Interview with Brian Pultro, US Navy (Transcript)

Name: Brian Pultro

Military Branch & Rank: US Navy, Lieutenant Commander

Dates of Service: May 2006 – present (as of date of interview)

Villanova Degree: M.A., Political Science, 2013

Date of Interview: March 12, 2020

Interviewer: Michael D. Brown

Audio Producer: Laura Bang

Length of Interview: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Transcribed by: Nicholas Coscarelli

Edited and annotated by: Meg Piorko

URL for Audio: ‎


MICHAEL BROWN (INTRO): Thank you for joining us today. My name is Michael Brown, and we are here today at Villanova University, recording another installment of the Voices of Villanova’s Veterans.

BROWN: Good afternoon. It is around one o’clock on Thursday, March 12th of 2020, and we are here in Old Falvey today, based on some renovations taking place in our regular spot, and today we are joined by someone who was a faculty member here in the Naval Science Program. Brian Pultro, who is a Navy veteran, and he is also a Villanova graduate. And so, before we get started, I wanted to welcome him here and say thanks for joining us today.

BRIAN PULTRO: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. Thanks for the opportunity.

BROWN: Sure. So, Brian, talk to me about when and where you were born, and a little bit about your childhood.

PULTRO: I was born on December 17th, 1983, at Jefferson Hospital, down in Center City. My parents separated when I was six years old. My mother moved down to Philadelphia and my father stayed in the Bucks County area. I moved from Bucks County up to a place called Lawncrest, which is a section in northeastern Philadelphia. And I lived there with my mom through about 1998, and then switched and moved with my father in ‘98 up in Doylestown and spent the rest of my childhood there. Graduated from Central Bucks West High School in 2002. And then I vividly remember I was sitting in Mr. Tom Cardi’s Calculus II class in the morning of September 11th, and someone came in and handed him a note, and he read the note saying that a plane had just flown into the World Trade Center. They kind of decided whether we were going to continue classes, but they eventually said, “Alright, we’re going to move to our homeroom session.” And I went to my homeroom, and that’s when the second tower was hit. And after that, ironically enough – after both towers were hit – I moved on to my AP history class. AP U.S. history class with a guy named Mr. Tom Kearney. And I distinctly remember we had the TV on for the first few minutes of class. And, assuming at that time that it was just an accident, no one knew any information, he turned the TV off. And he said, “This is not going to be anything to remember historically. It’s just an accident. So, let’s get to the lesson plan.” And it was that day that I decided I was going to join the Navy. And I started filling out ROTC applications later that evening, and made my way down to Auburn, Alabama, that fall. The following fall.

BROWN: So, to take a step back, do you remember the history plan, the lesson that you went over that day?

PULTRO: I actually do. That’s only because I love history. It was about the Industrial Revolution.

BROWN: I was going to say, maybe the lesson plan wasn’t as historically significant, but that day was definitely historical.

BROWN: That day, I mean, is historically for multiple reasons. It’s September 11th, obviously. It’s also my best friend’s birthday, who is a marine. And it’s also my mother’s birthday at the same time. So, a lot of things happening every single time that day comes around. Indeed.

BROWN: So, what took you to Auburn, Alabama?

PULTRO: Well, since every single person from my high school typically went to Penn State, I wanted to go as far away from Pennsylvania as I possibly could. So, I got a map of the United States. I put a pin in the map. I took a piece of yarn. I made that yarn 1000 miles to scale. And I literally drew in pen this arc and said I will never go anywhere inside of the arc.


PULTRO: My first choice of college was the University of Washington out in Seattle. I got into it, but the Navy only offered me a three-year college scholarship instead of a four year. My parents could not afford tuition at the University of Washington out there at the time. My father went to a very small Catholic school called St. Bernard College in Coleman, Alabama. And I’ve been down there; I visited the campus a few times and he always said that college in Alabama was the best four years of his life. So, he said, “Why don’t you give Auburn a shot?” So, I applied to Auburn. I got in. I went down there for a visit over the summer, after already accepting to go there. The first time I walked on the campus, I already committed. I fell in love with it after two days and about six weeks later, I was back on campus for my first day of ROTC in doc and the rest is history.

BROWN: So, for the lay person who’s never gone through a Naval ROTC program, talk to me about what those steps are like. Are you being recruited? Are you being offered scholarships? Are you given a specific job already? Talk to me about, I know, but maybe folks out there listening have no idea what the process of becoming a Naval ROTC student at any institution.

PULTRO: So, the process when I applied was a little different in that, when I applied to Naval ROTC, if you were awarded a scholarship, this scholarship used to be attached to you. So, if I was awarded the scholarship, I could take it to any school that I got into, and I could say, alright, I want to go to Penn or Temple or University of Washington or Arizona, Auburn, whatever. Nowadays, when you apply, the scholarship is awarded to the school, specifically, in your name because there’s only a certain amount of scholarships they’re going to give out. So, the application process has changed to make it trickier to where you now actually have to figure out what are my top choices and odds of getting in? Because if I want to go to Villanova and they award the scholarship to Villanova, but Villanova doesn’t accept me, I’m somewhere else without a scholarship.

BROWN: Sure. So, there’s really a lot of, you need to think about, you know, not only wanting to be in the Navy, but really being able to be academically sound to be at a place like Villanova or Notre Dame or wherever. So that’s interesting. So, you get into Auburn, you’re excited, you’re, you know, more than 1,000 miles away or whatever. So, you’re not, you know, with your peers. So, talk to me about what that’s like. You’re down there, you don’t know anyone, you’re a Naval ROTC student. So, talk to me about what those first few semesters are like at Auburn.

PULTRO: I would actually, I would say the first 48 hours were a complete culture shock. So, my parents drove me down there. And the way they had freshman orientation set up at the time is your parents dropped you off, they gave you a hug. They brought all of us into an auditorium. We had a prescribed uniform that we had to show up in, that was khakis and a white polo shirt. We’re sitting in this auditorium in the Lowder Business School. And obviously I knew nothing about the military and nothing about what it’s like. So, the Seal who was a Navy captain got up, gave us a nice speech, said, “Hey, we’re happy to welcome aboard, you’re going to love it. He leaves the room, complete silence. And then you already know where this is going based on your experience. Everybody just starts screaming at you, get out the door, get out the door faster, faster, push up this, sit up that. And obviously mom and dad have just left you after 18 years under their roof, and you have no idea what’s going on. That in itself was a culture shock to me physically and mentally. But the flip side of it is, I had never been south of the Mason-Dixon line in my entire life. So, being in Alabama from the suburbs of Philadelphia was like a whole new world, just having to learn a whole new language. I remember one of the first days I was there. Someone told me that they were going to go “fix dinner.” And I was just completely flabbergasted by the statement, what do you need to fix? Is the microwave broken? Is the oven not lighting. I mean, why are we fixing dinner? Just having to acclimate myself to southern culture and the southern way of life and how slow it was, and the different languages. On top of trying to be a good student to meet the minimums for ROTC and acclimating myself to military life. It was a whirlwind first week or two.

BROWN: Sure. And at that moment, if you remember, were you thinking, “Wow, I made a poor choice.”

Were you still like, “Yes, I’m on board,” or what were you thinking?

PULTRO: I was absolutely thinking I made a poor decision. I think everybody was. But as you know, I think

instantaneously when people decide they’re going to have a shared sacrifice, there’s also that shared commitment to lift everybody up and make sure the guy next to you doesn’t fail. So, when in the grand scheme of life, it sounds so significant to discuss your feelings and your first week of freshman orientation at Auburn University. But when you look to the right and look to the left and somebody decided, “Yeah, this isn’t for me. It’s time to go.” There were other people next to you that said, “It’s just one week, pull it together.” Once you make it through this, everything will be okay, we’re fine. And thankfully, out of a freshman class of 60 when I started in 2002, we graduated 41. So, our attrition was only about 19 through the four years I was there. I don’t remember how many dropped out that first week. I think it was a handful, but most people stayed on.

