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Face of Defense: Officer Returns to Port Hueneme to Engineer New Future

Sept. 5, 2017 | BY Brian Melanephy, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division
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In the early 1980s, a young, smart and motivated teen from New England was looking down the road to his future. College was his next step.

Navy Capt. Michael Ladner, chief engineer for Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division in California, stands next to the wheel-shaped plaque that bears the names of all warfare center division chief engineers who served before him, July 20, 2017. Navy photo by Brian Melanephy
Navy Capt. Michael Ladner, chief engineer for Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division in California, stands next to the wheel-shaped plaque that bears the names of all warfare center division chief engineers who served before him, July 20, 2017. Navy photo by Brian Melanephy
Navy Capt. Michael Ladner, chief engineer for Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division in California, stands next to the wheel-shaped plaque that bears the names of all warfare center division chief engineers who served before him, July 20, 2017. Navy photo by Brian Melanephy
Officer returns to Port Hueneme to ‘engineer’ a new future
Navy Capt. Michael Ladner, chief engineer for Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division in California, stands next to the wheel-shaped plaque that bears the names of all warfare center division chief engineers who served before him, July 20, 2017. Navy photo by Brian Melanephy
Photo By: Brian Melanephy
VIRIN: 170720-N-ZC671-001

Michael Ladner was looking for the best. At first, he had the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in his sights. However, he quickly realized that the cost of an education at the prestigious university was out of his reach.

Summers in Massachusetts as a child often involved going to the coast, and the ocean had an allure. Looking close to home and close to the water, Ladner found the perfect match: the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

He was selected and entered the academy, becoming part of a group of young patriots who would become the Class of 1989. Their unofficial motto quickly became "Out the door in '94" -- give five years of service to Uncle Sam upon graduation, and then move on to other things.

An Offer

The early years of his career went quickly, and suddenly it was 1993. Ladner was thinking about getting out until he received an offer he couldn't refuse. He remembers the phone call vividly.

"[I] called the detailer and they said, 'We can send you to Monterey, California, to go get a master's degree from the Navy," Ladner, who’s now a Navy captain, recalled. "I said, 'Wow, how do I turn that down?'"

And off he went.

Toward the end of his two-plus years in Monterey, a Master of Science in Physics degree in hand, Ladner received a lateral transfer to the engineering duty officer community and found himself at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division here. It was his first shore assignment where he served as the combat systems ship qualifications trials officer.

Ironically, Ladner would spend more time underway during this shore tour than he did aboard his first three ships. For the three years he was here, he estimates he was at sea for close to 2.5 years.

From here, Ladner moved on to become the first standard missile program manager's representative at the Raytheon Missile Systems plant in Tucson, Arizona. Moving from the sea to the sand, he served what he didn't yet know would not be his last assignment in the desert. From there, he moved on to Program Executive Office Integrated Warfare Systems 3.0, where he served as the Standard Missile 6 project engineer.

Service in Iraq

After his next assignment as executive assistant to the Navy's director of surface warfare, he volunteered to go to Iraq for nine months as an individual augmentee at Joint Crew Composite Squadron 1. There, he touched all facets of the fielding and testing of countermeasures to disrupt and disable remote-controlled improvised explosive devices. His efforts were highly successful, resulting in safer travels for service members outside the wire.

His deployment did not go unnoticed. At the end of his tour, Ladner was hand-picked by the commander of Naval Sea Systems Command to be his executive assistant. After this eye-opening experience, he moved on to become the major program manager for Program Executive Office Integrated Warfare Systems 10.0, which evolved into the Ship Self-Defense System, Integrated Combat Systems Program Office.

Major Program Manager Assignments

Ladner then served in consecutive major program manager assignments at Program Executive Office Integrated Warfare Systems 3.0 (Surface Ship Weapons). At the end of these back-to-back tours, he got word he was returning here as the department officer for the chief engineer and land and sea test department.

Happy to be back at the division, Ladner beams with pride when he looks at the wheel-shaped plaque hanging in his office.

"I am looking at the wheel on the wall, which has all of the chief engineers that have been here at Port Hueneme," Ladner said. "It's inspiring for me to think that I am sitting in the same room where I did my engineering duty qualification board."

Ladner cut his teeth here 20 years ago, and now has an opportunity to shape and mold its future from a place at the top.

"It is now my time to give back to the community, the station [and Naval Sea Systems Command] for all of the great things they have done for me," he said.