddled with symbols and graphics and when Shelby showed Neha the various Navy hats, yearbooks, and coins she’d received through the years, the symbol of an anchor was a constant among them. 

Wanting to develop the graphic further, Neha asked Shelby about some of her responsibilities as an Operations Specialist. While describing how they process tactical and strategic information using plotting boards, surface pictures, surveillance, radars, and other various equipment, Shelby stood, grabbed a white-board marker, and drew how she would plot the ship’s position as well as the interface of a radar screen. She also explained they how used radio to communicate with other Navy units.

Once she said this, a lightbulb went on above Neha’s head, realizing the theme of radio in Shelby’s life.

With much progress made that day, we all took a break for lunch and invited FS Investments employees to come into the room to experience the design project.

It was exciting to see how eager people were to come in, check out the project, and meet Neha and Shelby. A few FS employees who are Veterans also joined, excited that their company sponsored a Veteran-focused project.

One man approached Shelby, respectfully greeted her by addressing her as “Chief,” to which Shelby responded with, “I can tell you’re a Marine by the way you walk and carry yourself!”

With time running low before Shelby had to leave to attend a prior engagement, she hopped in the hot seat with Endrit and I across the table to conduct the interview. Once finished, Shelby then turned the camera on us and took one of her famous “Shelfies,” Shelby + selfie.

Walking Shelby out to the parking lot, we all quickly visited our Airstream that Tyler and I had towed in that morning. After a very small tour of the trailer’s inside and a nice meet-and-greet with Noel, we took our group picture in front of “50 States: Artist + Veterans United” decal, said our goodbyes to Shelby, and she was on her way.

When we got back to the room to prepare for Neha’s interview, we all sensed the shift in energy with Shelby gone.

“There is something about her personality that draws people to her, that drew me to her, a magnetism,” Neha described. We all looked to the three whiteboards on the wall, filled with notes and doodles.

Once in FS Investments’ lobby to conduct Neha’s interview, she beautifully described the essence of the project: “Design is communication and communication is supposed to build bridges between people,” she said. “I’m just grateful I had the opportunity to connect with somebody that I probably would not have connected with otherwise.”

That sentiment of gratitude rang true for all those involved. During those two project days at Fort Dix and in Philadelphia, numerous paths crossed for this project. Inspired by the mission to share a Veterans’ message, we all ended up fulfilling Shelby’s message and advice to build friendships now, for who knows what the future will bring.

We hope you will take the time today to connect with someone, to see life as a series of opportunities, to build bridges instead of burning them, and to enjoy right now because “It’s the Best Time…”

Support Shelby and help share her message by purchasing the “The Best Time” products designed in collaboration with Neha:

SHIRT: $30.00

Size Shown: Large (Unisex)

PATCH: $17.00

Patch Width: 4.0in

DECAL: $5.00

Patch Width: 4.0in

OUR JOURNEY: PENNSYLVANIA

Written by: Kendra Clapp Olguin | Photos by: Tyler Way

Did you guys know that Pennsylvania is super hilly? Well, we did not. I remember driving to the Warwick Hills campground in Warwick, Pennsylvania, that was located just 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia, and being surprised by the winding roads and huge hills that turned into rolling hills when we were almost to Warwick…

[READ MORE]