BROWN: Sure. Well, it’s good. So, you get in, you’re squared away, you’re learning the two separate cultures, really. You’re learning about military culture and you’re learning an Alabama culture. You know, frankly, they’re both different, but you’re also learning just being a college student. So, a lot of things are just being pushed on your plates. What were some of the things that you did to help mitigate some of those challenges that you faced?

PULTRO: I actually think that the biggest thing that mitigated my challenges was the idea that I only had this three-year scholarship. And to actually get the three-year scholarship, you had to make a certain GPA your first semester. And my parents always said, “Hey, you get one, one year of this. If not, you’re coming home and going to Bucks County Community College.” So that fear of, I want to say, letting my family down, but I guess letting myself down at this golden opportunity to go somewhere else and experience a part of the country, if I didn’t throw myself into my studies and focus, I would have been going home at the end of May, my freshman year. So that, that good pressure, I think, helped me to keep away some of the distractions, some of the vices that college students can fall into their freshman year. Plus, the rigor and the structure of ROTC. I mean, they obviously do a great job of ensuring that you don’t fall out of line because they genuinely want you to succeed.

BROWN: Sure. So, being a student and being a Naval ROTC. Talk to me about what that is like, because you’re not a typical 18-year-old doing whatever the heck you want. You got to wake up, you got to do PT, you have things going on that are pulling at you outside of just English 101. So, talking about just that, being a student and being in the Naval ROTC and how that felt being on a college campus.

PULTRO: So, in the south, it felt great to be on the college campus in the south because, as you know, patriotism in the south runs deep. It’s a little different than north of the Mason-Dixon line. So, the patriotism and support from the community down there was just something I had never experienced before. But the everyday life of an ROTC student certainly was something I never experienced before as a teenager up in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Just having to get up at 4 a.m. to polish your boots just because you know at 5.30 a.m., there’s an inspection coming, or making sure your belt is polished. Just a whole new world of presenting yourself, and discipline and rigor that I can only remember one childhood memory where that was ever something that was really beaten home to me. So having that just thrown at you, I mean, it was a big shock. Plus, as you know, the credit hours you have to take. Down there, we routinely took 18 to 21 credit hours a semester – when the average student took 15 – on top of your PT and your drill and wearing the uniform. It’s not for everybody, but for those who can pull it all together that first semester, they typically, obviously, succeed through the rest of their time there.

BROWN: Sure. So, you’re fully an Auburn student and you’re going through the Naval ROTC program. What is – they have like summer cruises or something, you know – what is your first experience with that?

PULTRO: So because I only had a three-year scholarship, I didn’t get to go to a cruise on my freshman year. My cruise between my sophomore and my junior year, I got sent to Mayport, Florida to be stationed on USS Roosevelt, which is DDG-80.[1] And there’s some things that they don’t teach you in ROTC that I quickly learned when I stepped aboard that ship. And the first one is, on a ship, you don’t walk around barefoot ever.

BROWN: [laughs] And why is that?

PULTRO: Well, obviously there’s a lot of oil on ships. There’s a lot of germs on ships. People are stepping in everything from dirt, urine, gas, JP5,[2] paint, rust, whatever. But that was my first, my first time aboard a Navy ship. And, you know, when you go down to the boating, you just assume that this is home for you. So, I promptly unpacked my sea bag, and I went to take a shower. I’m just walking around in my towel and no shoes. And one of the sailors said, “Hey, shipmate, what are you doing?” And I said I’m gonna take a shower. And he said, “You probably just have athlete’s foot for the next like four months now because of what you did.” And he escorted me down to the ship store and said, “Here’s some shower shoes. You need to wear these whenever you’re not in uniform.” And that was one of my first lessons in the actual Navy. And probably one of the most important lessons, because as you know, Forest Gump, Gary Sinise’s big thing was always take care of your feet. And he said that for a reason.

BROWN: That’s right. But overall, the experience was good. What learning other than shower shoes and feet maintenance, what are some of the other lessons you learned about being on a ship?

PULTRO: So the second, the way it was structured back then, when I went through is between your sophomore and your junior year, you go through what they would call “enlisted crews.” So as a midshipman, you’re training yourself to become a commissioned officer. But the second-class crews, you are treated like, and you are embedded with, enlisted personnel. So, you understand the story from their side and what they’ve been through. So, when I got aboard Roosevelt, they stuck me in the radio room with all the radio. And I had to stand watch just like all of them. I could go if it was an eight-hour watch or a 10-hour watch. But I only worked alongside that. No officers. I ate at the mess decks. I didn’t go into the wardrobe. Even though my uniform was different, I was treated like them. And they treated me like one of them too. And hearing from their perspective, what they wish officers would do was an incredible training experience for me. And something that I think was invaluable in the journey to becoming a commissioned officer.

BROWN: Sure. Did you go anywhere? Or were you just on the ship in dock the whole time?

PULTRO: We were in Mayport for a while. And then we went out to sea. One of the greatest experiences of my life is when we went out to sea on the aircraft carrier, USS Kennedy, which is now decommissioned.[3] And we had a storm out there. I was terribly seasick the entire time. It was my first experience out at sea. I could not keep my head out of the toilet.

BROWN: Hopefully it had shower shoes on [laughs].

PULTRO: [laughs] I had shower shoes on while I was in there, yes. But they had to make a decision. The ship was actually sailing across to Scotland. And it was either take these kids all the way over to Scotland or not. So, they actually decided they were going to fly us off the ship. So, we got to take an SH-60 ride from USS Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy and they’d take a C-2 cod ride and get shot off the aircraft carrier on a cod back. We flew into Norfolk, Virginia. That was an incredible experience. So, the radio room coupled with the once in a lifetime chance to get shot off an aircraft carrier was just, it was incredible.

BROWN: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s something, you know, again, that doesn’t happen a lot, I’m assuming. So as a midshipman, that’s got to be a cool experience to come back to your unit, not back at Auburn. Now you’re back at Auburn, what are you studying at all? What are you hoping to do? Are you just studying just to, you know, get a degree and move on? Or are you like focusing on something that you might want to do later in life?

PULTRO: My major was political science when I was down there with a minor in history. Ever since I was young, I’ve enjoyed the political system. Not so much the visceral, malicious politics you hear, but, you know, the history of the country and how the Constitution works. And I always wanted one day to be a history teacher. And I thought that a degree in political science, plus that minor in history would have been a great way to do that. So, I was studying that while I was there, plus all my naval science classes, thinking that once my time in the Navy was up that I could actually go back to school, get a teaching certificate, a teaching degree, and then go teach at a local high school and talk about history.

BROWN: Sure. But before that, before you do that history teaching, you got to do some, you have some Navy obligations, obviously. So, when do you find out as a midshipman what your job is going to be? And how does that job get assigned to you? Are you just sort of drawn names out of a hat saying, “Mr. Paltrow, you’re going to be a surface warfare officer?” Or is it something that you say, I want to be X, Y, or Z? And they, so talk to me about that process.

