On June 4, Captain Dom Lovello delivered remarks during the 2022 U.S. Naval Cryptologic Veterans Association (NCVA) Annual Banquet in Charleston South Carolina. Captain Lovello, the current Commanding Officer of Navy Information Operations Command Georgia, skillfully weaved cryptologic history while explaining what is most important in warfare, who is explaining why what is important and why we do what we do.
Following are his remarks.
Good Evening and welcome to this long overdue reunion. It’s a true honor for my family and me to be with you in this beautiful city as we gather with old shipmates, reminisce about good times, and chart our way ahead in these challenging times.
It’s been about 28 years since I first heard of the NCVA and was introduced to the great work this organization has done since it began in the late 60’s, through its charter in 1978, and all the way to right now to preserve our cryptologic heritage and recognize the superb efforts of the men and women of the Naval Security Group, Naval Information Forces, and TENTH Fleet. The spirit of the original On the Roof Gang is alive and well with all of you and even though we’re in South Carolina it feels like I’m back in the halls and rooms of our old headquarters on Nebraska Avenue this evening working hard and playing hard too. I still have the lithograph I got from the NCVA with sketches of what we did, what we used, and where we did it. In addition to SECSTA headquarters, there was a 688 fast attack submarine, an EP-3, a Spruance destroyer, the Wullenweber from Adak, Alaska, the famous gate near Edzell, Scotland and even a rack of R-390s. They captured the real essence of what we do and how we did it – at sea, in the air, from DC, and from some of the remotest points on the globe. So, it’s all about what, who, and why. Simple. Straightforward. To the point. My kind of conversation.
There are a few hundred of you here tonight representing the thousands of cryptologic veterans that have served through the Cold War and every other contingency that our military has been part of over the past several decades. Over the course of your time in the service and as NCVA members after you left the service, you’ve met, mentored, and trained hundreds of Sailors from every paygrade. Some were in less than 30 days. Others have been in for almost 38 years. That’s a whole lot of Sailors. So, I’m asking all of you to continue your service and remember the impact you have on our active-duty Sailors and Marines and out in your communities too. Because the way you did it during your time on active duty kept our Navy strong and our Nation defended through some huge struggles for freedom against the tyranny of the Soviet Union. And the way you do it now will have a big effect on keeping our Navy at its best and keeping our great nation defended as we continue to defend freedom today. I know y’all can do it and let me tell you a few reasons why:
The strategic challenges our nation faces today are not that different that those we faced during the Cold War when I first started my service. As we reflect on what it took to win that struggle, I think we can absolutely apply what learned then to keep our navy and nation strong by focusing on three important things. What. Who. And why. That’s how the U.S. beat the USSR then and how we’ll remain the unmatched and preeminent maritime power now.
So, here’s what I learned during the Cold War and applied over the course of my service that I’d like to share with you.
First: Remember that an enemy’s location and intent is WHAT’S most important in warfare.
In his classic account of the Navy’s operations during Guadalcanal, NEPTUNE’S INFERNO, James Hornfischer is quoted as saying that “war is a craft of putting ordnance on target decisively and it really is nothing else.” Rounds on target constantly and consistently. Truer words were never written but let me make them a little truer by saying that firepower without knowing where the enemy is and what the enemy will do is just fireworks. Enemy location and intent tell me where to put that firepower, how much I need to use that firepower, and how long I should use it. While any sensor can tell you location – radar, sonar, and even a lookout – it’s only the unique sources and methods of cryptology that can give you the intent you need to tell the difference between a friend from a foe while simultaneously protecting the friend and getting rid of the foe with constant and consistent firepower. It was true at Guadalcanal in the summer and fall of 1942 and it was especially true two months earlier at the Battle of Midway. We know the story of what CDR Joe Rochefort and his Station Hypo team did. They did what good cryptologists do – got after it, stayed with it, and delivered that essential location and intent information that allowed our forces to be in the right place at the right time to deliver the right amount of firepower and turn the tide of the Pacific War. I know each of you has a story like that – maybe it was at a duty station in Hawaii too, or maybe it was in San Miguel in the Philippines, or Galeta Island, Panama, or the Azores or Iceland or at any one of the scores of out the way places that guys like me use to dream about going to while we were intently studying The Yellow Pearl on the midwatch at sea. Maybe it was on a flight, maybe it was on a ship or a boat, or it could’ve been some other place that you have to keep to yourselves. Wherever it was, you delivered what our nation needed when it needed it and I’m grateful that you did.
Second: Pay attention to WHO’s explaining WHAT’s important.
