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Work-life balance helps NUWC Division Newport branch head reach new heights

By NUWC Division Newport Public Affairs | June 12, 2019

NEWPORT, R.I. —

After 19 years working at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport, Ryan Lord, head of the Undersea Targets Branch in the Undersea Warfare Weapons, Vehicles, and Defensive Systems Department, is well versed in the undersea domain. In his non-duty hours, Lord has sought to expand his horizons to mastery of both land and air.

“I’ve always had an interest in transportation. My father was a pilot when I was growing up, and he owned an airplane himself,” Lord, who grew up in Little Compton, Rhode Island, but now resides in New Bedford, Massachusetts, said. “He kept it in Newport, so our family weekend activity was to go flying.

“My mom grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts, so that was a transportation method for getting up there instead of driving. My father had been an avid flyer, and my grandfather was a pilot, so I guess it was just in my genes to pursue it myself.”

Lord’s aerial affinity took off a little more than a year ago thanks to the help of a neighbor, who is a flight instructor. From the first time his neighbor took him on a flight, Lord was hooked.

“It resets everything. If you go home after a stressful day, and you get up there at 10,000 feet, it’s just you and the open air; it’s really therapeutic,” Lord said. “I don’t find myself stressed out at work; I don’t get angry or antsy about anything. It helps ground me and be an emotionally stable supervisor.”

It also provided an opportunity to further connect with his father. The elder Lord sold his plane in the late 1980s after the price of fuel skyrocketed, but he kept all of his gear — which he gave to his son when he expressed an interest in learning to fly.

Among those items was a David Clark headset that his father purchased in 1975, which at the time was the first noise-attenuating headset designed to provide hearing protection for pilots.

“You see them a lot in movies — the big, green headsets. It looked like it had been through the war,” Lord said. “It was rusted, it was all shattered, some of the rubber earpieces were cracking — it just looked like there was no way that this thing could work.”

Sure enough, though, when Lord brought it with him on one of his first lessons, it worked.

“It worked terribly, but it worked, so I found that the manufacturer is out in Worcester,” Lord said. “I called them, and they actually have a program where you can refurbish your headset.”

Lord said within in an hour the company had refurbished 90 percent of the components, and it looked brand new, yet the headset still retained the same character it had when his father gave it to him.

“That became a keepsake that had been passed down from my dad to me,” Lord said. “It was important to keep that.”

While Lord’s most recent activity has brought him to the skies, he has plenty of experience on land, too. For 12 years he drove a tour bus — Lord had his commercial driver’s license — which included driving for University of Rhode Island and Brown University sports teams, as well as the New England Patriots, and a number of other groups on ski trips.

In more recent years, Lord’s land travels have been spurred by a case of the runner’s bug.

“It started probably two years ago with a group of friends as a New Year’s resolution to lose a couple of vanity pounds,” Lord said. “It was myself and two other engineers, so to keep us motivated we signed up for a 5K race in Providence.”

In order to remain motivated after that race, the group next began training for the half marathon of the Newport Marathon. On Oct. 8, 2017, Lord finished 17th in his age group with a time of 1 hour, 45 minutes, 55 seconds in less-than-ideal conditions.

“It was cold, it was rainy, and there was a headwind,” Lord said. “It was miserable and the most rewarding at the same time.”

Much like flying, Lord has found that running helps him to reset. He believes the activities help him to think and react better, as well as make better decisions as a manager. It is also a big reason why he makes sure he talks to the employees he supervises to make sure they have other interests outside of their work at NUWC Newport.

“I’ve got a couple employees that are in bands; I’ve got folks that are avid travelers; photographers; gamers; a lot of folks that are into learning and take a lot of classes,” Lord said. “I get to know their personal goals as they’re coming into NUWC and what does their life look like outside of NUWC.

“There could be some opportunities here. If they’re into sailing, NUWC has a sailing club. If they’re into basketball, there’s the basketball league down at [the base gymnasium].”

NUWC Newport is a shore command of the U.S. Navy within the Naval Sea Systems Command, which engineers, builds and supports America’s fleet of ships and combat systems. NUWC Newport provides research, development, test and evaluation, engineering and fleet support for submarines, autonomous underwater systems, undersea offensive and defensive weapons systems, and countermeasures associated with undersea warfare. 

Currently celebrating its 150th anniversary, NUWC Newport is the oldest warfare center in the country, tracing its heritage to the Naval Torpedo Station that was established on Goat Island in Newport Harbor in 1869.  Commanded by Capt. Michael Coughlin, 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.