Published November 9, 2021
Each year on Nov. 11, the nation pays tribute to veterans who have served in the armed forces, including about 3,500 current employees at Newport News Shipbuilding.
Craig Heaton (X36) is among the shipbuilders who have served in the military. He spent 21 years in the U.S. Coast Guard. He initially joined because he wanted to save lives.
“Not too long after joining, I knew that I’d have to be in the right spot at the right time in order to save a life so that kind of changed for me quickly,” Heaton said. “My purpose became to make a difference in someone’s life. And I think I’ve impacted a lot of people over the years.”
Allison Whipkey (E85) said her more than eight years in the U.S. Navy challenged her in ways she had never been challenged before, but it also was rewarding. Serving as a sailor gives Whipkey a strong sense of purpose for the work she does now at NNS.
“Being a prior sailor, I know what we do is important. Delivering these ships to work the way they’re supposed to work is huge. That’s the sailor’s home for months at a time. The work we do directly benefits them,” she said.
X31 Foreman Frank Harris always knew he wanted to serve. “I wanted to be in the Army from the time I was old enough to walk,” he said. “When Sept. 11 happened, I was in sixth grade. I knew that if the war was still on when I got old enough, I was going to join and fight.”
Harris didn’t join the U.S. Army, but he did serve in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2008 until 2012, taking part in the Battle for Marjah in Afghanistan, which was the subject of an HBO documentary. The experiences he had as a Marine give him a unique perspective, he said.
“There’s definitely a sense of purpose in what we do here,” Harris said. “As much as I would probably enjoy being an electrician outside the shipyard, I would never see a house I built on the news going off to launch planes and kill terrorists.”
Rose Brodie (O34) served in the U.S. Air Force for 21 years. The Air Force’s core values – Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence in All We Do – remain important to her and helped draw her to NNS. “I wanted to jump into something where I still felt comfortable and where I was still serving,” she said. “Every day is a new day to excel. Every day is a new opportunity for growth.”
Rafael E. Faria (X44) served in the U.S. Army for 25 years. “Overall, serving in the Army was a very good experience. I think it made me a better American. It really made me appreciate this country even more because I have seen a lot of places outside the United States. Overall, things in this country were much better than every place I served,” he said.
Dean Gonsalves (X47) served in the Air National Guard. He was in the Army ROTC as a student at the Virginia Military Institute and his father served in the Marines. Now at NNS, he has had the opportunity to learn more about the Navy.
“It just makes you proud to be a part of an organization that defends this country,” Gonsalves said. “It has been a good eye-opening experience for me because I’ve been able to see all branches of the military.”