The Honorable Patrick W. Dunne, RDML USN(Ret), a retired submarine officer, is the C/1ief Operating Officer for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC. He previously served as Under Secretary for Benefits for Department of Veterans Affairs.
Distinguished speakers, guests and friends of the Navy-Good morning! It is a unique pleasure and thrill for me to be here this morning to help recognize a truly exceptional naval officer. When Kirk asked me to speak, I enthusiastically welcomed the opportunity to talk about my friend and shipmate whom I have watched progress from a student to a sage. My wife Diane and I have cherished our friendship with Kirk and Diane since we first served together in Charleston, SC.
But the journey really began in Annapolis back when a slide rule was the calculator of choice. Kirk was a newly sworn member of the Class of 1975. Returning from summer cruise, the Class of 1972 (my class) was up to the challenge of providing him and his classmates a memorable plebe year. And based on the frequency of Kirk’s plebe year stories about the loss of his radio privileges, I know it was memorable. And although his firsties can’t take all the credit for his subsequent success, I know we are all proud to see him recognized today.
After lots of training, Kirk got his first chance to put all that theory to practice on USS BA TFISH. BA TFISH wardroom was one of those special groups where everything clicked both on and off the ship. Even as a junior officer, Kirk was an integral part of BA TFISH’s success. He embraced the high standards of the Submarine Force and made them part of his routine. His enthusiastic attitude, ability to qualify quickly and morale-enhancing wit were part of what made each of us revel in any mission we were assigned. Accomplishments like Operation Evening Star, which many of you may know from the Smithsonian exhibit, demonstrated Kirk’s willingness to work hard, and contribute wherever his talents were needed, but also to capture the essential experience for the future.
Kirk’s passion for submarines was always evident whether we were conducting Special Operations or taking our annual Reactor Safeguards exam or in a shipyard dry-dock for overhaul. On one occasion, after almost three months of special operations and then emergency shipyard repairs for two months, we were somewhat concerned about our proficiency when the Examining Board arrived at the sea buoy.
Kirk was one of the three ORSE EOOWs and thus a key to the ship’s success. He was up to the task and expertly directed his watch section throughout the exam. Arriving in port on day two and anxiously awaiting the results, we were somewhat concerned when the messenger approached us and said the Senior Member wanted to know the year group of the Engineer and the EOOWs. How could that be a good omen? Hours later we breathed a sigh of relief when our grade of Excellent was announced.
Time for a party and Kirk was a leader there as well. Some of the best wardroom pranks were initiated by Kirk and his sidekick Jim Wright. No matter where the wardroom assembled, we never knew what Electra decorations or impromptu skits Kirk and Jim would provide-but we always waited with great expectations.
But not everything went smoothly for Kirk on that first tour. A recent assembly of the BA TFISH wardroom led Kirk to reveal an event which showed his education was not quite complete. Hungrily entering the wardroom one morning after the midwatch, he commenced eating a big breakfast. After loading up his toast with jam, he was quite disappointed at the bitter taste. Acting promptly to spare his fellow officers, he directed the wardroom MS to put the spoiled jam in the TDU room for disposal. Unfortunately, it was actually the CO’s personal stock of English marmalade.
Having earned a solid reputation as a great shipmate, it was now time to experience the strategic side of the Submarine Force and so Kirk moved on to USS MARIANO G. VALLEJO as Engineer. But when it came time for VALLEJO’s overhaul and crew consolidation, Kirk realized he already had that ticket punched on BA TFISH and began looking for a new challenge.
Only one problem-if he left VALLEJO he would lose his spot promotion to LCDR. So, once again the class of 1972 came to the rescue-this time in the person of the Department Head detailer-who detailed Kirk to the Propulsion Examining Board which also qualified for the spot promotion.
This enabled Kirk to see more of the Submarine Force, but the inverse was true as well. As his reach expanded, so did his impact and reputation-as an officer with not just superior technical knowledge, but also sound judgment, solid integrity and steadfast support for his shipmates.
And the Submarine Force was not shy about putting Kirk in leadership positions; first as the Executive Officer of USS SEAHORSE, and then as Captain of USS KEY WEST. Through-out those tours he not only operated with excellence, but also trained hundreds of officers and sailors in the myriad challenges of successful submarining.
But as Kirk left command, he found himself in a Submarine Force facing post-cold War challenges. As the country searched for a peace dividend, the Submarine Force worked to retain good sailors and maintain its technological and tactical advantage. Again, Kirk played an important role in preparing for the future both in the personnel arena at the Bureau of Personnel and with submarine tactics as the Commander of DEVRON 12.
Throughout these years, I served in different commands and different homeports. But whenever I met another former shipmate of Kirk’s, the response was the same: unanimous recognition of his excellence as a naval officer and strong admiration for his performance as a shipmate. Everyone wanted to “be like Kirk.”
But speaking of role models, today also provides me the opportunity to acknowledge another good friend who has served her country with distinction. Diane Donald has excelled at every challenge inherent in being a member of a sea-going family. And I don’t mean just her immediate family. We have all benefitted from her desire to make things better and see her extended family succeed. Whether picking up a sick friend’s mother at the airport or actively leading the Dolphin Scholarship program or helping families deal with the surprises of a deployment, Diane has wholeheartedly been a part of the outstanding naval career we celebrate today. Diane-thank you for your service and your friendship.
So we all celebrated when Kirk made Flag and knew to expect good things for the Navy and the Submarine Force from both Kirk and Diane. To say they met our expectations is an understatement.
Whether working at J-3 on the Joint Staff, roughing it at PACFLEET in Hawaii, tasting the local fare in Naples, or leading the Submarine Force from Norfolk, Kirk always met the stress and demands of his job with the highest degree of skill, integrity and good common sense.
The past eight years are the capstone of this remarkable naval career. His leadership ensured not only a continued outstanding record of nuclear safety but also worldwide impact such as the use of deployed resources and critical advice in the aftermath of the March 2011 earthquake in Japan.
But Kirk knows that it is people that make the Navy great and he has always cared about each and every Sailor under his command. So, it is very telling to see Kirk in action-off duty and out of uniform.
Always a big supporter of Navy football, he is the Grill master of a large group of submarine tailgaters. Within what seems like seconds of arrival, his gadget laden vehicle transforms into a culinary oasis complete with tent, grill, dolphin flag and of course-cold beer.
But the real insight occurs after the game. As we wait for the parking lot to clear, Kirk is always surrounded by midshipmen-eager to hear his thoughts on their future.
And recently while engaging in a relaxing evening in Williamsburg, Kirk was notified about a certain senior submariner whose water skiing exploits landed him in the emergency room.
The injured officer recalls looking through the group of medical providers around him and spying a familiar face-Kirk’s.
Over 50 years ago, Admiral George Anderson said “The Navy has both a tradition and a future-and we look with pride and confidence in both directions.” Kirk and Diane-as we reflect today on your almost 40 years of selfless service it is with pride-that you have upheld the highest traditions of our Navy and with confidence-that no one has contributed more to ensure our Navy has a bright future. On behalf of all your shipmates and the citizens of our great country, I offer heartfelt Thanks!
In closing, many of you here today have also worked shoulder to shoulder with Kirk and may even have better stories which could show the depth of his love for and contributions to his country, the Navy and the Submarine Force. And like me, you know firsthand the extensive and long lasting impact he had on countless officers and sailors. So, I think you will all understand why I am proud to say “I served with Kirk Donald in the United States Navy.”