Dana Wegner, the Curator of Ship Models at Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Carderock Division, was awarded the Department of the Navy Distinguished Civilian Service Award on June 4, 2020, in West Bethesda, Maryland. During a tour of the base, Naval Surface and Undersea Warfare Centers Commander Rear Adm. Kevin Byrne surprised Wegner with the highest award given to a Navy civilian employee.
Wegner, who began his career at Carderock in 1980, is the fifth Curator of Models for the Navy’s Ship Model Program since 1945. He has preserved ship models for the Navy for 40 years, contributing his skills as a historian, manager and craftsman to U.S. Navy history. Wegner has “provided unique and substantial service to the Navy and the Nation,” according to the award citation.
“Being a part of this ship model kingdom Dana has worked so hard to preserve for the Navy is one of the highlights of being the commanding officer here,” said Capt. Cedric McNeal, commanding officer of NSWC Carderock Division. “This recognition is well deserved.”
Wegner and his team oversee 3,500 ship models and about 98% of the models they manage are displayed across the United States.
“The Navy’s collection reflects the Navy’s heritage,” Wegner said. “The core of our collection are models that were built by or for the Navy, representing each new type of Warship.”
One model in particular was donated to Carderock’s Curator of Models: The USS Sullivans. The ship model, which now resides in one of Carderock’s buildings in West Bethesda, was inspected thoroughly and admired by Wegner for its originality and attention to detail. Last year, he and ship conservator Colan Ratliff prepared a model of USS Independence (LCS 2) and converted it into USS Canberra (LCS 30) for the office of the Secretary of Defense, which was then gifted to the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison by President Donald Trump.
“The models original purpose was for public display, to show the public where their taxpayer money was going, to show what the fleet was going to look like in the future. Then, given enough time, the model represented what the fleet used to look like and what ships looked like in the past,” Wegner said, adding that the idea is to do the minimum amount of intrusion so the model still represents the way it was originally built. “If the Navy had it, we probably have a model of it.”
Before starting his government career, Wegner interned with the Smithsonian Institute in 1968. His first federal job was as a U.S. Department of Energy research assistant in Adm. Hyman Rickover’s office in the Division of Naval Reactors from 1974 to 1978. He then transitioned to the U.S. National Archives, where he became an exhibit archivist. In 1980, he came to Carderock to be the Curator of Models.
Since joining Carderock, he has published several scholarly historical articles, presented at many symposia and received accolades for his work – including the Peterson Award in 1993, which recognized his work on the origin of USS Constellation. The ship models, which Wegner and his team of ship model conservators handle on a daily basis, are usually loaned out to various organizations across the country. Institutions like the U.S. Botanical Garden in Washington, D.C., have borrowed models from Carderock to use for public display, or to promote a themed exhibit.
“I’ve known Dana for a very long time, and I don’t know anyone more dedicated to his job,” said Larry Tarasek, Technical Director for NSWC Carderock Division. “The Curator of Model Shops is a fan favorite here, and we love showing it off.”
As a recognized expert in ship models construction, Wegner has served as a judge in many model-building contests for historic ships and has given presentations at conferences and symposia about model building. He is a member of the American Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, the U.S. Naval Institute and the Organization of American Historians.
“The collection has great historical significance. It’s considered a national treasure,” Wegner said of the Navy’s ship model collection. “We can think of no better job in the world than to preserve the Navy’s history.”