posted on January 14, 2011 14:10
President Obama congratulates a 2009 U.S. Naval Academy
graduate. (Official U.S. Naval Academy Photo).
On Sunday, Sept. 26, I served as a Navy sideboy at a retirement ceremony at the United States Navy Memorial for a shipmate who joined the service in one generation only to bid it farewell in another. Mass Communications Specialist First Class Ronald D. Falciano’s retirement ceremony was as much a journey through 20 years of changes in the Navy as it was the celebrated conclusion of a military career.
Falciano, who will be officially retired from the Navy Reserve on Oct. 12, is a New York City native who enlisted in the Navy on Oct. 12, 1972. He completed boot camp at Great Lakes, Ill., and was assigned to the Norfolk, Va.-based heavy cruiser USS Newport News (CA 148), where he later became a draftsman. He initially joined the Navy when the service, along with the rest of the world, was experiencing monumental social changes.
One of those changes in 1972 was the promotion to rear admiral of Capt. Alene B. Duerk, NC, director of the Navy Nurse Corps, and the first woman naval officer to be promoted to flag rank. That year, women joined the officer and enlisted ranks aboard the hospital ship USS Sanctuary (AH-17) in other-than-medical duties. While it was a moment to celebrate, 1972 saw other social changes that exposed an uglier side of the Navy.
On the same day that 19-year-old Falciano was being sworn into the Navy, the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CVA 63) was rocked by a race riot involving 200 Sailors while serving off the coast of Vietnam. Race riots also broke out that year aboard the oiler USS Hassayampa (AO 145) and the aircraft carrier USS Constellation (CVA 64). Scores of Sailors were injured in all three riots and the Navy was forced to confront racism in the ranks.
In response to the cries of gender and racial discrimination in the Navy, then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo Zumwalt issued a series of policy directives—better known as “Z-grams”—that sought to reverse institutional discrimination in the service. These directives, although not always well received, made it possible for the Navy to grow into the diverse military service that it is today. The change aboard Sanctuary was the result of a Z-gram.
In 1972, there were other historical moments in the Navy. The same month that Falciano graduated from boot camp and reported to the fleet, 275 petty officers were selected for conversion to the new legalman rating. There were even changes to Falciano’s draftsman rating in recent years. A few years ago, the Navy merged the draftsman rating with the journalist, photographers’ mate, and lithographer ratings to form one rating known as mass communications specialist.
Falciano's Navy career began as the U.S. was withdrawing from the war in Southeast Asia, and during the time when women and minorities were making strides in the ranks. As he bid the Navy farewell in 2010, the United States was at war in Southwest and Southcentral Asia, and, for the first time in the Navy’s history, the top enlisted Sailors of the Year are all women. Change indeed.