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NEWS | Dec. 8, 2023

NUWC Division Newport employees share what inspired them while serving in the military

By NUWC Division Newport Public Affairs

During recent gatherings at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport employees shared what they learned from their military service and what inspires them to keep serving.

During a presentation of “The Knot: Stories from the Workforce,” held on Nov. 9 four employees discussed the lessons learned during prior military service. Members of the R.I. National Guard who work at Division Newport also gathered to pay tribute to those lost during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

The fifth in series, the theme was “Lessons Learned from Military Service,” and featured Johanna White, a systems engineer in the Sonar and Sensors Systems Department; Al Haughton, a technology specialist in Corporate Operations Department; Jennifer Caldwell, head of SSBN and In-Service Platform Engineering Branch in the Undersea Warfare Combat Systems Department; and Keith Bruce, a technical project manager in Ranges, Engineering and Analysis Department.

A short video from presentation is posted here:

 ‘Using language that makes sense to you’

When Johanna White attended nuclear training as an electronics technician, which is regarded as the most rigorous academic program in the military, she learned lessons from unexpected sources. After completing Nuclear Field A School and Nuclear Power School in Goose Creek, South Carolina, White went to Naval Prototypes in Ballston Spa, New York, to conduct the third and final portion of her training.

At Naval Prototypes, White had a binder of sheets listing hundreds of tasks that she had to perform. Upon completing each task, a staff member signed the sheet if they believed the student gained the necessary knowledge. This was called a checkout. After four months, White had one lesson left to complete, but it was one of the most complicated ­− pressurized operations.

“I needed a signature from a machinist mate, who was known as the toughest person to approve a checkout,” White said.

After studying for six hours, White approached the machinist mate and explained the system using big technical words. The machinist mate closed White’s binder without signing it, and asked, “Why do we maintain pressure?”

Realizing a technical explanation wasn’t what he wanted, White took a different approach.

“I said, ‘I don’t know,’” White said. “I could not explain this key concept beyond the technical terms I learned.”

Instead of dismissing her, the machinist mate not only walked White through that system, but all reactor plant systems, relating everything to concepts she understood. Most importantly, he provided an environment in which it was acceptable to ask “Why?” or “Can you please explain that to me differently?”

White encourages others to seek out someone who is willing to do the same for them. “Find that person who is patient with you while you learn and explains things in your words, not using big words,” White said. “It makes learning exciting. I’m excited to learn when it means something to me and relates to what we do. It helps you realize what you do at NUWC actually matters and how it supports the fleet.”

‘Passing lessons learned on to others’

Al Haughton joined the Navy as an 18-year-old 1984 and was assigned to the personnel department aboard the USS Edson (DD 946). Six months into the job, Haughton had an opportunity for a promotion.

Since Haughton’s shipmate needed a quiet place to study and Haughton needed help studying, they decided to study together in the personnel office. They both scored high enough to be among those to get promoted first.

“My shipmate taught me the value of preparation,” Haughton said. “He said, ‘We have all the answers, we just need the questions. So let’s know all the answers so that when we take the test, it will be easy.’”

After his promotion, Haughton continued to work in the personnel office, using a typewriter to prepare personnel documents. When another shipmate couldn’t decide whether to get out of the Navy or re-enlist, Haughton had to prepare his paperwork several times, finally losing his temper when the shipmate decided after a third time to re-enlist.

“When he said that to me, I lost my mind,” Haughton said. “There was a small desk that folded up on the door. I kicked it right off the hinges.”

Five minutes later, Haughton’s chief walked into his office. “He said I see great potential in you, but you have an explosive personality and unless you get that under control, you’re going to get yourself in trouble,” Haughton recalled. “We had a heart-to-heart conversation. Throughout the next couple of months, we would revisit that conversation and continue it.”

The lessons Haughton learned stayed with him and he later passed them on to a young officer on his ship.

 ‘Contributing to national security in two ways’

Growing up in a strict household, Jennifer Caldwell couldn’t wait to experience a taste of freedom. She attended the University of Rhode Island, where she lived on campus, but “freedom” didn’t go as she expected. “I wasn’t going to class, I was getting bad grades, and I was getting in trouble,” she said. “I knew I had to do something, but I wasn’t sure what.”

Caldwell contacted a cousin who had joined the U.S. Air Force for advice. “I called to see how he was liking it and, impulsively, I decided that was what I was also going to do,” she said.

On Oct. 9, 2003, she left for basic training, and returned a different person. “Basic training was hard, but it was a success,” Caldwell said. “I went there a girl and left as a strong, young woman. It taught me discipline and resilience.”

After basic training, Caldwell was stationed at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. She was deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. When her career field became overmanned, the Air Force asked people if they would like to leave active duty. After three years of serving, Caldwell decided to take advantage of a program that allowed her to transfer her remaining active duty time to the R.I. Air National Guard.

A person Caldwell met in the Guard had a profound impact on her life, Col. Stephen Carr, the commander, who asked Caldwell to take on an important job. “I was essentially tasked with making sure the unit was ready to deploy,” Caldwell said. “Maintaining readiness is the entire point of the Guard. It showed that he believed in me.”

Caldwell credits Carr with raising her confidence.

“That was a lesson I’ve applied in my professional career, especially as a branch head,” Caldwell said. “It’s powerful to give somebody a challenge and let them rise to the occasion.”

Because of this tasking, Caldwell decided to pursue a commission, which she achieved about six years ago. After 20 years in the Guard, Caldwell doesn’t expect to stop serving any time soon.