PULTRO: So, originally when I went down there, I wanted to be a pilot. My senior year at CB West, I decided to quit playing baseball and focus on getting my pilot’s license. So, I was working at a local restaurant there as a waiter, making money at night to pay for flight lessons during the day. And so, I had, I had flight experience when I went down to Auburn and I enrolled in the aviation management program. And after the first semester, I decided this isn’t for me. I didn’t know that I had to do a minimum of 10 years up. I want to be an aviator. So, let’s give four years of shot. So, after the first semester, I dropped aviation management, moved over to political science, and changed my designation, my designator from an aviator to a slow or a surface warfare officer. So, from the second semester of my freshman year, I was destined to be on a surface ship. When it came to the job and the ship that I was going to get, after the fall of your senior year, every mid shipment across the country who was going to be a surface warfare officer was ranked based on their GPA, some of their physical fitness scores, and then their evaluations or fitness reports that they had received at Auburn. I forget what rank I was – it was irrelevant. But I knew I just didn’t want to go to Norfolk, Virginia. I heard terrible things about it, and I didn’t want to go there. And the way they did ship selection back then was you’d have this list of ships on a computer, and you’d have a time slot with, which you were going to get a phone call from Newington, Tennessee. And they were going to say, “Alright, midship and pull trial, you’re on the clock, you have five minutes to pick your ship.” And that’s a lot of pressure. It’s almost like an NFL draft. All these, all these ships are coming off the board, and you’re trying to decide the next two years of your life in a span of five minutes. And one ship I had targeted, which I think was fate, was the good ship USS Gettysburg. It just “Gettysburg” – from Pennsylvania – drew itself to me. And it was in Mayport, Florida, Jacksonville, and it just wasn’t in Norfolk. So, when it was my turn to pick, Gettysburg was the last ship, and the last bill in Mayport, Florida, and I jumped on that chance, and after I got commissioned, that’s where I ended up.

BROWN: So you’re a service warfare officer, you’re headed to Florida, staying in the south, and you’re the freshest of the fresh. So, when you get to your new units, talk to me about what that experience is like as being a newly commissioned officer on a ship, and apply some of those lessons you learned from your first cruises into that experience.

PULTRO: I got commissioned on May 11, 2006, and I reported to Gettysburg on June 1, 2006, and the ship was in Drydock. It had just come off a drug interdiction deployment to South America for about nine months, and it was in the shipyard for repair. So, I spent the first three years of my commissioned life in a shipyard. And I quickly realized that a lot of stuff that they taught you at ROTC, besides the customs and currencies, really didn’t apply. First of all, navigating a ship in the shipyard is impossible. I probably got lost in that ship four or five times the first few days. Then I came across a good friend of mine. His name was …[4] and when we first got introduced, he was Lieutenant JG[5] at the time. He was the damage control assistant of the DC on the ship. And he had a bunch of red folders on his desk, and he said, “Here, just take a handful of these.” I said, “The hell do I need these red folders for?” And he said, “Never, ever, ever let yourself be seen walking around the p-ways of the ship empty handed.” I said why? He said, “The captain’s going to think you’re not doing anything.” He said, “I don’t care if these folders are empty. Do not let them leave your hands. And wherever you’re going, if you’re walking at a normal stride, pick it up a little bit and walk faster.” So, if they do call your name, they think you’re so busy that you don’t have time for them. You can just keep on going. So that was that was one of my lessons, day one of the ship. When I got there, I was given the job of a first lieutenant on a cruiser, which my personal belief, looking back on it, is probably the most challenging job, a junior officer in the Navy, the service Navy can have. The reason I say that is I’m fresh out of college, 21 years old. I’m handed a division of about 30 sailors and a chief who routinely, historically scores the lowest on their ASVABs. And their job on the ship is to simply paint the ship. They are the blue-collar workers. And I didn’t know how a 21-year-old, fresh out of college with no life experience, could be in charge of 30 guys who are the rough necks, or the blue-collar guys, of the ship and try to lead them anywhere. I mean, let alone a ship that was deploying to the Persian Gulf next year. It was extremely, extremely challenging, but it forced me to grow up fast after I checked on board the ship.

BROWN: So how did you lead them? What were some of the techniques you’d use? Did you go in there and just start grabbing them by the shirt collar and saying you’re going to do this? Or did you let them sort of guide you with some principles that they have been accustomed to?

PULTRO: Stepping back, quickly for a minute, on my first-class cruise, I was lucky enough to sail aboard the Good Ship HMS Invincible, which is now a decommissioned British aircraft carrier. And one of the things that I learned there is every night on the ship, the officers do these things called rounds, where the officers will go into the common areas of their divisions living quarters and ask them how the day was, how can I improve. And that was something that really impacted me, that the British officers, I mean, you see films like Master and Commander, and then you see today’s British Navy, and it’s completely different, how they genuinely cared about the welfare of their guys. One of the things that was in part of me in my second-class cruise by a guy named my …[6] was just listen. If you listen, that will change everything. So, my BM1, his name was Ranson Smith. He and I struck up a really good working relationship quickly, and he would pull me by the ear and say, sir, do this, sir, do that, say this, say that. He looked out for me a lot, and I made a lot of mistakes along the way. Like, one of the things I thought would be a good morale builder was, you know, we’re painting the side of the ship, it’s 100 degrees out in Mayport, Florida. There’s no reason for me not to pick up a paint roller and help out. So, I pick up the paint roller, I start painting the side of the ship, and BM1 Smith would say, sir, drop the paint, get over here, you can’t do that, you’re in charge. You can’t, even though I know you want to show camaraderie with the guys, you cannot be painting alongside of them. That is their job, your job is to lead, your job is to get us promoted, your job is to get us awards. So, it was a learning curve, and I quickly figured out that my BM1 was the backbone of the division, because the chief, unfortunately, had 19 years in. He had only made chief after 18 years, and after spending time with him, I quickly realized why it took him 18 years to make chief, just because he was not good at his job. He was incompetent. So, I had to wrestle with in the first year, whether or not to, as a junior officer who knew nothing, go to the command leadership and recommend that this guy get fired, because he was going to get someone killed if we deployed to the Persian Gulf with him in charge of this division. So, a big, huge learning experience that first year.

BROWN: Sure, no, I hear that. So, you’re, I heard though, and you’re saying you’re preparing to deploy at this point, right? When did you find out you’re deploying? How long are you deploying, and what does that look like before you get there? What kind of training are you doing before you actually deploy?

PULTRO: Sure, so, I found out our deployment schedule pretty much when I checked aboard the ship. We left July 11th, 2007, and we came back home December 19th, 2007. So, about five or six months we were gone. Once we put the ship back in the water, we started the training cycle, which essentially, when you get the order to deploy, even though the deployment might be six months, it’s essentially a year because you’re out of sea for the six months preceding that deployment for the training cycle. I volunteered to be on the VBSS team, which stands for Visit Board Search and Seizure. So, my time in the shipyard, I got to go to a lot of schools on hand-to-hand combat and how to use an M4 rifle in close quarters and carabining off a whole bunch of stacked Conex boxes to do inspections. So, that was exciting for me, knowing that when we went out there, instead of just being the first lieutenant painting the ship, I would actually get off the ship to go do other stuff too, which I thought was pretty cool. So, the training cycle, the workups to that, again, they don’t, in ROTC, they don’t demand that you stay up for 24 hours and then, you know, take a math test after that. But quickly, you learn that there’s no sleep when you’re out at sea and you have not only your primary job, but then your VBSS job and then you have to get qualified and you have to learn damage control and then you have these collateral duties, like the workroom mess treasurer. And all these other little things they have to do that quickly add up to no sleep and a lot of time underway.

BROWN: Sure. Are you still getting seasick?

PULTRO: No. On the cruiser, I did not get seasick, thankfully.

BROWN: You’re still wearing shower shoes though.

PULTRO: I was wearing shower shoes the entire time, absolutely. I brought multiple pairs of

shower shoes with me just in case they broke, yeah.

BROWN: So, you’re in the Persian Gulf. What is that experience like for you at your first deployment. I’m assuming. Is there a climate change? Is there a different sort of, you know, are you more on your toes, minding your P’s and Q’s? Like, what’s that? What is that like as your first deployment?

