Greenwich’s Adm. Weigold, master warrior, diplomat, manager retires
Published 12:00 am, Sunday, September 24, 2017
GREENWICH — Adm. John Weigold has achieved mastery in a long career with the U.S Navy as a warrior, diplomat and manager.
The warrior part is the one that stands out the most in Weigold’s mind, as he finishes up a 37-year career in the Navy, recalling the experience of having his Navy destroyer deliberately rammed by a Soviet frigate in the Black Sea in 1988.
In the context of diplomacy — the Navy is the most diplomatically-minded service in the U.S. military, he said — he’s shaken hands with the Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe and met with the communist leadership of Vietnam. The two-star admiral still doesn’t know what was in some of the more unusual dishes he consumed in his high-level functions with Asian leaders; like a good diplomat he ate what was served and offered thanks for whatever was put on his plate.
As a manager, Weigold learned what good leadership and teamwork looks like, experience he’s put to use in a successful career in executive management.
The Greenwich naval leader, 55, bid farewell to the service at a retirement ceremony Sunday at the Stamford Yacht Club, with a 19-piece Navy band that came down from Newport, R.I., as musical accompaniment.
His trip to the top of the Naval command — his title prior to retirement was Rear Adm. John Weigold, Reserve Deputy Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet — began in the Riverside section of Greenwich. His father was a former Navy “frogman” and scuba diver, and Weigold grew up boating on Long Island Sound while attending Greenwich High School, yearning for a career in aeronautics.
“My goal was to become an astronaut. A large portion came out of the Air Force and Navy flight programs. Once I visited the Naval Academy, I fell in love with that place immediately. The people there were smart, athletic, a lot of leadership and just a beautiful place,” Weigold recalled. His eyesight wasn’t sharp enough to be an aviator, so Weigold set his sights on the sea.
He served on destroyers as a young man. He was aboard the U.S.S. Caron within the 12-mile limit off Crimean waters, asserting the international “right of innocent passage.” The Soviets had other ideas, and a naval version of a high-level chess game ensued. There was a Soviet helicopter above his ship, and two KGB fast boats nearby. Then the frigate made its move against his ship (the video is on the Internet.) “It was more than a warning,” he joked.
“I was the officer of the deck, running my ship at the time we were rammed by a Russian ship,” the admiral recalled. “That was a touchy time. The Soviets were a highly trained, professional organization. While we had our differences with them, we respected them...That was the Cold War.”
Weigold was later stationed in South Korea for two years just after the first nuclear test by the North Koreans in 2006. He was in charge of naval operations in South Korea and lived on a military base near Seoul with his family. Beside working out the military and geo-political strategy at the time, Weigold was personally tied into the conflict.
“We were within in artillery range. We had gas masks for every member of the family, right next to the television set,” he recalled.
The service, he said, has changed substantially since he joined.
“The military is on the leading edge of technology. We’re constantly evaluating new technologies, new innovative products in our craft. When I came in, there were no cell phones, there was no online anything. We shifted to digital, and now we’re moving to the third offset, artificial intelligence and unmanned vehicles. The next revolution in warfare is here,” said Weigold, who is remarried father of four children, one of whom attends Greenwich High School.
After leaving active service, Weigold entered the Navy Reserve, where he was often called to fill in for other flag-ranked officers in the Pacific theater. He also developed a career as an executive recruiter, drawing on his experience as a Navy commander.
“A lot of it is assessing leaders and building teams. Selecting leaders for teams — I’ve done that regularly through the years,” he said.
Weigold is looking forward to spending more time with his family, and he’s been window-shopping for a new boat to get back on Long Island Sound. He may even get back to racing sailboats on local waters.
He’s also a big Navy booster, recommending it as a career builder for young people.
“They’re going to be ahead of their peers. The military is always the first mover in a lot of areas — we have to be, to keep ahead of competition. And there’s a lot of interaction with the corporate world. There’s the ability to see the world. The old adage, ‘Not just a job, an adventure,’ it’s still true. You’re in and out of ports, different cultures, constantly,” he said.
Weigold said he’ll miss the service, unquestionably. He recalled the excitement of being in a room full of world leaders, being privy to the nation’s most closely kept secrets and being in charge of an awesome array of military hardware.
“Some of theses activities — you can’t even make it up, the magnitude of it,” he said.
“I’m not looking forward to it at all,” he said with a smile about his retirement from the Navy, “But 37 years is a pretty good run.”