Name: Chris Corgnati
Military Branch & Rank: US Navy, Captian
Dates of Service: May 1990 – May 2015
Villanova Degree: B.S., Business Administration, 1990
Date of Interview: January 14, 2020
Interviewer: Michael D. Brown
Audio Producer: Laura Bang
Length of Interview: 57 minutes
Transcribed by: Nicholas Coscarelli
Edited and annotated by: Meg Piorko
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. Today is Tuesday, January 14th. 2020 is the year, and we are at Falvey Library today. I am joined by Chris, who is a Navy veteran who graduated from the Naval ROTC program here in the 90s.
CHRIS CORGNATI: 1990.
BROWN: And we’re going to talk a little bit about his time in the service, his time at Villanova, and his time after the service. And so, Chris, if you could, please tell us a little bit about yourself, where and when you were born, and we’ll go from there.
CORGNATI: Sure. If I get too far off track, you can steer me back to what you’re looking for. So, born 1968 in Brunswick, Maine. The Naval Air Station up in Brunswick, which unfortunately is no longer there. My dad flew P-2’s and P-3’s in the Navy, so I was born into a Navy family and spent, I guess, a couple years up there initially. I lived kind of all over the place. Let’s see if I can remember all of them. Rhode Island, Maryland, California, Hawaii, Bermuda, Pennsylvania, Maine, and then Virginia – I think that’s all of them – through the course of growing up. And it was overseas in Bermuda, just freshman, sophomore, junior in high school, and then graduated from Robinson High School in Fairfax, Virginia, back in ‘86.
BROWN: And what was, of all those locations, which one was your favorite?
CORGNATI: I was definitely Bermuda. Yes, I was old enough to be able to enjoy it.
CORGNATI: And I would not recommend letting your high school kids live there.
BROWN: And have you been back to Bermuda since then?
CORGNATI: I have been. I’ve been back twice. But the last time I was back was, I think, gosh, like ‘94 or ‘95. So, it’s been a while.
BROWN: And during that time growing up, do you have any brothers and sisters?
CORGNATI: I do. Two sisters, one older, one younger.
BROWN: Okay. And the time when you started to think, “the military is where I want to go.” When was that sort of, you know, in the forefront of your brain? Was it like, “I’m not going to do what my dad did,” or from when you remembered I’m going to be?
CORGNATI: Yeah, I don’t know that I had sort of an “aha” moment. I was certainly open to the idea; I grew up rounded. I knew it. I understood the culture and the sacrifice, and what it was going to take to sort of do that if I wanted to stay with it. But quite honestly, I joined ROTC. Truth be told for the scholarship, because I probably couldn’t have gotten into Villanova without it financially. So, it was a way for me to go to a school that I wanted to go to. And then going into the Navy was part of the package deal. And every time throughout my career, I had an opportunity to get out. I sat down with my wife and we kind of did pros and cons and said, what do we want to do? And 25 years later, and we’re like, Oh, God, what are we still doing here? It’s time to leave. So, yeah, it was never a conscious decision of, you know, I’ve always wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps, although that was, you know, sure in the back of my mind. But it was, it was more of an evolutionary thing. I think then.
BROWN: Sure. And what made Villanova so attractive to you?
CORGNATI: So, my mom grew up in, well, … in the Redding area. So, I related to like half the people in Eastern Pennsylvania. A huge family, so that’s part of it. When I was in junior high school, we lived in New Britain, outside of Doylestown. Because my dad was at the Naval Air Development Center in warm and stir at the time, another great Navy base that’s closed, unfortunately. So, I had a lot of ties to the area. And so, when we were overseas, it kind of went back to when I started thinking about where I wanted to go to school as I went back. And so, the three places I actually applied was Penn State, Villanova, and the Naval Academy. And I was lucky enough to have some choices and chose Villanova.
BROWN: Okay. And then, talk to me about your time at Villanova. What were some of your fondest memories?
CORGNATI: It was, I mean, a lot of, you sort of remember some of the social stuff more than the academic it stands out, I guess, in your mind, you know, going to basketball games and being with the guys. But the ROTC part of it, I think, was huge. I still keep in touch with a lot of those guys, one of the guys that I went through ROTC that I met the first day I was here was the best man in our wedding. And we still keep in touch. So, those ties were important. But the ROTC unit did a really good job of sort of getting you ready and getting you in the mindset to go into the Navy without it being, you know, like going to the Academy or going to, you know, you know, 24/7 kind of in your face. They did a really good job of making sure you need you know what you needed to do. And but you were still part of the student body. You weren’t separated anyway. We were fully integrated, and the school supported us in every way we could ever hope for. So, you know, between having the John Berry Hall right there in the middle of the campus. And we were, you know, we used to go work out in the Pavilion. We used to go around the stairs in the stadium. We’d swim and do our swim quals over at St. Mary’s. So, we had, we had very good support from the school. So, a lot of good, a lot of good members were there.
BROWN: Who was your commanding officer? Do you remember?
CORGNATI: Oh gosh, I should know this because he was actually a friend of my parents. I’m going to get in trouble for not knowing that. It’ll come to me while I’m driving.
BROWN: All right. Yes. You can call me. Call me back.
CORGNATI: First thing was Charlie. What was his last name?
BROWN: Was he a Marine or a Navy?
CORGNATI: He was Navy. He was Navy. And yeah, she lived and used to come back and forth from Virginia. And my mom was still down there. So, he used to give me rides home on the weekend. And we weren’t allowed to tell any of the other … a little bit awkward.
BROWN: Yeah, right. And what was your major here?
CORGNATI: So where did I start or where did I finish?
BROWN: Talk to me about it, yeah.
CORGNATI: I started out in mechanical engineering. I actually really enjoyed it. I was probably mediocre at it. But it was super interesting. And I got to the end of my sophomore year and said, well, I’m going into the Navy anyway. Do I really need an engineering degree? There may be some more fun at the other end of campus. And this whole Bartley Hall thing was very intriguing to me at the time. So, I switched to business, and I ended up graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a concentration in ops research.
BROWN: Okay. So that was a better fit for you than it was. Mechanical engineering, more like a hobby.
CORGNATI: I ran into the wall of differential equations, that didn’t go well.