PULTRO: I think as a 21-year-old, you still feel like you’re invincible and I think you’re naive to the realities of the dangers that you could potentially face. So, I cannot recall a single time where I thought to myself, this could turn out bad, with the exception of one very specific situation. When we were out there, this situation, it kind of deeply impacted me just because the best friend I told you about who’s a Marine, he was deployed to Iraq at the time. So, he was in Iraq, I forget where he was. And as part of the VBSS team, obviously it’s our job to board and interdict …[7] that might be carrying contraband. And when we left Mayport, we left with USS Enterprise out of Norfolk, and then we were supposed to have a few other ships that came with us. James E. Williams was a destroyer on one of her ships. She wrapped a towing Houser around her screws and propellers on the way over. She had to turn back. And then once we got around, once we got through the Gulf of Aden, another ship that was with us, I forget which one it was, was sent south to Somalia. So, of a planned three ships together with the carrier, it was just us and Enterprise in the Persian Gulf. So, we got intelligence that this …[8] that was making its way north through the Gulf from Iran was loaded with vehicle-borne IEDs. And there’s no one else out there about us. So, they give us this intelligence and they say, hey guys, you know, this isn’t a cigarette boat. This thing has cars on it that are going up there to potentially, you know, blow up our Marines and soldiers up there. So, I thought a lot about my best friend during that time. And I mean, the 24 hours preceding the boarding, I think everybody, nobody wasn’t nervous. Nobody wasn’t scared because we knew what could potentially happen. So, we’re getting ready for this. We’re getting ready for this. We’re getting our gear together and boarding. And then, suddenly out of nowhere, this whole thing gets called off. All this build-up for nothing. I was never told why. I was never told what happened to it. But it was, that was the event that I think brought me out of my naive space into, hey, this is real. And then, you start to see things happen that you didn’t really see before. Like when fast boats would swarm around the ship before it used to just be fun and games. Like, look at these little mosquitoes get away. But then, then you kind of realize, like, hey, these guys could have bombs on board the ship, just like they did to Cole,[9] right? So, or, it was one time we had an Iranian P3 fly, maybe 100 feet over the bridge. I mean, it was so close, you could see the whites of the pilot’s eyes. And seeing that, I was like, well, this is real. They’re looking at us for a reason. And if someone makes a miscalculation, this could lead to something that we don’t want it to be. So, that initial boarding was a growing up period.

BROWN: Sure. So, you’re, you’re there out in the Persian Gulf, you’re supporting a mission. And now you’re coming back. Are you coming right back to Florida to get dry docked again? And, or what’s that, you know, next step look like? Well, we’re hitting a lot of good ports in the way home, which is awesome. Real quick, I just want to tell you this, because I’ve told this story to some elementary school kids and my kids love this story. We were doing a VBSS boarding one time. It was just one of those ones where we had an interpreter on the rib of us and we were going there to collect intel from Iranian fishermen. And in the Persian Gulf, we have these sea snakes, we’ve maybe seen pictures of them, they’re yellow and black and typically they’re shy and they stay away from everybody all the time. So, when you do a VBSS boarding, you have one small boat that’s doing the boarding and the other one is trailing in case anybody falls over the side. So, we’re out there doing three knots, maybe, just slowly cruising through the water. And we see this sea snake coming at us and it’s, it’s nothing. We just ignore them because they’re there all the time. This one somehow, some way, I’ll never know how, we see it. It’s coming in front of the boat. We don’t care. And then suddenly the front of its head shimmies up the front of the, the boat and falls into the rib. And you have six to eight guys that are in there, these big burly muscular guys who think they’re G.I. Joe. And I’m at towards the front as the boarding officer. And this is all here behind me. Splash, splash, splash, splash, splash, everybody falls over the side. And then this one guy who is in the back of the small boat FC2 guy, all I hear is him pull the charging handle of his M4. He’s prepared to shoot holes in our small boat to kill the sea snake. So, I told him to hold his fire and then another guy was with me, Lieutenant … [10] He was the …[11] on the ship. He just grabbed the thing and whipped it into water and got rid of it. But then, obviously, we had to circle around and pick up all these big burly men, who thought they were so hardcore, because they were afraid of sea snake that fell into the boat. So that was just one of the funnier, lighter moments of that deployment was that situation.

BROWN: Uh huh. Beware of the sea snake. Yeah. What are some of the ports you hit on your way back?

Why were they nice?

PULTRO: They were nice because when we left Mayport, we were supposed to pull into ports for roughly 30 days. But because there have been some rocket attacks in the area, specifically on USS Kearsarge and USS Whidbey Island, we didn’t pull into port for 72 straight days. I don’t know if you’ve ever been at sea for 72 straight days, but it is mentally challenging after a while.

BROWN: I’m sure.

PULTRO: And the sad part about it was, because I was a VBSS officer, if you’re underway for 45 straight days, you get a lot of beer, two beers after 45 days. But because I was a VBSS officer, I was off the ship. So, I didn’t get any beer on the day. Short straw, I know …[12] Hit Malta on the way back. On the way over hit Malaga, Spain. Malta was wonderful. But then after we hit Malta, we just went straight home. It was maybe 14-to-18-day jog. And that was because we were trying to get home for Christmas. I think we pulled into Malta, maybe like December 1st and stayed there for a handful of days and then we were getting home as quickly as possible so everybody could get home for leave.

BROWN: Sure. So, you’re back in Florida. You’re coming back home for leave. But obviously you still have some time left in the military. How much time left do you have in Florida? And do you know what your next duty station is going to be at this point?

PULTRO: I didn’t know yet. I was up for a new set of orders. I’ve always chosen, I’ve always ranked location before anything because I believe that location kind of helps build a positive attitude. So, no one wants to get stuck in Norfolk, Virginia on any kind of ship. So, I came up for my second set of orders and I was looking at San Diego, looking at Everett, WA, trying to go back to University of Washington where I missed out before, and then stayed in Mayport. And I wanted to be on a cruiser destroyer. When my orders came back, I was sent to a minesweeper in Ingleside, Texas.[13]

BROWN: None of those places.

PULTRO: None of those places. None of those ships.

BROWN: At least it wasn’t Norfolk though.

PULTRO: It was worse than Norfolk.

BROWN: So how big is the base in Texas and what is the mission of that base?

PULTRO: So, Ingleside, TX was a base that was a base opened on a drug deal from President George H.W. Bush. Obviously being from Texas, he wanted to flood money into the state. So, it was a Godsend that he did open it because when Hurricane Ivan and Hurricane Katrina happened, we had minesweepers in the Persian Gulf that could go assist in clearing shipping channels. But there was no strategic reason for it to be there other than pork barrel politics. Ingleside, TX, literally if you’ve seen the film Tombstone, is Tombstone, Arizona. There were tumbleweeds. There were javelinas that chased you when you ran. And many of the buildings were made of wood. And to drive to base, you would drive through the center of this town. You’d see their tumbleweed come across and then you’d go to a gate and there was nothing but open, arid land and then suddenly water. And that was the Bay of Galveston was right there. And that’s where the ships were stationed. A minesweeper is made of Christmas trees. It’s made of 224 feet of Douglas fir specifically built that way. So, if it goes over a magnetic mine, it will not detonate it. The ships were small. The ships were not as good in the water as other ships. So, my seasickness came back like a lion on that ship. It was bad enough to the point where it got into the routine where when the ship got underway, we have always have standard announcements over the one MC. Typically, the standard announcement is “Underway, shift colors.” And we changed the colors from the after part of the ship to the mast. On USS Defender, which was named “the Ship,” the underway routine was, “Underway, shift colors, Lieutenant Pultro, please report to medical.” So, I would get away from my underway station, go to medical. And the doc that was down there, HM1 manager would instead of giving me Dramamine would inject me with a needle of Dramamine. And I would go to sleep for 12 hours and not be on the launch bill until I woke up and there was a guarantee I was not going to be seasick. But that did not always work.

BROWN: And what about these ships? Is it just because they’re smaller that they’re rocky or?