While WHAT we do made me want to be a cryptologist, WHO I did it with has kept me in cryptology for over three decades and counting. I have been a Sailor for 38 years. And that journey began when I left my home in Marietta, Georgia for basic training in Orlando, Florida, through technical training in Pensacola, hundreds of days at sea and thousands of hours in the air being mentored by some of the smartest petty officers, toughest Chiefs, and wisest officers our nation has produced. They helped me and a thousand other young Sailors get past our limitations – physical, technical, mental – and bear down and focus to get our jobs done. Some have become friends. All of them have played a part in helping me understand what’s important. People like CTM1 Rudy Lopez, who showed me that everyone’s worthy of respect no matter what their paygrade. LT Al Pollard, a superb example of how to carry yourself with assurance. LDO Ensign Kevin McTaggert, who taught me those two most important pieces of information in warfare with absolute clarity and unquestioned authority. My old and most valued friend, CTO1 Wayne Leaver who encouraged me to give the Naval Security Group a chance. Master Chief Penny Tardonna who told me to smile during a very stressful evening at the Washington Navy Yard in the spring of 1995 and Master Chief Dickie Best on that same night who gripped my hand, pulled me in close, and quietly but firmly told me to apply for LDO. And for those of you that have had that experience with Dickie, it ain’t so much a conversation as it is an offer you can’t refuse! Steve Stake, who taught me to be a Chief and always ALWAYS earn my anchor every day. Jim Hagy and Phil Scott, the best examples of I’ve ever seen of how to handle any emergency like it was expected, and hundred others that I never worked with but heard of. People like DF Mueller, Chuck Kasinger, Wally Bischer. The Sailors on the USS PUEBLO and USS LIBERTY and the aircrew aboard the EC-121 and many many others that I read about in the CRYPTOLOG and see mentioned on the NCVA website. I loved to read about these people that made history because they make me a better Sailor and citizen. They made the impossible possible all through the Cold War and all of us have seen it everywhere we’ve been – with a stern bulkhead counseling instead of a report chit. With a kind word in private to keep your head up when times are tough. With putting rank on the line when it really mattered. As you think about those times when those people helped you, think about all the others that benefitted from those things – not just junior Sailors and Marines and young officers, but family members and our fellow citizens. Our country will always outpace any acute threat as long as our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Guardians, and Coast Guardsmen remember how one good decision can lead to many decisions like it over a long time.
Third: Never forget why we do what we do
Vince Lombardi is quoted as saying that “after all the cheers have died down and the stadium is empty…the enduring thing that is left is the dedication to doing with our lives the very best we can to make the world a better place to live.” It’s that dedication to the WHAT of location and intent from the WHO of all the people I talked about that is the reason WHY we were able to win the Cold War. It was the greatest lesson that I learned then and one I emphasize with my crew today as we meet our nation’s challenges. As the title of Simon Sinek’s book START WITH WHY says, begin there. It’s how you navigate through any storm. It’s how you build a successful team. It’s how you inspire people to put aside their personal needs – and even their lives – for a greater good. It’s how you win a war and outmaneuver an adversary.
For Americans, the WHY is easy. Look no further than our founding documents. Our Declaration of Independence states that we’re all created equal and have the right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. That we are governed by our consent. The Constitution that we swear to uphold and defend goes even further, guaranteeing our freedom to assemble this evening, our freedom to worship as we please tomorrow if we choose, and to be secure in our homes after this gathering. Rights from God. Not by legislative or parliamentary action. Not by executive order or imperial decree. Not by judicial fiat or court order. Those are things worth fighting and dying for and why we made a choice to serve to do the hard work that’s absolutely necessary to defend those rights for our fellow citizens and bring them to others around the world that live in tyranny. There’s never been a better why in human history.
So, in closing, think about what, who, and why. I guarantee you that your mind and heart will be prepared for any contingency – whether it’s defending our democracy or helping a shipmate in need. It’ll give you the courage to ask for help when you need it. It’ll focus you on your task and do it well. It’ll keep you quick and not in a hurry. It’ll enable you to learn constantly and share what you learn consistently. Keep doing those things now as you did while you were in uniform and you will keep our navy strong and our nation well-defended. Do that so the NCVA can continue to maintain our rich legacy and be the navpoint we need to chart a safe course to the future. Do that so you can look back on your service and say as John Kennedy did in 1963 when he said that “Any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction, ‘I served in the United States Navy.”
Thank you all for your service – whether it was as active-duty Sailors or as the family members that kept things going while we were away. I’m thankful that the Good Lord has blessed and kept you all safe each and every day of your service whether it was for four years or almost 40. And that He blessed you with families and friends that understood just how important your service was while you were in uniform and right now as you keep our great cryptologic heritage alive in the NCVA. May He keep you safe for the remainder of your time here in Charleston, may He watch over you on your way home, and may He continue to bless our noble profession, our magnificent Navy, and our great nation. Thank you.