BROWN: Sure. Yeah. And talk to me about the process of, you know, about to get commissioned, and what you wanted to do in the Navy, and your choices and what you ended up doing in the Navy.
CORGNATI: So yeah, I definitely wanted to fly. And Villanova had a great track record of getting guys into flight school for whatever reason. We had a lot of, when I got down to flight school and I got out to fleet, there were a lot of Villanova guys that went into aviation. So that was, you know, it’s all sort of grade based. And I did well enough that I was able to get my, my first choice. So, I headed down to Pensacola in, I guess it was June of 1990.
BROWN: And what’s flight school like? For folks who haven’t gone through flight school.
CORGNATI: A lot of academics, a lot of physical testing. You go down and that’s where you learn that you never admit to any physical ailment to a flight surgeon because it means you’re going to get bumped back a class, or something’s wrong with you and you’re not going to be able to fly. And so, you go down there and play that game and get made through all that. And the basic training was in Pensacola. So, I was a naval flight officer. So, you have pilots who were driving the airplane, naval flight officers in the back doing weapons and tactics and radios and, and a bunch of other stuff in the airplane.
BROWN: So, what kind of airplanes are you flying at this point during training?
CORGNATI: In training, there was the old T-34’s for us. It’s a two-seat turbo prop, really nothing but radios and some basic navigation in an engine. It’s just basic learning how to fly, that kinds of stuff. And then see, and before we made the transition, so when you go down there, you’re in a basic pool and everybody’s, you’re either a pilot or a naval flight officer, but you don’t know what platform you’re going into. So, you go through and then they rack and stack everybody and then they come in and say, okay, this community – whether it’s helicopters or P-3’s or jets or whatever at the time has got the biggest shortfall. So, we’re going to grab the top 10 guys from this class and put them here. So, you have a desire to go somewhere, but it’s not necessarily – you’re certainly not guaranteed, at least to guarantee the number one person in every class their first choice. So, I ended up number two in my class.
BROWN: Of course.
CORGNATI: But I did get my first choice.
BROWN: Okay, good.
CORGNATI: So, I was lucky. The fraction of a point was so close. So, I wanted to go P-3’s. I was torn between P-3’s and A-6’s at the time, just because I love the mission of the A-6 and they were all over the news back in the late ‘80s.
BROWN: Talk to me about, what does that mean for someone who’s never –
CORGNATI: Sorry, the A6 is a two-seat carrier base strategic and tactical bomber that it carried an unbelievable amount of weapons for the size it was. It was an old normal product, but it was the primary Navy’s strike aircraft at the time, taking off of carriers.
BROWN: Compare that to the P-3 which you ended up flying.
CORGNATI: P-3, non-carrier based, much larger four engines, 12 people in the back at the time. All maritime looking for ships and submarines and then also we got into the overland surveillance and intelligence business big time back in the in the ‘90s. It started with the Balkans and hasn’t stopped since then.
BROWN: And what is the, when you go back to flight school, what’s the dropout rate? What’s the success rate of flight school? Is everyone who gets down there?
CORGNATI: It’s really cyclical, you know, and people will tell you it’s not driven by supply and demand, but it is. When the demand goes down and the supply is high, they’re much more selective. But I mean rough numbers, I think it’s in the 10 to 25% dropout rate. From memory, so don’t quote me on that.
BROWN: Okay. So, you make it, you pass flight school, you get your choice, which is P-3. So, what’s next?
CORGNATI: The next we go to May the Air Force Base, which is outside of Sacramento, and they had a joint training program for long-range overwater navigation with the Air Force. So, the Air Force flies a lot of big airplanes over water for long periods of time, much like the P-3 does. So, instead of the Navy standing up on their own, we would just go and train those guys for like four months. That was applying a modified 737, which just had a bunch of navigation stuff where we learned inertial navigation, some GPS, which was really early in its stages back then, and celestial navigation. We actually used to take an old section and stick it up through a hole in the top of the airplane and shoot the stars and do a bunch of math and figure out where you are in the world based on.
BROWN: So that’s where the engineering degree would have helped you.
CORGNATI: It actually – it’s not as hard as it seems. It’s sort of daunting at first, but once you kind of figure it out, they have forms that are sort of laid out. You know, volume to this wide, you do a bunch of math, and “Alright, we’re not lost, good.” So, we did all that out there for about four months, but what a great place to be stationed, because we were within two hours of Tahoe, San Francisco, Napa Valley, and Yosemite, so we were never home on weekends. We were we were hosts going somewhere.
BROWN: Well, you’re working like the Air Force. I’m sure you probably lived in a Marriott and had steak, and—
CORGNATI: We actually had rented a house. So, we stayed there, we didn’t want to stay on base with the Air Force because they were a little prickly. As you know.
BROWN: Sure. So, you’re there for four months, you’re learning a little bit more about, you know, what you will be. And what happens after this? Are you moving up in rank? Are you getting assigned to a unit? Like what’s?
CORGNATI: Right. So, during that during that time, they said, all right, you know, these guys are in line to graduate our next date. So, you get slotted into a squadron. And at the time. Gosh, when I first got commissioned, there was 24 active duty, three squadrons. And in three years, we went from 24 to 12. So, there’s tons of turmoil, tons of chaos, people getting out, people getting rerouted all the time. So, in that process, I was initially assigned to a squadron called VP-50 out of Moffat Field, just south of San Francisco. And unfortunately, in the course of my training, they had a midair, or two of their airplanes were out on the station at the same time, ran into each other and lost I think it was 29 people total, if I remember correctly. So, came back and as I said, the squadron was obviously in a little bit of chaos. They weren’t slated to go away and quickly made the decision. We’re just going to shut down the squadron because of what had just happened and reactivate one that was supposed to go. So, there was a lot of that going on. So, in the midst of that, I was trying to – chronologically – I think by then, I was engaged to my now wife, also Villanova grad 1990, lso in the business school. Was not the reason I switched, worked out very well though. And if she if she was ever here, and if she says that she helped me pass my last French class in order to graduate, it’s absolutely true. Okay, she definitely did help me with a couple of papers, truth be told. So, she spoke French fluently, she studied in Paris, so she did help out quite a bit.
BROWN: So, it was a good choice for you, and a practical choice [laughs].
