YOKOSUKA, Japan – Andy Arena is a born and bred child of a multigenerational military family. His father retired as a Sgt. 1st Class in the Army; his brother, who commissioned in the Air Force, retired as a Colonel after serving as commander of the Titan IV missile program. It took no one by surprise when in 1973 at age 18, Arena left Yorktown, Virginia to serve his country as well. What was surprising was the path he took – submarine service – and how long he stayed…48 years and counting, long after retiring from active duty.
When Submarine Group 7 (CSG7) celebrates the 121st birthday of the Submarine Force today, Arena will be the guest of honor – the longest serving submarine warfare qualified staff member in the building. Arena earned his dolphins in 1975. He will also be the only one in the building who could boast of being Submarine Group 7’s Command Master Chief (CMDCM) not once, but twice, during his illustrious career. But talking with the soft-spoken civilian, you would never guess that he had led and mentored hundreds of submariners, many of whom rose to the highest levels in the U.S. Navy.
Arena began his career aboard USS Pogy (SSN 647), homeported in Pearl Harbor. During his tour, he distinguished himself as a natural leader, breezing through qualifications, advancing to Second Class Petty Officer and ultimately being selected Sailor of the Year. Arena, predictably humble, credited his leadership for his achievements. He learned valuable leadership lessons from his commanding officer, Vice Adm. (Ret) David Cooper, who retired as Commander, Submarine Atlantic Fleet and his executive officer, Adm. (Ret) William Owens, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“My first CO and XO created the environment for you to be successful, no matter what rank you were,” Arena explained. “Every Sailor owned a piece of the boat, and was proud to show it off. My piece was the fuel oil station, the dirtiest piece of equipment on a submarine. But I kept it so clean it sparkled! That pride of ownership motivated the entire crew.”
Arenas, meanwhile, found his niche – submarine electronic warfare systems – in Submarine Navigation Electronics “C” School in Groton, Connecticut. He was assigned to PCU Birmingham (SSN 695) in Newport News, Virginia, where he became a plankowner and advanced to First Class Petty Officer.
When he returned to Pearl Harbor to work at the Intermediate Maintenance Activity Submarine Base, he quickly rose through the ranks, serving as Leading Petty Officer and then Leading Chief Petty Officer of the Submarine Mast and Antenna repair facility. He advanced to Senior Chief Petty Officer aboard USS Buffalo (SSN 715) and was selected to serve as Chief of the Boat (COB). He served as COB aboard USS San Francisco (SSN 711) as well, and three boats and six deployments into his career, advanced to Master Chief Petty Officer, and CMDCM of Submarine Squadron 3 in San Diego.
His acumen for electronics systems served him well as he coordinated Information Technology (IT) 21 installations for dozens of “big decks” (aircraft carriers and amphibious ships) in the Pacific theater. His team would embark a ship and create local area networks (LANs) comprised of hundreds of computer terminals within a week, he explained, instantly freeing the crews from time-consuming analog communications. Arena left San Diego to be CSG7’s CMDCM in 1997. In Yokosuka, he met his wife, Divina, who he says looks just as beautiful as that day 25 years ago. They got married in Hawaii in 1998. A year later, he assumed duties as CMDCM of USS John S. McCain (DDG 56), but he returned to Fluckey Hall in 2001 for a second tour as the CSG7 CMDCM, retiring in 2004 after an extraordinary 30 years of service.
Arena has worked in the Undersea Warfighting Development Center (UWDC) office in Yokosuka, Japan supporting CSG7’s antisubmarine warfare missions in the 5th and 7th Fleet, for the last 18 years. He went to school at night to earn an Associate degree in Applied Science Technical Studies, and a Bachelor degree in Administration and Management. He still hesitates to talk about his service, deferring to the command’s most junior submariners, as “the next generation of warfighters.”
“The thing I’m most proud of is the accomplishments of all my Sailors,” Arena said. “The joy of seeing people I worked with progress through the ranks, and watching young Sailors, enlisted and officers, become senior leaders at all levels of the Navy.” Arena counts among his mentees Admirals Merz, Sawyer and Thomas, and even one Fleet Command Master Chief. If you are ever in Fluckey Hall, stop by his office, and shake the hand of a legend, before he hangs up his dolphins for good.
Commander, Submarine Group 7 directs submarine activities throughout the Western Pacific, Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea: two forward-deployed submarine tenders USS Frank Cable (AS 40) and USS Emory S. Land (AS 39), five surveillance towed array sensor vessels and three oceanographic survey vessels when tasked for theater anti-submarine warfare operations and four attack submarines homeported in Guam.
Commander, Submarine Group 7 will advance the interests of the United States and the security of prosperity of the region by effectively employing forward deployed, combat capable forces across the full spectrum of undersea warfare. We will endeavor to prevent conflict but remain prepared to win decisively.
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