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Veterans Day 2020 Q&A—John Stilwell

John Stilwell—Newly promoted Chief Petty Officer at Bangor Submarine Base in Washington, 1988.

Q: What’s your military background?

A: I served for 20 Years in the U.S. Navy from February 1981 to February 2001. I retired as an Electrician’s Mate Senior Chief. My last position held was Engineering Department Master Chief aboard the Trident Ballistic Missile Submarine USS Henry M Jackson – SSBN-730. I completed three tours of duty aboard the Henry M Jackson. One as electrician, one as Electrical Division Chief, one as Engineering Department Master Chief.

My first tour (after electrical and nuclear power training) was in Electric Boat Shipyard supervising and inspecting electrical systems build for the under-construction vessel.

Then I was an electrical systems instructor and lead instructor for 12 electrical systems instructors, teaching courses and developing curriculum for Trident electrical system maintenance, troubleshooting and repairs at Trident Training Facility, Bangor. I qualified as Master Training Specialist and participated in getting Trident Training Facility certified as the first military training facility to earn ABET accreditation.

Then I went back to the Henry M Jackson for a 4-year tour as Electrical Division Chief.

I was a qualified Engineering Watch Supervisor, Diving Officer, Chief of the Watch, Torpedo watch captain, and contact coordinator. I had collateral duties as Automated Data Systems Security Officer, Electrical Safety Officer, and Battle Stations Damage Control Officer.

John (standing back row, right) and his crew on the USS Henry M Jackson, SSBN-730 Electrical Division, 1988.

I had a shore tour as Nuclear Engineering Training Assistant to the Admiral at Submarine Group 9. Managed nuclear training and inspections for 20 Trident crews. Qualified as Submarine group command duty officer. Member of the US West Coast Nuclear Incident/Accident Response Team. Developed automated call back system for critical personnel to respond to specific incidents. Managed the Northwest Incident Command Center. Qualified as Advanced Reactor Airborne Contamination System monitoring operator. Managed field radiation monitoring teams and coordinated results with 3D atmospheric modelling system running on supercomputers at Lawrence Livermoor Labs to predict radiation/contamination airborne plume expansions to allow for effective and accurate notifications to civilian authorities in the event of an incident.

John on the USS Henry M Jackson.

Then I was back to the Henry M Jackson as Engineering Department Master Chief.

I managed crew training, nuclear reactor and engineering systems maintenance. I wrote technical examinations, developed and executed all casualty drills for the ship, averaging 3-4 drills per day while underway. I developed relational database systems to track individual crew performance, identify weak areas, and ensure procedural compliance. I eventually retired from this duty post after 20 years of service

Q: Do you recall any particularly humorous or unusual event during your service?

A: The USS Henry M Jackson was originally to be named the USS Rhode Island. Anti-nuclear protestors in Rhode Island organized several large protests as they did not want a “nuclear” submarine named after their state.

Then President Reagan decided to change the name to USS Henry M Jackson after the late senator from Washington, who was instrumental in the Peace through Deterrence programs.

So the originally named USS Rhode Island was commissioned as the USS Henry M Jackson.

During the commissioning ceremony at Electric Boat, there were many protestors. Peace and anti-nuclear protestors laid in the streets outside in skeleton costumes – there were KKK people there supporting the Trident program. Then several rows of police and U.S. National Guardsmen – separating them from the Anti-KKK protestors. It was quite a show.

John Stilwell – USN Retirement “Shadow Box” List of Duty Stations, “Dolphin” pin – Submarine Qualified. Strategic Deterrent Patrol Pin; 17 patrols Medals and Ribbons, from bottom, right to left: Pistol Sharpshooter, Sea Service, Good Conduct with 4 stars, Navy Battle Efficiency “E”, Meritorious Unit Commendation (2 Awards), Navy Achievement Medal (4 Awards), Navy Commendation Medal (3 Awards)

Q: What’s your history with Manson?

A: I have been with Manson now for over 13 years. I started as the Seattle Yard Electrical Foreman. I am now an Electrical Superintendent. I manage maintenance, upgrades, and new construction for most of Manson’s fleet, and act as a mentor to Manson electrical personnel around the country.

Q: What has been your experience going from being in the military to working at Manson?

I did not go straight to Manson from the military. I was a senior electrical engineer, and then service manager for 3-Dimensional Steel printing systems. (Ex-One Corporation) (Startup) under a contract from the Office of Naval Research. My service territory was US, Europe, and Japan. I was with Ex-One for 6 years.

Q: How does your military experience affect your life today?

A: I have a deep sense of pride in our country, and renewed faith in people in general. I am more relaxed in chaotic and stressful situations, and I feel more at ease with writing and speaking. All of these were developed from my military experience. People will rise to the occasion and surprise you when given the support and resources they need. As I learned in the Navy – “Take care of your people and they will take care of you.”

Q: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

A: Manson embodies similar strengths when compared to the Navy’s core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment. It’s a pleasure to work with such fine people whose work ethic, humor, commitment, and care for each other affirm my faith in all of us.

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