Tony Spadarella, NAWCAD Patuxent River’s 2021 Mentor of the Year, believes that the best way to teach someone is to give them the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.
“When I get teamed up with a young engineer, the first thing I do is tell them, ‘Climb in, let’s go see something,’” said Spadarella, the P-8A integration engineering test lead at the P-8 Integrated Test Team (ITT). “I walk them out to the airplane and have them use the systems and talk to the operators. It gets them excited because it’s the real thing.”
Spadarella, known to all at the P-8 ITT by his call sign “Paisan,” received the Mentor of the Year Award at a ceremony on Feb. 8 in Hangar 306 presided over by NAWCAD Commander Rear Adm. John S. Lemmon.
“We are fortunate to have you as a model mentor who regularly demonstrates a commitment to the organization and the mentor program,” Lemmon said in his letter of appreciation to Spadarella. “Your positive attitude and willingness to guide others illustrates the importance of mentoring in order to build and retain a robust workforce.”
Spadarella was singled out for his willingness to provide advice and professional development opportunities to young engineers, his willingness to provide career planning guidance, and his efforts to promote mentorship throughout NAWCAD. Spadarella’s citation also credited his vast technical and organizational knowledge and extensive network of contacts, which he accumulated over 39 years as a naval aircrewman and civilian employee.
“Mr. Spadarella is always keen to show any newcomers the P-8A aircraft and brief them on its core capabilities,” his supervisor, Randy Ward, wrote in nominating Spadarella. “He understands that hands-on experience is critical to troubleshoot complex system-of-systems and has frequently provided guidance on how engineers should approach workplace challenges using examples from his extensive past experience.”
“He is an unofficial mentor to the entire P-8A ITT,” Ward added. “He will always make time to mentor anyone that is willing to learn.”
If a mentee is assigned to flight test, Spadarella will even coach them on proper swimming and survival techniques to help them pass their tests. “Once I show them what to expect, they’ll come back from the test and say, ‘Thanks to you, that was easy.’”
Spadarella’s enthusiasm comes in part from his own sense of curiosity. When he was assigned to Oceanographic Development Squadron (VXN) 8 — the only squadron in the Navy dedicated to airborne oceanographic and geophysical survey — he traveled to 62 countries around the world, including Easter Island, the Arctic, and Antarctica.
Even if his call sign wasn’t “Paisan,” Spadarella, the son of Italian immigrants who settled in Rhode Island, said people would probably have ended up calling him that anyway because it reflects his approach to connecting with people.
“I just try to be friends, to make people feel comfortable,” he said. “That’s just the Italian in me.”
The COVID pandemic has made in-person mentoring more challenging, Spadarella said. Even so, the availability of collaborative tools like Microsoft Teams have helped mitigate the impact somewhat.
Spadarella is always eager to praise his teammates at the P-8 ITT, which he likens to a big family. And that family concept is integral to successful mentorship, Spadarella said. “As a sailor and as a civilian, I’ve always been part of a crew,” he said. “These are the people I work with, have social activities with, even have barbecues with. You get to know and trust each other and know you can count on each other.”
“It really makes me feel good that I’ve been recognized by my teammates and by the people I’ve mentored, and I thank them all,” Spadarella said of his award. “If I was able to contribute in some way to their careers, then it was worth it.”
“I just really like going out and doing things,” Spadarella said. “I’ve been involved in flight test since 1994. I fell in love with it then and I still don’t want to leave it, and I try to share that feeling with other people. There are so many new challenges every day here, why would anyone want to get left behind?”