PULTRO: Smaller, and they’re made of wood. If you drop a piece of steel into a bathtub, it’s going to sink a little bit. You drop a cork and a bathtub, it’s bouncing around. Those things were built like corks. So, but I do have to say that that tour was my favorite tour I’ve ever had in the Navy. Only because all the adversity that is associated with a mine sweep, you actually get to do your mission, which is hunt for mines and most ships don’t do that. So, a cruiser has all these missiles and guns, but how often do you fire those guns or missiles in actual aggression or in defense? The answer is pretty much never. But on the mine sweep, you’re actually putting the stuff in the water to search for things, which was really cool. And back then, the crews were all male crews. We’d be the exception of either the XO[14] or the CO,[15] just because the birthing couldn’t be configured to common-day females. And because no one cared about mine sweeps at the time or Ingleside, Texas, there was no oversight from any admirals. So, it was essentially like McHale’s Navy, but it was the wild west down there, literally, and figuratively. The mine sweeps played by their own rules. There was one time that the transom of the ship – the back of the ship – and all ships have their name on the back and typically there. Either the name is either painted black or a darker shade of gray. Well on the USS defender, the captain ordered that we paint the name of “Defender” in red, white and blue. Literally no rules, just break protocol, do whatever you want. It was an awesome experience. Unfortunately, a few years early, the littoral combat ship had come online, the program. They were supposed to replace the mine sweeps. But the program fell flat and by the time the program was coming online, they were intending to get rid of the mine sweeps. So, they laid them up in what’s called ROS, or reduced operating status. So, when I got to the ship, it hadn’t been underway in years. The engines were all picked apart for other ships. So, we had to spend time pointing them back together. And then President Bush at the time decided he was going to close his daddy’s project in Ingleside, Texas and all the mine sweeps were dispersed to either Bahrain, San Diego, or Japan. So about six months after I checked aboard the ship in Ingleside, Texas, we were told we were going to go live in Japan. So, the ship itself, they hired a heavy lift ship similar to what brought the Cole back from Yemen. And they put our ship on this heavy lift ship, took it through the Panama Canal and all the way to Sasebo, Japan. And I moved to Sasebo, Japan in April 2009.

BROWN: Is Sasebo, Japan, a little bit livelier than the base in Texas? A few more things to do there?

PULTRO: Sasebo, Japan was an incredible experience. Yeah. If you’re into fast pace, clubbing and bar hopping, Tokyo, where Yakuza is the place for you. If you’re into museums, reading books and relaxing, Sasebo is for you. And that’s my speed. So, Sasebo, it was amazing. I had done the Persian Gulf thing and I had seen the animosity because of all the years we’ve been there. But then you go to Japan. And even though we have a history of aggression towards each other, going back to the beginnings of World War II, the people that were there were they were so friendly and almost grateful for us to be there. And I just remember being shocked at how safe Sasebo was. So, you walk out into the Ginza, or the main Plaza of the town and after school got out, four- or five-year-olds walking a mile or two home by themselves. There’s nothing to worry about there. And it was clean, and everybody was so nice and generous. And I just I couldn’t believe that after my first experience on deployment that this was, you know, how we reviewed in a different part of the world. It was very refreshing. And it was an awesome time to be there.

BROWN: And how long were you there?

PULTRO: I was there for about a year. And after that, that’s when I came to Villanova.

BROWN: And so, were you doing any cruises out there when you’re in Japan?

PULTRO: Yeah, so we worked we worked hand in hand with the South Korean Navy a lot. They have a pretty mine sweep fleet, large in size and scale. Obviously, remnants from the Korean War, there’s still a lot of mines out there that relate. And at the threat of North Korea dropping mines, they have to have an extensive mine sweep fleet. So, we worked hand in hand a lot with them, and did a lot of exercise. Pulled in South Korea many, many, many times. And the South Korean ports we went to were probably my favorite port visits that I’ve ever had in the Navy. They were just wonderful. Spent a lot of time in Okinawa. And then because the draft of a mind sweep is so shallow, it’s only 12 feet, and we hadn’t had ships that small there since World War II, my ship was actually one of the first ships to start doing small island hopping, wave the flag visits to small islands around the southern coast of Japan, to we’ll call it “open” those ports back up again, that had been closed to US ships for so long. Kind of re-engaging in those, we’ll call them, I guess, political goodwill visits, where you interact with the folks in the town and show, hey, US Navy’s here to help you and new things. So, it was a wonderful time out there.

BROWN: And are you, what is your rank at this point?

PULTRO: I was lieutenant J.G.

BROWN: So, you said you’re coming to Villanova, is that something that you, again, are you choosing this the location that you’re wanting to?

PULTRO: Absolutely.

BROWN: And so, you’re up for orders and so you got the short straw by going to Texas, are you getting the better straw when you’re coming to Villanova?

PULTRO: So, at the time, the orders I got to the mind sweep were called “zero, zero, zero orders,” meaning you didn’t get anything you wanted in location, you didn’t get anything you wanted on ship, and you didn’t get anything you wanted on job. So, if you had that happen to you back at that time, it was considered a silver bullet. So as a thank you, they essentially would send you anywhere you want. Little did the Navy know that I love that tour so much, they didn’t need to thank me, I was thanking them. But yes, I said I want to be an ROTC instructor because I love my time in Auburn. What do you got? And ironically, when I was up for orders, there was a position in Auburn open and I considered taking it, but I knew I knew the experience just wouldn’t be the same. And I was from here, I had been away from my family at, by that point, for eight years. I wanted to come back home. So, when they offered me the job, it was a no brainer. The only thing I had to cross my fingers and praying on was that Father Peter would accept my GPA from Auburn as an instructor here at this fine institution.

BROWN: [laughs] And clearly, he did.

PULTRO: He did. Yes.

BROWN: So, you get here what year is that?

PULTRO: I arrived here in February 2010.

BROWN: And it’s a what, a three-year tour?

PULTRO: It was two years, but I think 12 hours into my tour, I extended for a third year.

BROWN: Okay. And so, you get here on campus, talk to me about your midshipmen, talk to me about some of the lessons that you learned. Did you implement shower shoot training into the lesson plan every day? Did you talk about seasickness? And what are some of the things that you took from your lessons and brought it into? Because when we first started, you were saying, “I quickly learned that what there was learning in ROTC was not applying to being on a shipyard.” So, I think hearing that, I think you could, you’re taking some of those lessons learned in a practical way, applying them to the students.

PULTRO: Yeah, absolutely. Going back to the hygiene thing real quick, there was a young ensign[16] on the mine sweep who, for some reason, refused to clip his toenails. And it got bad enough – he worked for me – it got bad enough to where, about every 20 days, that the corpsman on the ship would have to pull his big toenail out. I know, I see you cringing. The XO ordered that every Friday afternoon, me – I was the operations officer – me and the chief engineer, who was lieutenant, who just happened to be an instructor of mine in Auburn. So, he was yelling at me at Auburn and then we were serving together in the mine sweep. He and I had to observe this young ensign, clip his toenails every Friday before he was allowed to leave the ship for liberty. That’s how bad it got. And I’m saying that because, you know, when you’re in ROTC, you’re learning navigation and seamanship and leadership in ethics, enable engineering, and those things are important. But those are also things that you get taught again when you get out to the fleet, right? I didn’t know everything there was to know about a 20, a LM2500 gas turbine engine before I went to USS Gettysburg. I read the book, I passed a test, but until you put your hands on it, you don’t really understand it. But the little things that I don’t think we focused on as much I wanted to focus on here. Like that first impression when you step in front of your division, is your uniform actually squared away? Is your dig line straight? Are your shoes polished? Are your toenails clipped? Is your hair combed? Are you shaved properly? And I think when I first showed up, a lot of folks here were put off by the fact of, why is he so focused on these things that don’t matter? And I tried to explain why these things matter and how they could be a detriment if they didn’t matter now once I got out to the fleet. So, when I got here, I was made the senior advisor, the battalion advisor, and I was teaching leadership in ethics as well as naval operations. And I did that side by side with the colonel here for three years.

BROWN: And who was the colonel?

PULTRO: My first colonel was Brian Mathy. He was an infantry officer. He was only here for the first few months that I was here. And then the gentleman that I have for majority of my time here was a guy named Colonel Stephen Markiaro, who is a Marine Jack officer.