CORGNATI: A very practical choice, very practical. So, we were then engaged, she was working and living at home in Boston with her family, and the closest I could get was Jacksonville, Florida. So, I talked to the detailers who do all the orders, and they said, we can get you to the east coast, but I can’t get you to Brunswick, Maine, which is where I really wanted to go. And I said great. So go to Jacksonville. I said, “At least we’re going to be on the east coast.” We’ll be close to family; we’ll make that work. I get to Jacksonville and met a buddy of mine who was from the Duke ROTC program, and we went through and we had almost identical grades. He grew up in the south, he hated the snow. He was single, was told that there’s no social life in Brunswick, which isn’t true entirely, but there’s a lot less than there is in Jacksonville. So, I told him, I said, hey, why don’t we just make a play to switch orders. I’ll go to Brunswick, you stay here in Jacksonville, we had almost identical grades. So, we call up the detailer with this crazy idea and said, hey, we want to do this. They’re like, okay. So, they didn’t actually tell the squadron, so when I actually showed up in Brunswick, I had a … name tag for a while. They’re like, who are you and why are you here? I said, no –
BROWN: “Where’s Craig?” [laughs]
CORGNATI: [laughs] Yeah, “We’re looking for this guy, Craig.” “He’s in Jacksonville. Don’t worry about it. He’s not coming.” So, it and, you know, through a lot of twists and turns and through all those changes, I think our wedding date changed four times, based on squadron assignments and deployment dates.
BROWN: And she still stuck with you.
CORGNATI: Well, she stopped calling the … and it was my deal. So, she’s like – I call her up, “Hey, so there’s,” and she’s like, “I don’t want to hear it. You take care of it.” [laughs] So April 25, 1992, I finally got everything aligned and we got married in … Maine.
BROWN: Okay. It’s a nice spot.
CORGNATI: It’s a great spot.
BROWN: And how long was your duty station in Maine? How long were you there?
CORGNATI: So, I got up there March of ‘92, and we left there July of ‘95. It’s about three and a half years.
BROWN: And talk to me about the area, the base, and what your day-to-day, what are you doing up there?
CORGNATI: The first thing I did when I went up there was go to SERE school. So, it’s survival, evasion resistance, and escape, that’s what SEER stands for. Each of the services, and then you probably went through something similar, have different versions of it. I was lucky enough to go to the Navy head to, one of us in California. This one is up on Sugarloaf Mountain in, I think it’s Sugarloaf Mountain. That’s the name of it, but it’s in northern Maine, literally almost on the Canadian border in March with about three and a half feet of snow on the ground. The first day we’re out in the field, it gets up to about 35 degrees and rains. So, everything we have is completely soaking wet. And then the front comes through, drops down to about 10 degrees with a wind chill of minus 10. And then the instructors all started getting really worried and said, “We need to get these guys out of here.” So, we got to spend an extra two days in the prison camp, which was super fun. So, did that, but survived that without any frostbite or any permanent injuries. So, I got through that and then checked into the squadron. And then when we were at home, there was a constant qualification process. So, you show up, you’re the new guy, they give you a giant book of they call PQS, personal qualification system, and you start studying. And when you think you know a radio or radar, or a weapon or something, well enough to explain it to someone who’s qualified to sign off, you go sit down with them, tell them everything you know about it. And if they say, yeah, you’re good, they’ll sign off on it. And so, you’re in a never ending search for signatures from instructors to get qualified, to get ready for your next event. And so, I was lucky when I got there, there weren’t very many people in front of me. So, there was always opportunities for me to fly and to get stuff done very quickly. So, I got qualified as a navigator and then an instructor navigator in about five or six months, which was pretty quick. And then I was a fully qualified tactical coordinator, which is the guy who runs the entire tactical crew and is responsible for the mission execution in the back of the airplane. I did that in about 14 months. And again, not through any great doings of my own, but happenstance and timing was ideal. And I just went through the syllabus. In the midst of that, three and a half years, I did three six-month deployments to Sigonella, Sicily. So, went over there. When we first started, it was a lot of maritime stuff. It was, gosh, back in the days, the Russians were still off of Libya and Syria, and we would keep an eye on them. And there was different submarines around, we would track the submarines in and around the Mediterranean. And then probably halfway through my first deployment, the war in the Balkans kicked off. So, we started. We were actually on the first official D-3 mission up into that area. We just got brief. They said, “We don’t really know who’s up there. We don’t really know what’s going on. We want you to go figure it out and tell us.” We’re like, “Okay.” So, we went up and started mapping out the area and sort of drew up a concept of operations on how we should do this and figured out, “Oh, hey, by the way, there’s a bunch of ships up here. Wish you told us that would have been good to know.” But, sort of sorted that out and then flew a bunch of those flights over the next three months of that deployment. And then both of the subsequent deployments, most of it was over land. We were flying, we used to carry rock eyes, which are cluster bombs, maverick missiles, which are air to anti-ship missiles. They are also anti-surface for tanks and other things. But we were using them against ships and then, and torpedoes. And so all defensive, so we were all in the water, keeping the U.S. NATO and allied ships safe. Nothing never, never had to actually employ any of them over water, because the Yugoslavians were not going to come out and challenge the armada that was floating off the coast with missiles. That would have been a bad idea.
BROWN: And where were you flying out of?
CORGNATI: Sigonella, Sicily. So, it was gosh, about an hour and 20 minutes up. And then we would actually be on station for eight hours at a time, and then about an hour and a half back. So those were usually, depending on, 11-to-12-hour missions.
BROWN: Are you still using the celestial stars to guide you?
CORGNATI: We were, the navigator was required to do that every flight, just to maintain proficiency. Yep.
BROWN: And when did GPS start to take over that? Or are they still using celestial today?
CORGNATI: There are some very niche capabilities that use celestial, but I don’t know of any aircraft that that uses them anymore. Towards the end of that tour, so ‘94, ‘95, we started getting these, by today’s standards, gigantic GPS boxes that weighed like 20 pounds. And we would have a, there was an antenna that they would suction cup to the window, and you would pick up enough of a signal to get a to get a fix that way. So, we started using them then until about when I went back. My department tour ended in 2003. And I think right around that time is when we stopped the requirement. We stopped calibrating the sextons and took them off the airplanes. And guys already knew how to use them.
BROWN: So, you’re there in the Balkan area for how long? Three months? Six months?
CORGNATI: Three months of the first deployment, roughly. And then the next two, six-month deployments were each focused a lot in that area. And then we started flying over land. So, we got some specially configured cameras that a handful of the airplanes are modified. So, we were able to go over land and do some pretty interesting optical surveillance on things.
BROWN: So, mainly that was that was a mission at that point, was surveillance?
BROWN: And this is basically the peacekeeping missions for Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, etc.?
CORGNATI: Yeah. There are different machinations within that, but yeah, it was a bit of a mess for a while.
BROWN: Right. And then where are you going back? Are you going back to Maine?
CORGNATI: So, we did the first deployment, came back, and they said, “Hey, you guys were really good at that. So, you don’t need to be home for a full year. We’re going to cut your home cycle short by two months because you don’t need as much training. You could just go back.” We’re like, “Okay.”
BROWN: Okay, yeah, awesome. Great.
CORGNATI: So, we go to do another six months, we’re really good. We came back and they said, “You guys were so good at that. We’re going to cut you short again and send you back,” which is why it was, it’s not normal to have done three full deployments, normally, in your first tour. You know?
BROWN: And all those. So, and you know, I’m sure they were similar. Were there any differences between from deployment to deployment, other than what you were taking pictures of?
CORGNATI: Not terribly. Oh, I forgot in between there – So, this is just, you know, post-Gulf War one. We had a two-airplane debt in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia down on the Red Sea. So, if we weren’t engaged up in the Adriatic, we were rotating down; we were rotating crews and airplanes down to Saudi Arabia for two to three weeks at a time and go down there. And those were UN sanctions, enforcement surveillance kinds of stuff. Keeping track of what ships were in and out of the – we were on the Red Sea side, not on the on the Gulf side. So that was, it was good break. Change of scenery. The whole it’s not, you know, “it’s a dry heat” thing is a complete and utter lie. You know, 120 is still 120. It’s hot. I don’t care where you are.
BROWN: You probably don’t have air conditioning in your –
CORGNATI: So, the airplane, well, because of the heat down there, we used to, we would show up and we would pre-flight at four o’clock in the morning. And I remember days going down there and you’d see the bank thermometer thing and was over 100 degrees at four in the morning and never dropped at below 100. But we couldn’t turn all of our gear on the deck to test it because it would burn up. There’s just there’s not enough air conditioning on the ground. So, we would test the really important stuff, say, “Yep, it’s all good, take off.” Climb up the altitude, get the airplane cooled down, and then start turning stuff on. So, for a modified pre-flight, normally you like to check those things out before you go flying, but—
BROWN: And how many how many folks are on the plane as you’re doing these missions?
CORGNATI: At that time, we had 12 people.
BROWN: What are their jobs?
CORNATI: So, we had three pilots, two flight engineers. So, in the P-3 and some older airplanes, there was a guy or gal who sat in the middle of the two pilots that just looked at gauges and engines, and monitored instruments and helped set power. And basically, they were experts on hydraulics and engines. And some maintenance procedures stuff, but they were there to assist the pilots in running the, basically the engines, for the for the most part. So, those were the five up front, then you had a tactical coordinator, which I was for the majority of the time. I had a junior navigator, who was on his way to becoming a tactical coordinator. So, then you go back yet sensor one and sensor two. Those were our acoustic operators. Those were the guys when we were tracking submarines who would either listen orally to what was going on, or we had paper grams back then, where the instruments would take the sound generated in the water, picked up by a hydrophone up through a radio link to the airplane. The processor that they would tune up would show them as squiggly lines on a piece of paper that they would interpret and find submarines from. Yeah.
BROWN: Pretty fascinating.
CORGNATI: Pretty fascinating. Good, interesting skill set that those guys had. The good ones are worth their weight in gold. Sensor three was our radar operator. He also did electronic surveillance stuff, which we had really bad electronic surveillance view, but he ran those and also our magnetic detector. So, we had the ability, when you went down low, over top of a submarine, a large chunk of metal in the water changes the magnetic flux or the magnetic lines enough that you can detect them. So, if you’ve ever seen a P-3, it’s got a long, thin pointy tail. Looks like, people call it a “stinger,” sticking out the back. And the reason that exists is because the magnetometer had to be far enough away from the rest of the metal of the airplane to be effective. And so, you’d fly over the submarine or a chunk of metal and it would be able to hit, detect, the changes in the lines of the magnetic lines around the air. And so, you could pinpoint where a submarine was that way.
CORGNATI: So, he ran those. Who else did we have that I’m forgetting? Our inflight technician, who was an electronics wizard, whose sole job was to get stuff turned on, booted up when we got out there, and to help us fix stuff in flight. He was our troubleshooter, and he was very busy. He was constantly working on something. And our last guy was our ordinance man. So, he was in charge of loading any weapons. If we had him, he would come and grab me when he was done. And I would go out and do the final checks and inspections and certify that they were loaded properly. And I was willing to take him. And then he would fly with us also because all those the sonobuoys that I mentioned that we listened to the submarines with. Half of half of them, depending on the airplane, were external. And we had some that were internal. So, the ones that we preset and put on the outside, I could control my station. I could shoot him whenever I wanted. I didn’t need him. But the internal ones, I would relay back on the intercom to him and tell him where I wanted them, how I wanted them set, what type of sonobuoys I wanted. And he would – there was these little explosives, like shotgun shell CADs, that you would screw into the top and he would load him into the tubes. And when I wanted, I’d hit the button, an electronic signal would go to the CAD, and fire them out of the bottom of the airplane. So, he was my right-hand man with all that, all the stuff getting it out of the airplanes.
BROWN: And how long is an average flight doing these missions?
CORGNATI: Yeah, the ones in the Baltics ended up usually being around 11. I would say, on average, when we were doing anti-submarine warfare, especially up in the Northern Atlantic, were more like 12 to 13.
BROWN: So, it was a full day. You’re 12 hours, 14 hours.
CORGNATI: We would, we would start pre-flight three hours prior to take off for a normal mission, or three and a half hours prior if we were taking weapons normally. And then you land after 12 hours, probably a half an hour post-flight, and then you have to go back to the tactical support center and debrief. And there’s a lot of paperwork and reports and, “Here’s what we saw. Here’s what was out there. And here’s what happened.”
