As an immigrant to the U.S. with family ties to the Basque Country of northern Spain, it is only fitting that Jon Etxegoien would spend the last few years of his career with Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division in Spain.
Etxegoien was born in El Pao, Venezuela, where his dad worked as an engineer at an iron ore mine. He and his family immigrated to the U.S. in 1962, and he spent most of his life in the rural Pennsylvania Dutch country.
He became interested in engineering because he said it was in his blood.
“My dad was an engineer and though I tried to get into a different career field, marine biology, I was terrible at it and finally gravitated to engineering,” he said. “Many of us who grew up with Jacques Cousteau documentaries got into SCUBA diving and went into ocean-related fields.”
Carderock recruited Etxegoien while he was in school at Florida Institute of Technology earning a degree in ocean engineering. He turned down that initial recruitment offer to go to a commercial diving school in California.
“The bottom dropped out of the diving market in the gulf when I graduated from there in the summer of ’81 and there was a glut of experienced divers already looking for work,” Etxegoien said. “So, I contacted Carderock and, thankfully, was offered a job again.”
During his time at Carderock, Naval Sea Systems Command gave Etxegoien the opportunity to get a master’s degree in product development and systems engineering from the Naval Post Graduate School.
Before moving to Spain, Etxegoien was the department head for the Naval Architecture and Engineering Department. While in that position, he was involved in bringing about the upgrade to the Maneuvering and Seakeeping Basin wavemaker, something he said he is proud of, having “grown up” in the hydrodynamic facilities and in the Marine and Aviation Division of Carderock.
“We did all kinds of work for the Navy, as well as for most branches of the services and many private companies, and they still do that, it’s still a great crew.” Etxegoien said. “I learned a lot there. All the projects brought me close to great people and mentors.”
Etxegoien said a compromise with his wife is what drove the change from being a department head to the job in Spain.
“She was ready for a change and wanted to retire, which she did,” he said. “I wasn’t really ready to leave the department head position, but this seemed like a great opportunity both from a work perspective and being able to live overseas. As it turned out, it was great for both of us.”
As the Resident Ship Liaison Officer at Navantia Shipyard in Cartagena, Spain, Etxegoien is working with the Spanish Ministry of Defense and the Navantia Shipyard. The U.S. Navy’s Program Executive Office (PEO) Submarines started the Foreign Military Sales program with Spain at the request of the Spanish Navy because the S-80 Spanish submarine builder, Navantia, determined the lead ship to be significantly overweight. The Spanish Navy requested PEO Submarines confirm that a weight problem existed and to conduct an overall assessment of the program and management structure.
“The Foreign Military Sales case was expanded after that and I came over in 2015,” Etxegoien said, adding that the PEO expects to have personnel in Cartagena supporting the program through delivery of the first submarine, the S-81, expected in late 2022. His co-worker, Keisha Sylvester, will be taking over the office when Etxegoien retires later this year.
Etxegoien said that besides the people he has gotten to work with and the friends he has made, this type of opportunity, to work in Spain, is one of the great things about Carderock. In fact, he has some advice for any new employees just starting their careers at Carderock, or even mid-career employees.
“One is that these are not normal jobs. They are a chance to serve the nation and are a privilege. The bureaucracy can seem overwhelming at times but when you think about it from that perspective, it helps. You can easily make more money on the outside and, while of course that matters, it’s not all that matters.
“Two is that Carderock and the Navy offer many opportunities for training, working elsewhere either for short or long term postings, doing different kinds of work, etc. Take advantage of them. However, you have to be your own advocate. People, both peers and management, want to help but they are often up to their ears in work to do, so go talk to them.
“Three would be to temper your drive with patience and consideration. Many new employees want to take over the world the day they arrive, and I can understand why. The new hires I have seen come into Carderock are impressive, way better prepared than when I walked through the door. However, experience matters as much as intelligence, ability and work ethic. Go and get it.”
Etxegoien said that working in Spain right now under COVID-19 is similar to how it is playing out in the U.S. Most people are confined to their homes, not allowed to go out for bike rides or walks. He said he reads a lot, plays guitar and looks forward to getting back out to ride again.
When Etxegoien retires later this year, he said he is excited to spend more time with his grown children and new granddaughter.