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NEWS | Nov. 8, 2023

NSWCPD Hispanic Heritage Month Observance Keynote Speaker Reflects on Challenges & Inspires Future Generations

By Joseph Fontanazza

“Family” was at the heart of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Philadelphia Division (NSWCPD) annual Hispanic Heritage Month Observance, hosted by the command’s Latin American Employee Resource Group (LAERG), and Office of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), Diversity, and Inclusion, on Oct. 4, 2023.

Typically, a member of senior leadership provides the opening remarks to introduce the keynote speaker for such a command event, but a more familial approach was warranted in this instance as NSWCPD Chemical Engineer and LAERG Chair Fernando Morales proudly introduced his father Ramon “Tony” Morales to the hybrid audience.

“Ramon ‘Tony’ Morales was the first Hispanic engineer hired by NSWCPD’s predecessor Naval Ship Systems Engineering Station (NAVSSES) … The reason why I’m able to stand here today as the chairperson of the LAERG is because of Tony Morales. My father broke ground for Hispanic engineers and served as the command advisor to the founding members of the LAERG, the same board I found myself leading over 10 years later,” Fernando Morales said.

He concluded his opening remarks by saying, “During this talk, you will hear of all the great efforts that my father has made to lift up employees all around the command, and I can confidently stand here and say that he has done the same as a dad.”

Tony Morales began his speech by going into the difficulties of his childhood in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico.

“My childhood was full of challenges. The main road connecting my neighborhood with my hometown was paved in 1962 and the electrical grid was started in 1963, which was when I began the first grade. I remember the students leaving class to the noise of a helicopter flying over the school carrying the poles used to connect the electrical grid … There was no money for toys,” Morales said.

While times were hard and money was tight in the Morales’ household, the former NSWCPD branch head looked back on his childhood fondly because of his loving family and close-knit community.

“We had the desire to create our own toys and nights with no electricity created opportunity to gaze at the stars. It was a happy childhood. There was no peer pressure and little to no violence,” he said.

Morales spent some time playing competitive baseball and coaching a junior league (14-15 years old) baseball team after he graduated from the University of Puerto Rico while he tried to find a job. His cousin Luis Martinez then convinced Morales to move to New Jersey with him.

“After talking it over with my family, I decided to go to the United States with $300 in my pocket,” he said.

Morales enrolled in the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) program shortly after arriving in the Continental United States and was contacted by Dr. Eustace Dixon from NAVSSES in October 1982. He started his career with NAVSSES as an engineer in November 1982.

“Adjusting to a new life in Philadelphia presented new challenges: different culture, different weather, and different language including NAVSSES’s acronyms. During the first month a customer complained about the kind of people that the command was hiring. He saw my accent as a sign of lesser intelligence,” Morales said.

He continued, “I told him to not underestimate me because I was smart enough to speak two languages and brave enough to do my job in my second language.”

While Morales advocated for himself in that situation, his true passion was in advocating for others, especially from marginalized communities, as he moved up the ranks at NSWCPD to eventually become a branch head.

“I was competitively selected as the head of the Wastewater In-Service Engineering branch where I led a group of 21 engineers and technicians, and assembled the most diverse branch at NSWCPD and probably the whole Navy. The branch eventually grew to 35 engineers and technicians,” he said.

Morales achieved much during his career, but arguably his greatest accomplishment was spearheading NSWCPD’s Hurricane Maria relief efforts for his native Puerto Rico.

“The devastation of Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20, 2017 changed my life. Not knowing anything about my family for a few weeks was very stressful. Mr. Jeff Gosch arranged much-needed counseling for the engineers from Puerto Rico, which we were very appreciative of. Finally, I was able to go to Puerto Rico the first week of Nov. 2017 to take supplies to my family,” Morales said. “After seeing the devastation firsthand, I realized doing nothing was not an option. Upon my return, I spearheaded a special co-op initiative for Puerto Rican students with Mr. Alonzie Scott, Ms. Ana Maria Gulian, and Ms. Patricia Colgan.”

He added, “I was able to contact more than 500 students and traveled there in December 2017 to interview 130 students with support from Dahlgren and Panama City. The co-op coordinators acted swiftly to get the students to Philadelphia and get them on-boarded by February 2018. A process that can take six months was completed in only a few weeks. That’s why I love this command; we can get it done.”

NSWCPD employs approximately 2,800 civilian engineers, scientists, technicians, and support personnel. The NSWCPD team does the research and development, test and evaluation, acquisition support, and in-service and logistics engineering for the non-nuclear machinery, ship machinery systems, and related equipment and material for Navy surface ships and submarines. NSWCPD is also the lead organization providing cybersecurity for all ship systems.