BROWN: So, it sounds like it’s more of like a 15 to 18 hour.
CORGNATI: Yeah, it’s usually about an 18 hour day.
BROWN: And is there, do get a day off? Is it day on-day off? Is it just constantly 18-hour days?
CORGNATI: It really depended on what was going on. So it was, you had a minimum. It was supposed to be 12 hours from when you kind of got back to your room ‘till you left again for, you know, rest, exercise, eating, basic life stuff. And, and after this, I’m trying to – gosh, I should probably have this memorized, but it’s been a while. After the third flight, you got 15 hours off. And those were the required crew rest.
BROWN: Interesting. And what did you eat? You know, you’re in the air for 12 hours.
CORGNATI: It depended. So, we actually – my first crew had a really good ordinance man who knew how to cook. And so we would go and we would get, you know, raw chicken, beef, vegetables, whatever. And when he wasn’t busy in the back, he would cook for the crew. We’d have pancakes and sausage, all kinds of stuff. If we were busy, everybody had, you know, cans of chili or SpaghettiOs or some other nastiness that you could crack open and heat, if you needed to. So there was a lot of times we ate stuff out of a can. You always, you know, in your helmet bag, you always, you always wanted to have one of the, like giant bottles of water and a couple of cans of chili or something. That was your worst case. Anything above that, you were doing well. And a lot of coffee. We had a very large coffee pot back in the airway. So, the P-3 is actually a modified Lockheed electro from back in the day. It started out as a commercial airliner. So, Lockheed took it and they strengthened up the wings to put hard points to carry weapons and much other stuff. But part of the back, they didn’t, they didn’t change the back. And, and there’s a little galley that was, that’s been there forever. And they have a little convection oven that you can slide stuff into. And there’s a big coffee pot. Nowadays, they got, I think they’ve gotten rid of them. Well, the P-3s are all on their way out, sadly enough. But they started going to microwaves. Super modern stuff.
BROWN: Yeah, absolutely. So, you’re doing these missions, you come back, you go on your third rotation, you finally get back to Maine at that point. What keeps you from going back? Is the mission over?
CORGNATI: No because you need to go do something else with your life. And so, you know, in the Navy, they have a seashore rotation. So that’s considered a sea tour. And so, I went from there to the Naval Postgraduate School. So went out to Monterey, California from ‘95 to ‘97 and got a master’s degree in information technology management. And that’s also where my daughter, our oldest child, was born, in Monterey. Much nicer hospital than I was born in. Yeah. Looking out of her Monterey Bay picture window, really nice. I highly recommend it if you’re there. So, we did that for two years, and left there. I’m trying to run in sequence. Where did I go? Oh, and then I went to the USS Eisenhower. So, the P-3 guys normally get sent to a carrier or a ship position basically to learn the rest of the Navy. We know what they do. You don’t really know how they do it. And so, for two years, I was on it and signed to the USS Eisenhower, which is a nuclear aircraft carrier, CVN 69, based out of Norfolk, Virginia at the time.
BROWN: And what year is this?
CORGNATI: I got there in late ’97. ‘97 to ‘99. Yep, the end of ‘99. I was there for two years.
BROWN: And are you going out on any sea tours?
CORGNATI: Yeah. We were doing workups to go on deployment. And so, I was assigned as the tactical action officer. So, within the combat, there’s a combat cell on the carrier whose sole job is to defend the carrier. And so, you’ve got there’s lots of radios, lots of big screens, radar inputs, all kinds of data links and different things, feeding information in there. And you’re working with the air wing who’s flying the airplanes off the ship and everybody else to keep the carrier safe. That was our number one job. We weren’t directly involved in, you know, planning strikes or doing stuff that the air wing was going off and doing. Our job was internal, keeping the ship going.
BROWN: And when you say it’s nuclear, what does that mean?
CORGNATI: Nuclear power. So, it’s got two big nuclear reactors at the bottom of it. And all they do is boil water there. They’re a heat source. The boil water, the water goes through a turbine, turbine makes electricity and drives the propellers to make you go through the water.
BROWN: How many people are on the ship? We have about 5,500 people in total. The ships, I remember the ship’s crew was just under 3,000. And I think the air wing was about 2,500. So combined, we were about 5,500 when we deployed with about, I think we went with 75 airplanes, give or take.
BROWN: Okay, and where did you go?
CORGNATI: So, this is pre-9/11. The world was a much different place. Summertime Mediterranean cruise was kind of awesome.
CORGNATI: [laughs] We stopped in Spain twice. We stopped in Greece twice. We stopped in Italy, I think, three times. We stopped in Turkey twice. You’d pull in and a lot of it was sort of you know, diplomacy and see the world. And we’d pull in and give a bunch of tours to people and bring the locals on and show them the ship. And the guys would go off and screw around for three or four days and have some fun, come back on, get underway. You’d have to go out and re-qualify the air wing because they had currency requirements for taking off and landing on the carrier, get them back up to speed. And then you normally go do like, a NATO exercise or something for a week, finish that up and pull back into another port. Do the whole cycle again. And so that was kind of fun. We did that for about three or four months in the summertime. And I’ll tell a quick aside, the greatest port visit ever. Actually, I have to say it was a second, because my wife came over to visit me while I was there. But we got into Cannes, France, the day after France won the World Cup in ’99 and the day before Bastille Day. So, if you were in the south of France, that’s the time to be there. Oh my God, it was phenomenal. There’s not a sad person in the entire country of France. It was one giant party, and it was fantastic. But my wife did get to meet me in Marseille, and we got to tour us other France for four days.
BROWN: Oh, that’s fantastic.
CORGNATI: That actually worked out great. That was a lot of fun.
BROWN: And did you, do you like your time? Do you learn a lot while you’re on the?