BROWN: And so what is, you know, you’ve gone through ROTC and now you’re an instructor. What’s, you know, what are some of the things that you notice and differences between you being a student and now you’re teaching students? Anything? Any difference?

PULTRO: It’s interesting being on the other side of the coin. And it’s interesting to believe – it’s interesting to have things that are important as an instructor that you didn’t care about as a midshipman. Again, those little, those little – so anybody can show up to a ship and have bars on their collar and kind of look the part. But I personally believe it’s those details, that attention and detail that will set you apart from the pack. And that is truly one of the things that I wanted to focus on during my time here. And I believe that that was something that wasn’t happening when I initially showed up. And thankfully when I showed up, there were two or three other folks that came in right around the same time of me, where the kind of the old guard was moving out, including the colonel, and there was a new guard coming in, and a majority of them were on board with these rigor changes, we’ll call them, to help these students get better in a practical sense as they went out to the fleet.

BROWN: Sure. And coming to Villanova, I know there’s, you know, a lot of tradition with the school here and how it sends out flag officers, etc. Do you understand that? Is there like coming in as a new instructor? Was that sort of introduced to you? What is the culture like here as a, from a naval ROTC unit, comparatively to Auburn? Is the exact same thing? Is it a little bit different?

PULTRO: I think growing up in the area, I was a bit biased. So as a kid, I was born and raised a Penn fan. And my father would take me to the Palestra[17] all the time and we watched basketball games. And out of all the big five schools, I hated Villanova the most. So of course, I wanted the opportunity to go to Villanova. So, I think when I got here, I had this impression of what Villanova would be like. And that quickly changed. When, I guess coming to an ROTC above the Mason Dixon line, after what I experienced, I didn’t expect it to be as warm and welcoming as it was. When I got to John Berry and was able to read and understand the history of how the Navy saved Villanova from closing in World War II, and then seeing how warm the welcome was from the students and the faculty on campus to not only the midshipmen, but I was at that time taking graduate classes. And the instructors I had here were extremely welcoming and excited to have a veteran in their classes that can impart some real-world experience amongst some of the younger students that were there. And I was just completely blown away at the attitudes of folks towards the ROTC here, because I would actually say in some sense, it was more welcoming and more inviting than I was at Auburn. Just because at Auburn, there’s 25,000 people. At Villanova, you have six. So, it’s more of a community, more of a family here, and the ROTC historically has played a big role, continues to do that to this day.

BROWN: What are some of the moments that stick out to you as an instructor? Some of the things that stick in your brain is being memorable on your time here as a naval science instructor.

PULTRO: That’s a really tough question to answer. I think the highlight of my time here, it’s a personal achievement, and I don’t want talking about a personal achievement to come off as braggadocious. But as I said a little bit ago, when I first came here, the students, the midshipmen, as well as the staff were apprehensive about why is he focused on these things that we don’t think matter? And I’m sure I was viewed as a disciplinarian when I first got here. Over time, I think with the consistency that I tried to display, the students understood that I was doing this from a good place. And I had been teaching leadership and ethics to the seniors for three years. And in the, my final semester in the spring of 2013, someone that I have no idea who nominated me for the junior faculty award for excellence in teaching. And I have no idea what the criteria are, but somehow, I want it. And it was a validation of what I tried to do, what I tried to establish for the previous three years. Like they understood it, they got it. And it all came together. And I got to be honest, there’s times I still go to that web page. And I see Dr., Dr., Dr., Lieutenant, Dr., Dr., Dr., Dr. And, you know, it feels good to know you made that much of an impact that they would go out of the way to do that. And then have Father Peter agree with it.

BROWN: Sure. So, it sounds like Father Peter keeps accepting you.

PULTRO: [laughs] Well, he – I met my wife while I was at Villanova. Put on the record, she wasn’t a student at Villanova. She was a teacher up at CB West, my old high school. But he was the one who did our pre-marriage counseling. He’s baptized all my children. I don’t think he was biased in his selection. I think it was an unbiased thing. But I am still happy that he thought of me in such a positive way that he would accept me.

BROWN: Well, he is a good man, yes. So, you’re here, you’re ending your time, you’re sort of leaving your mark, I would say. You know, you’re, you’re walking away. Is your time in the Navy done? A lot of times I hear rumors of ROTC is sort of a, you know, sending off gig. That’s not necessarily always true. But you know, what’s the rest of your Navy life look like post-Villanova?

PULTRO: So, as a service worker officer, when you come to Villanova, because the university is generous enough to treat you as faculty, they pay for your master’s degree. So, one of the stipulations for coming to Villanova’s instructor is, as a service worker officer, you have to give three more years afterwards. So, before I showed up here, I signed what’s called service warfare officer continuation pay. So, I knew when I left here, I’d be going back to …[18] department head. So, we had commissioning in May of 2013. My first son was born May 6th of 2013. And then July of 2013, I said goodbye to my three-month-old and my wife, and I moved to Newport Island to go to the department head school up there for six months. And I knew when I arrived there, I was going to be the operations officer on USS Arleigh Burke. So that started my time after Villanova.

PULTRO: What does it feel like leaving your three-month-old at home?

PULTRO: You know, there’s a lot of tears. It was hard. Obviously, being a new father, I wanted to be there to help my wife because obviously she had no idea what she was doing either. We were both going through this together. But obviously, the needs of all the same in the name of the Navy trump family life. And as every gunnery in the world has ever said, your family wasn’t issued in your seabag. So, I went up to Newport. People when I was there, we had weekends off. I would drive from Newport back to Doylestown every weekend. So five hours Friday night, five hours Sunday night. And then after that, I got sent to Dahlgren, Virginia for two months to go to Aegis school to learn how to learn the specifics of the Aegis weapon system[19] and how to be a tactical action officer on the ship, which later on in that tour certainly paid dividends. So, I left Villanova in July of 2013. And I was deployed away from my family until December of 2015. It was about two and a half years that I lived apart from them while I was doing the whole department head thing.

BROWN: Sure. So that’s tough, you know, tough for you. It’s tough for your family. But like you said, the Navy needs trump what the family needs at times. So, you’re, you know, you’re going on another deployment I hear. What ship are you on? Where were you going?

PULTRO: I was on the destroyer USS Arleigh Burke. They had deployed in February of 2014. And we were staying out until October. It was a 10-month deployment. I was still in my schooling track when they deployed. So, after Dahlgren, Virginia, I had about a week of leave. And in May, I got on a cod flight from Baltimore to the Azores to Naples to Greece and went out to Bahrain. Landed in Bahrain. Somebody from the ship met me, came aboard the ship at the end of May and was out there in the Persian Gulf again for a second time for another eight months.

BROWN: And if your experience this time in the Persian Gulf similar to the first time? Or is it wildly different?

PULTRO: Wildly different. You have that experience under your belt where you know what to expect. And I think, I think having a wife and a child back home open your eyes up, I mean, to the actual dangers of being out there. The political climate has changed a little bit. So, this is post-Osama bin Laden being killed. And then while we were out there, as you’ll recall, out of nowhere, literally out of a mirage of sand comes ISIS. And suddenly they own two thirds of Iraq and Syria. That happened, I think in July of 2014. And that shifted our focus completely from what we were doing originally, which was ballistic missile defense into kind of, hey, are we going to have to take action against these guys? Because their windmill across the desert was so swift and quick that, I mean, everybody’s focus completely changed to that mission.

BROWN: Interesting. So, it’s a lot different. You’re out there for a little bit longer and you’re in a different role too on the ship. Is that correct? So, what’s that like?

