CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii — Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery retired from the U.S. Navy after 32 years of honorable naval service August 18. Friends and family of Montgomery gathered for a retirement ceremony aboard the Battleship Missouri Memorial to bid him fair winds and following seas. Montgomery has served as a Naval leader for 32 years and has a few parting words for the Navy’s newest Sailors.
“For any young Sailor, petty officer or officer who just got in—congratulations on making the right decision of joining the Navy,” said Montgomery. “Set your goals clearly and early. Whether it is to be a commanding officer of a ship, Command Master Chief, a lead technician, or whatever you envision a successful naval career as—peg yourself to that goal, and work towards it. As the goal begins to come into view, start to look beyond onto your next goal, and the next, and the next. If you continue to work things that way, you can be successful.”
Goals have propelled Montgomery through his naval career. Now that his uniformed chapter is coming to an end, Montgomery’s goals for the civilian world are aimed at his family.
“I have young kids and I plan on hanging out with them a lot, making sure they get my full attention for a few years,” said Montgomery.
As a junior surface warfare officer, Montgomery understood the importance of setting goals and working hard to achieve them. One in particular was a catalyst in the development of his career.
“There’s no doubt the goal I had the longest of any -- and the one for which the highest level of effort was applied -- was my desire to command a ship,” said Montgomery. “As a Surface Warfare Officer, pretty early on you figure out if you want to command a ship or not. In surface warfare particularly, commanding a destroyer or frigate as an O-5 is a very unique and empowering experience—definitely a level of responsibility and accountability you can’t achieve anywhere else except commanding a ship or submarine. As a result, that became a fixation of mine after six or seven years in the Navy and for the next 12 to 14 years I pursued that goal very heavily, and that became the thing that lured me into a career in the Navy.”
Montgomery didn’t envision the path that would take his career to this level. He expected a short career, but as the accomplishments mounted up, the time flew by.
“It’s funny because I come from a Navy family—both my grandfather and father were career naval officers,” said Montgomery. “When I first graduated college I thought this was a four to five-year gig like most people. Then opportunity after opportunity came from grad school to nuclear power training, which added to my commitment, and the next time I looked up I was at 20 years. I don’t think I saw a 30-plus-year career, but I’m certainly glad it happened.”
A variety of commands, schools, positions and experience has helped influence Montgomery throughout his career, but one command specifically was special.
“My most enjoyable job was commanding a ship,” said Montgomery. "I had the unique responsibility of being USS McCampbell (DDG 85)’s first commanding officer. I assembled the first crew and we worked in the shipyards alongside the shipbuilders. We took the ship out to sea, made sure it was seaworthy, made sure the new combat systems suite worked -- then took it on its first 2 deployments. It was my first time in command, it was my first independent command, and it was very uplifting.”
Commanding a ship’s commissioning crew involves a great deal of ownership and pride that leaves a legacy throughout its lifespan. Sailors assigned to the pre-commissioning crew are known as plankowners, a term dating back to the times of sail where ships were made of wood and Sailors were made of iron. According to the sacred law of the sea, each sailor in the ship’s commissioning crew owns a plank of the ship, which may be claimed at the time of her decommissioning. The bonds Montgomery created from the McCampbell and other commands left a lasting impression on him.
“I feel very positive and very fortunate to have met all the people the military in general -- and the Navy specifically -- has introduced me to,” said Montgomery. “We are an all-volunteer force: everyone chose to join, nobody really comes from an extremely rich family; we’re all kind of middle class and lower -- working extremely hard to get something. Having the opportunity over the last 32 to 33 years to work with people who run toward something, achieved that goal based on their own hard work, and are rewarded for their effort, I think is a really nice organization to work for.”
For the last three years, Montgomery has served as U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) Director of Operations (J3). As Director, Montgomery was influential in building targeting systems, operational designs, and developing proper watchstanding capabilities in order to increase operational efficiency. This has had a positive effect on communications with military allies and partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
“During provocations from North Korea, he brought real-time coordination and communications with the Japanese and Koreans to a level we’ve never seen here,” said Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command. “It’s no exaggeration to say that his knowledge and understanding of the Indo-Asia-Pacific are unmatched. In fact, one could go so far as to say, he’s a national treasure.”
Change affects everyone differently. Working for one organization for 32 years creates a sense of comfort and familiarity. Retiring from uniform service and moving forward from the Navy family creates a new opportunity for Montgomery. Throughout his time, Montgomery reflects on what he will miss, also what he plans for the future. As he has practiced throughout his whole career: one goal down, another to achieve.
“The opportunity to work with [such] high-caliber people is something I’ll never get again no matter where I go, and that has an empowering effect,” said Montgomery. “Still, I’m pretty excited. I’ve had a good experience in the military. My two previous commands at U.S. European Command and command of a Carrier Strike Group -- and then here at U.S. Pacific Command -- involve a lot of political/military issues. I’ve found that I’m pretty drawn to them; I like them, I think I have the opportunity to go more full-time in political/military aspects of the joint force, and I can do that pretty well in a civilian job.”