CORGNATI: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I mean, it’s tough when you’re out of the way, it’s tough work. I mean, we at the time, we had three qualified tactical action officers. So, we were on a constant three section watch, which meant I was on watch for five hours, off for ten, on for five. So, you were not like, “Oh, I’ve got the night watch.” It’s like, “I may have the early and the late watch today and then I’m gonna have a mid-watch. And so you were never, you couldn’t, and it didn’t really matter because you didn’t see the sun anyway. We were down in the bowels of the ship. And, you know, you had to make a point of going outside to get fresh air and see the sunlight just to maintain your sanity sometimes. But when you’re underway, you were, there was just a constant churn of, you know, man, when those 10 hours when you’re off, you also had a division of sailors that you were leading. So you were, you know, making sure they were taken care of and doing paperwork and checking on things and all the normal administrative stuff that keeps everything running. So, you worked hard. But again, the fact that we had so many breaks in between certainly made it a lot more tolerable. Towards the end of that, we got called to go over to the, I guess we’re calling it the Arabian Gulf. And keeps switching. Persian Gulf, Arabian Gulf. This week will be the Arabian Gulf. It was before, gosh, you go back, I’m trying to remember the name, it was termed “desert viper.” And it got turned off and became “desert fox.” It was when the Iranians were breaking the sanctions and we were launching strikes into Iraq. So, we went over there. So, it was like, all of a sudden you turn off the mid-summer party cruise and all of a sudden, like, “Hey, guys, we’re going to war.” And so very quick transition, went through the Red Sea, and got ready to go.
BROWN: And when was this?
CORGNATI: This was in ‘99. It was on the same cruise.
CORGNATI: So, we ended up, it was President Clinton at the time. We were, I probably can’t say how close, but we were within minutes of launching tomahawk missiles and a bunch of other stuff several times. He made the decision to stand it down and let diplomacy work again. And we did that like three or four days in a row. And some of the grumpiest people I’ve ever seen in my life were ordinance men and gunner’s mates who you tell to take all the weapons they just put together, and to take them all back apart and put them away. They were really not super happy about that. But we avoided having to go in to do the strikes for a short time. The carrier that came in behind us ended up doing them about a month later. It became Desert Fox, I think was the name of the operation. But yeah, that was two – the same cruise – but two completely different experiences and mindsets and environments.
CORGNATI: And the thing I’ll never forget is – and I used to yell at the guys afterwards – is when we came out of the Red Sea and took a left turn to start going to the Arabian Sea, I didn’t have to tell anybody anything. These guys were professionals. I mean, it was like, you know, when we were in the Mediterranean, there’s stray tracks and airplanes, and he data’s like not working and the airplanes aren’t, you know, they’re the radios weren’t tuned right. And I’m constantly harping on it. We made that turn. Everything was like clockwork. It was unbelievable. And it stayed that way for the month we were there. And we made the right hand turn back to the Red Sea. And I’m like, wait a second. I know you guys can do this. I saw it for a month. I want that again. And they’re like, “Eh calm down, come on.” So, a much different environment.
BROWN: So, you’re doing that. You’re coming back to Norfolk.
CORGNATI: Come back to Norfolk as fast as we could, because we were late and we were trying to get back before Christmas. I remember, I think we got back the week before Christmas, if I remember correctly. It was right before Christmas. Yeah, we were making a pretty good clip across the Atlantic. And aircraft carriers are a little faster than you think they are. It’s a huge ship, but it’s really fast. So, I got back there.
CORGNATI: We started doing workups to go back out. And that’s when I left the ship to go, let’s see, from there, I went to – I was I headed back up to Maine. I spent a year on the wing staff. So, the wing was our parent organization that oversaw the squadron. So, at the time, I think there were six squadrons, but that pared down to four over time up there. And the wing was the parent organization that oversaw the squadrons. So, I was on the wing staff for about a year. And then I went back to VP-26, the same squadron I was in previously. So, same name tags, I didn’t have to change my patches or anything, it was great. Rolled back in and went back to doing a lot of the same stuff. Except by that time, I was a lieutenant commander, so sort of a mid-grade officer. And I ended up running and becoming the operations officer. So, I ran all the operations for the squadron towards the end of my time there. During that tour, we did a deployment to – well, we were split between Keflavik, Iceland, Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, and El Salvador. I can’t remember the name of the base in El Salvador. These are all going to come to me as I’m driving down 95 tonight on my way home. And so, we had the two airplanes, I think two in the south, maybe four in Puerto Rico, and I had four up in Keflavik. So, I was the officer in charge. So, my commanding officer and executive officer, who I reported to, were down Puerto Rico. So, I was the senior guy. So, I had four planes and about 120 sailors up in Iceland. And we were doing operations in the North Atlantic and also shipping crews over to Europe for different exercises and different operations.
BROWN: So, this is still pre-9/11?
CORGNATI: No, this was just post-9/11. So, we were flying armed escort missions to the Gibraltar for U.S. shipping and U.S. warships and all kinds of good stuff. So yeah, I skipped over probably the biggest influence on the course of my career. So, September 11th, I was actually pre-flighting to do a warm-up for my check ride to get re-qualify because I just got back to the squatter. And so, we were out pre-flighting and remember hearing a lot of stuff on the radio and we’re getting ready to brief. And one of the young pilots came back and said, “Hey, I can’t get them to give me my clearance.” So, I was like, but it’s just not hard. What’s wrong? So, I go up, I grab the headset, I get on the radio, and I call for our clearance. And they said, “Your clearance is canceled.” And then I hear on the other frequency that they’re telling every airplane that’s in the pattern to land. They’re calling them, you know, … land immediately. You get your number two for land. And they were just like, what is going on? So, I said, “Okay, guys, well, let me go inside and see if I can figure out what’s going on.” So, I walk in and I walked into where our duty officer had a small, old crappy TV. And right as the second tower was hit, that’s when I said, “Ooh, I think I know I’m not going flying today,” because the FAA had shut down the airspace for the first time in the history of the United States. So yeah, that changed things considerably. I actually went flying the, I have to go back and look, it was either the day after or two days after. I think it was the day after because all the ships were getting underway. And they were putting aircraft carriers off of Boston, New York, Washington, Philadelphia, to supplement the Air Force guys who were flying all the fighters that were flying to the city. So, went down and that was one of the stranger flights.
BROWN: I’m sure it was. So, when you talk about significantly changing, what do you mean?
CORGNATI: I mean, that just sort of changed your focus from sort of Cold War and just worry about
submarines in the maritime. And we were doing some overland stuff, but it certainly wasn’t,
those were small scale things. And this sort of clearly was not a small-scale thing. And so, when the P-3’s got into, we had guys flying in Afghanistan and Iraq. And since that day, there’s P-3’s in just about every major operation doing some pretty interesting works.