PULTRO: So, I was the operations officer. So, my first time out there, I was in charge of the division of 30. Now as the operations officer, I’m in charge of about 70 people, which encompass three different divisions. So, I have junior officers under me, chiefs under me, and now I’m running an entire department. I’m reporting directly to the academy and the XO. So, as a junior officer, as an ensign, you think, wow, I don’t know how these guys do it. But I think age, maturity, and schooling allow you to handle it. It was difficult, but it wasn’t the insurmountable task that I thought it would be when I originally went out there. And again, I think time changed that. Even our interactions with the Iranians, either they had changed, or I viewed them in a different light. I was telling you earlier about the P3 and the small boats that were swarming the ship. When I was out there, it seemed like every other day, we were working hand in hand with the Iranians to help them do things. And the CO I had on that ship; her name was Camille Flattery. She was a Navy nuclear officer. She’s the best CO I ever had. She, I think, understood the political game of showing the flag and would attempt to interact with the Iranians more than others. So, we got a distress call one night from some Iranian pearl divers. They were diving somewhere off Farsi Island. And one of the divers went down and never came back up. And we heard the distress call. We went to help search and an Iranian Coast Guard vessel came out too. And we’re both out there coordinating trying to search. And we unfortunately we never found the guy. But the Iranian Coast Guard vessel ran out of fuel while they were out there because it was it was a small, small boat, maybe like 80 feet. So, they literally – the ship pulled alongside of us tied up. Think about it: a US ship and an Iranian ship, mortal enemies, tied-up, side by side in the Persian Gulf. We gave them fuel. Our doctor went on board and checked them out and made sure they were okay. They gave our sailors that went on board their little vessel food and let them come aboard and tour it. And this is the top level here is the bombastic rhetoric from the leaders of all these countries. But this was these were humans interacting as humans. These guys needed help. We were willing to help them. And my when I was here, my master’s degree from Villanova’s in political science. And there was a focus on international relations. And I took like four classes with a professor named Dr. Warwick and her specialty was Middle East stuff. So, imparting what I was taught at Villanova to this, it just seemed like this is not what you originally would think two mortal enemies would interact like. But that experience, aside from one that happened a little bit later in that deployment was the best experience I’ve ever had made, just saying that we could work together with these guys, and we shared common ground as human beings.

BROWN: That’s great. It’s like restoring some faith in humanity if you will. So, you’re done with that deployment. You accomplished some good things and –

PULTRO: I wasn’t done yet.

BROWN: No, you’re not?

PULTRO: So, the whole ISIS thing is happening. We finally get released from our duties in the Persian Gulf and we’re headed back home. And we get the order from the president that he’s going to start his war against ISIS.

BROWN: What year is this?

PULTRO: This is September 2014. And the watch rotations on USS Arleigh Burke, we had enough tactical action officers qualified to where we only had to stand three-hour watches, whereas most people would be on a six-hour watch. So, we got the call one night, we’re in the Red Sea, and we were told go to the launch basket, we’re gonna take out some targets. It’s time, they’ve taken enough territory. By the grace of God, the launch window was at 2:30 a.m. I go on watch it 2 a.m. So, sitting in the TAO[20] chair, we’ve already been given the order. We have to be a specific launch basket, which is a very small window where the missiles have to leave the ship from, so that other agencies can take them over and get them to the target. So, it’s the night of September 24th, 2014. Us and Philippine Sea, who was still in the Persian Gulf, were the two shooters that night. And I was telling you about the captain, Captain Flattery, she just has a way with words. So, we got the order to execute the firing mission. She comes over and she says, “Brian, I want you to know, there’s two people on planet Earth tonight that are firing Tomahawk missiles out of seven billion and you’re one of them.” So, she tells me to turn the key and I turn the key. And then I give the order over to Tomahawk, which is a certain side of combat to start firing. And you do these firing simulations while you’re in Dahlgren to prepare yourself. But I think the one thing, if I could submit an after-action report that they don’t prepare you for, is the amount of just incredible noise these things generate as they’re coming out. There’s a piece of paper in front of you where you’re supposed to keep track of what missiles left what cells. As soon as the first missile started going, I crumpled that piece of paper up and threw it over the side because the guys on the bridge who are screaming at you, what cell came out of, and what missile was. You can’t hear them. All it was [makes missile sounds] every 10 seconds. And these things were roaring like an Apollo rocket was going. So, we fired 30 missiles that night. All of them hit their targets. That was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever gotten to do. Because like I was saying on the mind sweep, we actually get to do the mission while we got to do the mission on this ship. And then from there we made our way to Rome, Italy. My cousin, who was raised right down the street from me was like a brother to me, happened to be studying abroad in Rome so I could spend a few days with him on my way home. And then we again headed back across the Atlantic. And I came home to my wife who was pregnant with her second child at the time. And I had no idea what the sex of the baby was. So, she revealed that to me on the pier right there when I got back.

BROWN: That was nice.

PULTRO: Yeah, it was a good surprise.

BROWN: A memorable moment.

PULTRO: Absolutely. And that was the end of that deployment.

BROWN: So, looking back at that deployment, other than being able to do what you’re trained to do, what are some of the lessons that you took back from that? Other than, I mean, I hear your CO that was impactable, what are some of the other things that you learned? You know, because this is the first time other than clearing some mines, where you’re actually like doing Navy stuff, you know?

PULTRO: I actually think the major impact on me was not so much the operational stuff. But again, as a young ensign who knows nothing, you’re focused on the wrong things, I think. And having a child and being married before I went out for that deployment, my focus obviously was on the mission. But everybody who served with me, they have their own personal issues that they’re dealing with. So, getting – understanding the need to be empathetic and get to know folks that are serving with you was something I genuinely tried to do during my time there as operations officer. And the impactful stories that they would tell me like my chief …[21] at the time, he struggled with alcohol and drugs when he was younger and he still had that itch, even though he was in the Navy and he was incredible …[22] he lost two fingers in an accident when he was just in the Navy. Different stories from different folks about where they came from, the walks of life. I think as a department head, because you’re not so busy getting qualified and trying to impress the captain and you take the time to do the things that really matter, which is sitting and actually engaging with your folks. And the time out there. I remember one chief; I learned what he fed his chickens all the time. And that was just something that sticks out to me. So just getting able to, being able to really, truly get to know folks was I think the most rewarding part of that experience when I was out there.

BROWN: So, you get back here, you’re at the ports. What is the sex of that second baby?

PULTRO: It was a boy.

BROWN: So, two boys.

PULTRO: I have three boys now.

BROWN: Uh huh.

PULTRO: Yeah. So yes, it was a boy. I was very happy to hear that.

BROWN: And where is this? What port is this?

PULTRO: Unfortunately, it’s Norfolk.

BROWN: [laughs] All roads lead there, right?

PULTRO: All roads do lead there. Actually, Norfolk turned out to be better than I thought it would be. One of my best friends from college worked at Huntington Eagle shipbuilding there. So, I got to spend a lot of time with him, and I hadn’t seen him in a while. Once I got back, I knew it was time for me to get out of the Navy, just because soon I was going to have two boys, a wife, and I was living in Norfolk, and they were living up here in the suburbs of Philadelphia. The ship itself was scheduled to dry dock for a year to be modernized. It’s the first in its class. USS Arleigh Burke is DDG 51, so it was going to be in the shipyard for a year. We were not going to do anything. And nothing good comes out of a shipyard. So, I decided it was, it was time to hang it up at that time. So, I left USS Arleigh Burke in November 2015 and finally came back home.

BROWN: And now you’re back home. Are you completely out of the Navy? Are you doing Navy reserve? Are you regretting your decisions? Like what’s, you know, what are you doing back in Doylestown?

PULTRO: So, I got out of the Navy, and because when you come off of sea duty, the Navy Reserve gives you a two-year deferment. I said, well, it’s free money. Why not? So, I joined the Navy Reserve, and I said, alright, two years and I’m out of here. I trained and got my certification to be a financial planner. My uncle, who is in our business with me; he’s been doing this since 1987. So, he took me under his wing, and he was my mentor, and things were great. And I remember one day, towards the end of my deferment, which was December of 2017, we were casually having a conversation. And I told him, yeah, it’s coming close to the end of my time. I’m going to get out of the Navy. Are we allowed to use foul language here?

BROWN: Sure.