“My story is one of gratitude,” Caldwell said. “I feel like I would have nothing without the military. I think back prior to joining and wonder what would have happened to me if I hadn’t made that choice in life. I certainly wouldn’t be working at Division Newport.

“I’m proud that I get to contribute to national security in two ways, through my service and working at NUWC. We should all be proud of what we do to help national security.”

 ‘Be part of the continuum of culture and heritage in your organization’

Unlike the speakers who shared lessons they learned, Keith Bruce spoke about a missed opportunity to learn. Bruce joined the Navy in 1984 when he was 21 years old. He earned his commission in 1985 and about six months later was assigned to the USS Saratoga (CV 60) as an operation missiles officer, with 32 fire control crew members working under him.

One of the people Bruce supervised was a master chief fire controlman who enlisted in the Navy in 1957, five years before Bruce was born. “This master chief sat three feet away from me for an eight-month deployment and it never occurred to me to ask him what it was like to serve in the surface Navy for the entirety of the Vietnam War,” Bruce said.

For Bruce, the missed opportunity went beyond hearing old war stories. “I just completed a master’s degree in history,” Bruce said. “As a kid, I read all the books at the library about World War II. It wasn’t a lack of appreciation for history, but I missed being part of that connection to the surface Navy across time.”

Bruce’s advice to employees is to realize how they are connected in their organization and to embrace that role by sharing stories with co-workers.

“No matter what you do at NUWC, find your place in that continuum of culture and heritage of your organization,” Bruce said. “Tell [the next generation] about that old geezer you worked with. Tell them about that guy who said he designed a ship with a slide rule and graph paper. When you tell them about that guy, you’ve covered over half a century of history. If you’re the middle guy, you have the most important job. You are the galvanized conduit of heritage. If you’re one of those young folks, be curious and embrace the fact that you might be here a while. Start asking those questions and be part of that continuum of culture and heritage of your organization.”

Employees do double duty with the R.I. National Guard

As part of honoring Veterans Day on Nov. 11, some NUWC Division Newport employees gathered recently to celebrate their service in the R.I. Army and Air National Guard and Joint Force Headquarters. At least 30 members of the workforce currently serve or have served in the state’s military units.

Many were called to service after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Ray Cadoret, head, Safety Branch in the Corporate Operations Department, who retired this month from the Guard after more than 35 years of service, reflected on the impact that 9/11 had during his time in service. Cadoret served as the ground safety officer for the state’s Joint Force Headquarters.

“I was called to respond to New York City on 9/11, but we got called off during the deployment phase — 9/11 is near and dear to my heart due to the impact it had on the nation and it fueled the support of our armed forces to fight the Global War on Terrorism, Cadoret said. “It validates the years of training I have accomplished as a Guardsman, and allowed me to travel abroad and defend my country from foreign threats.”

Cadoret has been deployed five times over the last 17 years of his service — two combat deployments in Iraq and Kuwait and three humanitarian deployments in Honduras, Panama and the Dominican Republic.

Charles Toste, in his 25th year with the Guard, serves as a first sergeant with the 143rd Medical Group. He began his Division Newport career in June 2022 as a safety specialist in the Occupational Health Office of the Corporate Operations Department.

“Working at NUWC is great,” Toste said. “I get to work with great people here and at our detachments. Seeing so many members of the Guard here at NUWC is awesome, especially knowing the wealth of knowledge and experience they bring to the table.”

Established in 1638, the R.I. National Guard, is comprised of about 3,000 men and women who serve in Army, Air or Joint Force units. The Guard has three core missions: fighting America’s wars, securing the homeland and building enduring partnerships across the globe.

Federal employees are entitled to time off and pay for certain types of active or inactive duty in the National Guard or Reserve, and support contractors often receive similar support from their companies.

Jack Terlisner, an equipment specialist for ordnance in the Fleet Engineering Branch of the Undersea Warfare Weapons, Vehicles and Defensive Systems Department, served in the Guard for 35 years and retired in 2021. While in service, Terlisner served in several roles including in the special forces, as a military policeman, in maintenance and repair, as a vehicle driver, in administration as a supply specialist, and as a range and safety officer for air drops. He has been employed at Division Newport since 1981.

“After over 40 years of working at Division Newport, I’ve had an interesting career — there have been some great opportunities and I’ve met many great people,” Terlisner said. “What I enjoy most about being able to work with fellow Guard servicemen and women at Division Newport is the trust. When I need something done, they get right back to me. I know they have my back and I have theirs. For those that have never served in the military, we have friends and comrades. Very few can be both and that is what they are to me.”

NUWC Newport is the oldest warfare center in the country, tracing its heritage to the Naval Torpedo Station established on Goat Island in Newport Harbor in 1869. Commanded by Capt. Chad Hennings, NUWC Newport maintains major detachments in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Andros Island in the Bahamas, as well as test facilities at Seneca Lake and Fisher's Island, New York, Leesburg, Florida, and Dodge Pond, Connecticut.

Join our team! NUWC Division Newport, one of the 20 largest employers in Rhode Island, employs a diverse, highly trained, educated, and skilled workforce. We are continuously looking for engineers, scientists, and other STEM professionals, as well as talented business, finance, logistics and other support experts who wish to be at the forefront of undersea research and development. Please connect with NUWC Division Newport Recruiting at this site-  and follow us on LinkedIn @NUWC-Newport and on Facebook @NUWCNewport.