BROWN: And how did that affect you? Did you spend some time in Iraq? In Afghanistan?
CORGNATI: Not on the ground. I was never on the ground either. That we spent – fast forward a couple of years when I was in command of my squadron in 2007 to 2009, we were sending crews over. And we, the senior guys, usually wouldn’t go in country because there was already a CO and an EXO there that were running the thing. So, they just wanted crews and airplanes, and they didn’t want us coming in the way. So, we would normally stay and just push guys forward. So, we didn’t get to go do, but the our guys got to do a lot of interesting work. So yeah, from that standpoint, certainly changed.
BROWN: And so now you’re a commander of a squadron, you said?
CORGNATI: Right. Yeah.
BROWN: So, what does that like? Comparatively to, you know, your responsibility to jump up, I’m assuming, especially in times of conflict.
CORGNATI: Yeah. So, a tremendous, tremendous honor to be able to do that. So, we had –give or take—about 400 folks in the squadron and up to 10 airplanes in any one time. The deployment we did, well, I was there. We started out, I was the executive, I was the number two guy at the time. And we actually did a change command on deployment. So, I took over while we were in Japan. So, we had, we were split between Misawa, Japan, which was very far north, Okinawa, Japan, any islands, and some stuff down in the Philippines. We were helping the government of the Philippines deal with some insurgents that they’re still dealing with. I think not sure that much has changed, but so we were spread out and did a lot of traveling during that one, bouncing back and forth. And you know, when you get to that, it’s just it’s about mission execution and it’s about taking care of the people, and making sure people are thinking and doing the right things and not so much about being in the airplane and being the guy out there doing stuff. It’s more about making sure the organization is effective and doing what you’re supposed to be doing.
BROWN: Did you like Japan?
CORGNATI: I did. It’s interesting. It was the first time I had ever been there. So, it’s challenging just to learn the language. It’s challenging to drive because the signage is obviously in Japan and in Japanese. But the people were great. The Japanese, the maritime folks that we dealt with were all very professional, really, really nice to work with. I love the food and the culture inside. I enjoyed it, but there was, you know, there’s a – you could draw me anywhere in Europe and I could find a train station and get a beer and something to eat and find my way around. And, you know, in Japan, it’s there’s the cultural and language barriers is pretty significant. But the folks that and we were on the base, so we were isolated from it. So, we weren’t fully integrated into the community. Folks that I know that have gone over there that lived, you know, for two or three years and got to know their Japanese counterparts and got out in town and understood the language a little bit, absolutely love the place. I would say more often than not, people wanted to stay than leave.
BROWN: Yeah. And as you’re going through all this, you have some decisions to make with re-enlistment. And so, you know, talk to me about that. What’s, you know, what’s in the back of your mind with how far you want to go, how long you want to serve? Your wife, you know, all that stuff.
CORGNATI: Yeah. So, real life definitely got involved at that point. So, we left after 2009. We were, that was a VP-1 was a squadron. We’d be out in Washington just north of Seattle. Our call sign was the Screaming Eagles. So, it was up there, and left there in May of 2009. And my mother-in-law was sick back here on the east coast. And so called the detailer and said, “Hey, we got to get back on the east coast. We need to go take care of Josie.” So, they said, “Hey, the closest I’d get you is D.C.” And they were in Williamsburg at the time. So, I said, fine. It’s two hours. We’re not easy. We can do that. So, we came back, and I was at the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense for about three years. The first half of that, I was the military assistant to the assistant secretary. A guy named Paul Stockton. So, we kind of went everywhere with him. There was, there’s usually two military assistants and we’d switch off on trips and other stuff. So, one of us went to every meeting with him. We traveled with him and made all the arrangements. You were basically the executive assistant. When I left, I did that for about a year and a half. And then I became the director of the Homeland Defense Airborne. It was a huge, long title. Homeland Air Defense – Director of Homeland Air Defense. I think it was something like that. So, we did coordination with the National Guard with … Inaudible phrase. He was in charge of the defense of the U.S. airspace, FAA, all kinds of folks. We did a lot of that interagency coordination related to the air defense of the United States. So that was interesting, kind of outside of anything I’d really done getting into the sort of policy world. And then we decided, you know, there was a chance I was going to screen for a major command, which would have been maybe see over base or something like that. And sat down again, sat down at the kitchen table where all the big decisions were made.
BROWN: That’s right.
CORGNATI: And said, “Hey, the kids are getting into high school.” My mother-in-law passed away. My father-in-law moved up, and lives like 10 minutes away from us. He said, “We probably should just stay here in D.C.” So, I called up the detailer and said, “Hey, take my name off consideration and find me a captain’s position in D.C.” Because by that time, I put on a captain, so I was O-6. And there are a lot of empty, oh, six bullets in D.C. that people don’t want people that are kicking and screaming. There’s a lot of good jobs in D.C. But you have to live in D.C. So that’s the downside. It’s crazy between the travel and the normal chaos and the politics. It’s an interesting place to live. But found a great job. And I became the director of the Navy’s Airborne Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance Programs, which was about a $2.5 billion a year portfolio of manned and unmanned aircraft programs. So, I had, for each of those programs, I had a requirements officer who did nothing but that program. And so, I was the, they called either branch head or director, depending on who you talked to. And so, we would set the requirements for what that program was supposed to do, figure out what the budget requirements were for it. And then spent a lot of time going to the Hill and talking to congressional staffers and working with the joint staff and inside the Pentagon to justify why you needed $2.5 billion a year and why they can’t take it, or the world was going in. And so, we did, we did a lot of that work.
BROWN: [laughs] And what years was this?
CORGNATI: That was ‘12 to ‘15.
CORGNATI: And then I retired in July of 2015 after 25 years and a month.
BROWN: And was that a forced retirement, or is that you making a conscious decision?
CORGNATI: No, it’s a conscious decision. So, I mean, at that point, I knew I was not going to be an Admiral. You can stick around to 30 years as an O-6 if you want to. And if you have a great job and you love what you do, good on you. But financially, it doesn’t – If you run the numbers, you probably should leave at 25. And so, I had kids go into college. Again, so, I mentioned earlier, my daughter is at Drexel, or actually graduated from Drexel. My son, much to my chagrin, is a sophomore at Syracuse. Probably should edit that part out.
CORGNATI: So between Drexel and Syracuse, yeah, I needed to get out and make a few dollars. So that’s it. It was the right time to get out.
BROWN: And then looking back on your Navy career, what are some of your fondest memories?
CORGNATI: I mean, some of them are operational. I mean, some of the stuff I can’t talk about, but it’s
you know, not to get too sappy, but watching young guys develop and succeed, and keeping in touch with them. So, Christmas cards are fun. Even my wife gets random texts from people. I mean, she was amazing. She took care of a lot of the families when I was gone. It’s hard.
BROWN: No, that’s good. You know, because it takes it takes the whole unit, right, to be successful, to be 25 years in the service, traveling all over the world.
CORGNATI: It does.
BROWN: It’s tough. Well, I’m glad. I think, you know, in hearing your story, I think what I gather is that, you know, although you didn’t necessarily want to follow in your father’s footsteps, you kind of did.
BROWN: You’re a pilot. You were able to –
CORGNATI: And even flew some of the same airplanes, frighteningly enough.
CORGNATI: [laughs] We went back and pulled our law books out one day and found some of the same bureau numbers. So, it’s truly frightening to me.
BROWN: But that’s to me, that’s fascinating. You know that you have that ability to, you know? It wasn’t something you’ve maybe consciously wanted to do. You ended up doing it. And it was your first choice, as being the P-3.
CORGNATI: Yep, and being in Naval flight, it’s a great platform. You know, if you were a pilot, maybe you wanted to go fly F-14s or F-18s. And that didn’t hold a lot of appeal to me. But working with 12 guys to accomplish a mission. That the whole crew aspect. And that was a lot of the fun. And some of the off times, even like some of the some of the flights were just God awful boring. And you’re sitting on the intercom and trading stories with all the guys in your crew and we knew more about each other than we probably should have. So, there was a lot of interesting conversations that happened at four in the morning when you’re turning circles over the Adriatic City.
BROWN: And now that you’re out, what have you done since your time in the Navy?
CORGNATI: Yeah, so interesting. So, I was getting ready to get out. I was talking to the normal suspects: Boeing, Northrop, and Lockheed. And then sequestration hit, which was great. And so, all the military budgets were getting cut, all the defense contractors were like, “Oh my God, not only can we not hire you, Chris, but we’re getting rid of people, but keep in touch.” And then I said, well, I got to go find something else to do. And I ended up working for a company called Crown Consulting, which is a government consulting firm. And that’s actually a really cool, niche kind of thing, which I never would – I just kind of stumbled into it. And I ran their NASA portfolio. So, we supported NASA Aeronautics, who does all the non-space research and development for NASA. And does a lot of support for the FAA. You know, the FAA is an operational organization. NASA actually does a lot of their research and development for them. So, I supported NASA for about two and a half years and grew the business for them. And then I got contacted on LinkedIn by an executive recruiter saying, “Hey, we’d like you to consider coming and running a startup unmanned aircraft manufacturing company.” And I said, “I know a lot about unmanned aircraft. I had a bunch of programs. I’d love to do it.” It was 10 minutes from my house. I mean, it was like, this is the greatest thing ever. Turns out it wasn’t. I won’t get into the details on here. But yeah, everything you do in life is a tremendous learning opportunity. And I learned an awful lot in a year about questions I should have asked before I took the job. And maybe some assurances I should have had going in the door. But did that for about a year. And then I’ve been back out of my own since about early 2019. I’ve had an LLC and done a little bit of consulting work on my own over the years and went back out. And so, I’ve been doing that. And I apologize. The reason that was late is because my primary client, we were out to lunch. And he was very chatty today, which is good. And normally you don’t shut them down when he wants to talk. [laughs]
CORGNATI: [laughs] I apologize again for being late.
BROWN: No problem. We’re happy that you were able to make it and tell your story.
CORGNATI: Yeah. No, this is a great opportunity. It’s a lot of fun. Some stuff I hadn’t thought about in a while. As you see, I got a little emotional there. But yeah.
BROWN: That’s the goal. And that’s what we see time and again is that what we want to do is really take a deep dive into what that service looked like and felt like. And then get you thinking about some of the good times, the bad times eating you know, SpaghettiOs’s at three in the morning.
CORGNATI: [laughs] I haven’t had a can of SpaghettiOs’s in probably 15 years.
BROWN: Right. On purpose.
CORGNATI: Yes. [laughs]
BROWN: [laughs] But really, we’re happy that you were able to do this and tell your story. And I think there’s value in that. I hope you found value in doing it.
CORGNATI: Absolutely. I appreciate it.
BROWN: So, thanks for coming in. We look forward to getting this up on the site and for you to share it far and wide with all your family and friends.
CORGNATI: I tell you, we’re in touch with a lot of the guys from the class of 1990. Our 30th is coming up here this year. And I think a bunch of guys are planning on coming back. So, I can put the word out on this program to those guys who got most emails.
BROWN: Yeah. So, that would be fantastic. We’re always looking to capture stories and I think it’d be great to hear from them as well.
BROWN: Thank you very much again for coming in and telling your story.
CORGNATI: 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 veteransvoices.library.villanova.edu.
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 A sonobuoy is a relatively small buoy, expendable sonar system that is dropped or ejected from aircraft or ships, conducting anti-submarine warfare or underwater acoustic research. It is typically 13 cm diameter and 91 cm long.
 CAD: Cartridge Actuated Devices.
 As of November 2013, the US Navy began phasing out the P-3 in favor of the newer and more advanced Boeing P-8 Poseidon. In May 2020, Patrol Squadron 40 completed the transition to the P-8, marking the retirement of the P-3C from U.S. Navy active-duty service. The last of the active-duty P-3Cs, aircraft 162776, was also delivered to the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. Two Navy Reserve Squadrons Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 30 and One Active-duty Squadron (VQ-1) continue to fly the P-3C, with final phaseout of the aircraft expected in 2025.
 A gunner’s mate is a designation given by the Bureau of Naval Personnel (BUPERS) to enlisted sailors who either satisfactorily complete initial Gunner’s Mate “A” school training, or who “strike” for the rating by showing competence in the field of ordnance.
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 FAA: Federal Aviation Administration.