PULTRO: Okay. I said I’m going to get out. And he said, and I’m quoting, “If you get out, you’re a fucking idiot” And he said this as he’s walking out the door, and I don’t know why, because he does that stuff to me all the time. And it just resonated with me. And I said, 13, 12 years, 13 years, seven more years to retirement with pension. I said, maybe he’s right about this. So, my deferment ended. And about two weeks later, I got mobilized to Tampa to go to CENTCOM[23] to be a strategic planner for operations against Iran. So, I had just opened my financial planning business, done all the studying, built my client base. I get handed orders in December of 2017 that in July of 2018, you’re going to be gone for another year. The best decision I ever made to stay in. That the mobilization down to CENTCOM is just such a different world from being operational. Now you’re, even though you’re behind the scenes, you’re seeing, well, like, when we shot the missiles on Arleigh Burke. Like all the planning and the geopolitical consequences and the things you think about that go into the president giving order like that, that’s what I was doing. And it was just so fascinating. I had never seen that side of the military before. I had never worked hand in hand with Marines and folks from the Air Force in the Army in a joint environment. And it was an extremely, extremely rewarding tour just to see a completely different side of it. And the fact that we planned a lot with our allied partners. So, I had the opportunity to travel to London and go to their joint headquarters out there to help plan operations with them. I went to Qatar and spent a lot of time in Washington at the State Department at the Pentagon, just pitching these plans, refining these plans that in case something ever did happen, we would have them running on the shelf. And as you know, in May of 2019, it was Iranian shot down that MQ 9 drone. And we had these plans on the shelf that got briefed to the president. And it was rewarding to know that the stuff we had worked on while I was down there, actually was put to use and at least gave the president some options in his response.

BROWN: Yeah, it’s interesting. You’re seeing the Navy. And then from this side, you’re seeing the Big Navy, you know –

PULTRO: The military, in general.

BROWN: Totally different perspective. And now we’re here. We are in the present day. You’re still in the reserves.

PULTRO: Solar reserves. I think today’s March 12th. I was up for my first look for commander 05 on March 3rd. The board met in Millington for that. I’ll find out if I get promoted to commander on June 1st. I’ve been in 14 years now, total service. Still have six more to go till I get that paycheck that my uncle so eloquently reminded me about. Now I am kind of doing RTC for a third time. My reserve job now is at a place called officer training command in Newport, Rhode Island. When I lived in Newport, Rhode Island, I fell in love with it. And this is the only job in the reserves I would have taken that would cause me to drive five hours again. My original reserve unit was in Fort Dix, New Jersey, which is only a 40-minute drive from my house. But when this job came open, I jumped the opportunity. And now I go up there four times a year for about eight days at a time. And I get to teach newest session Navy officers who were coming in to be dentists, doctors, and lawyers. So last time I was up there, the oldest gentleman in the class was 62 years old. He was a newly commissioned lieutenant commander, and the youngest guy was 21 years old. But I’m doing the same thing I did, John Barry Hall, which we can see out the window here, which is teaching them how to be in the Navy. So, it’s come full circle three times for me. It seems like every few years I get the opportunity to do what I originally set out to do when I set out for my political science degree was teach. Instead of teaching US history, I’m teaching –


PULTRO: US Navy! To, you know, teenagers as well as 62-year-old dentists.

BROWN: Right.


BROWN: That’s good. So, I think, you know, in hearing your story, the story that I hear is a varied story where you have, from the first steps of learning about the Navy and what that looks like, taking your first tour, being pulled out and then teaching it from the other side, and then going out on another deployment. So, it’s almost like you’re learning and doing, and learning and doing, and each time, it’s opening different perspectives for you, which is an interesting piece. It’s not – not everyone I think gets to see those sides of the Navy. So, that’s interesting. So, the questions I have for you are: What, if a young man or young woman approached you today and said, “Hey, I’m considering joining the Navy,” or “I think I want to join the military.” What would you tell that person?

PULTRO: I would tell them to join the Air Force.

BROWN Alright.

PULTRO: No, I’m only partially joking, but as you know, the old adage goes in the Air Force. They get money to build a base. They build the housing first. They make it five-star, then they go to Congress and say, “Hey, guys, sorry, we’ve run out of money for the runway. We need more.” So, the accommodation with the Air Force, they’re obviously great. I would say that the biggest draw for the Navy is you genuinely had the opportunity to see the world. So, I always tell folks, uh, when they consider joining the service, well, “I want to be in the army.” “I want to be in the Marine Corps.” I say, guys, you’re going to get on a plane. You’re going to fly over the world and you’re going to get to the desert, wherever you’re going. But in the Navy, you have to stop at some point to take on fuel and food.

BROWN: Right.

PULTRO: And seeing the world and being on your own out there in the ocean independently. I’m sure you’ve heard that a captain of a ship in the Navy is the world’s last true monarchy because he or she always has complete and total control over that ship. Just a completely different experience to be out there on your own, operating by yourself, pulling in these different ports around the world. And there’s always been this draw of me to be out in the open ocean. Some folks like it. Some folks, you know, if they took a canoe off the shore of a lake, they’d freak out after five feet. But what the Navy brings to the table in terms of adventure and freedom, I think, is the biggest draw of all the services.

BROWN: Sure. Well, thank you for coming in today. I appreciate hearing your story. I think it was very compelling, very interesting. Sounds like you have a few years left before you receive that paycheck. But you’re also up against getting a promotion. So good luck with that.

PULTRO: Thank you very much.

BROWN: Wish you the best. And I’m sure we’ll cross paths again very soon.

PULTRO: Appreciate it. Thank you.

BROWN (OUTRO): That concludes this installment of the Voices of Villanova’s Veterans, a joint project of the Villanova University Office of Veterans and Military Service Members, and Falvey Memorial Library’s Distinctive Collections and Digital Engagement Departments. Thank you for listening. For more information and to listen to more interviews, please visit us online at


[1] USS Roosevelt (DDG-80) is an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer in service with the United States Navy.

[2] JP-5 (jet propellant-5): kerosene-based fuels used in military aircraft.

[3] USS Kennedy was decommissioned in Mayport, Florida on 23 March 2007. The ship’s unique in-port cabin, which was decorated by Jacqueline Kennedy with wood paneling, oil paintings, and rare artifacts, was disassembled, to be rebuilt at the National Museum of Naval Aviation at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida.

[4] Unknown phrase. Best guess: Andrew Bonderud.

[5] Lieutenant JG: Lieutenant Junior Grade

[6] Unknown phrase. Best guess: IT2 Weathers.

[7] Inaudible phrase.

[8] Inaudible phrase.

[9] The USS Cole bombing was a suicide attack by the terrorist group al-Qaeda against USS Cole, a guided missile destroyer of the United States Navy, on 12 October 2000, while she was being refueled in Yemen’s Aden harbor

[10] Unknown phrase. Best guess: Todd Lumsford.

[11] Inaudible phrase.

[12] Inaudible phrase.

[13] A minesweeper is a small warship designed to remove or detonate naval mines. Using various mechanisms intended to counter the threat posed by naval mines, minesweepers keep waterways clear for safe shipping.

[14] XO: Executive Officer.

[15] CO: Commanding Officer.

[16] Ensign: a junior rank of a commissioned officer in the armed forces of some countries, normally in the infantry or navy.

[17] The Palestra, often called the Cathedral of College Basketball, is a historic arena and the home gym of the Penn Quakers men’s and women’s basketball teams, volleyball teams, wrestling team, and Philadelphia Big 5 basketball.

[18] Inaudible phrase.

[19] The Aegis Combat System is an American integrated naval weapons system developed by the Missile and Surface Radar Division of RCA, and it is now produced by Lockheed Martin.

[20] TAO: Tactical Action Officer.

[21] Unknown phrase. Best guess: boatmate.

[22] Unknown phrase. Best guess: boatmate.

[23] CENTCOM: The United States Central Command is one of the eleven unified combatant commands of the U.S. Department of Defense.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *