Meet the Dockmaster
Published March 2, 2021
As Newport News Shipbuilding’s senior dockmaster, John Anderson is ultimately responsible for all vessel movements into and out of the shipyard’s dry docks.
“The biggest part of our job is to coordinate those activities so that everything is safe and there are no injuries or damage to the ship or our facility,” he said. “We touch every program. It’s like being a steward of the waterfront.”
Anderson and his team know just how important their job is for fellow shipbuilders and for the Navy. “There are several thousand people depending on my team to get it right so they can show up and go to work. You’ve got to keep that in mind. A lot of people are relying on you to execute. I like being in that position,” he said. “I always liked to be on the field and not on the bench.”
In fact, the opportunity to play collegiate football drew Anderson to NNS and The Apprentice School in 2000. Growing up on a poultry farm in central Virginia, he didn’t know much about ships and was interested in a heating and air conditioning apprenticeship. However, he became a rigger apprentice instead.
“I had never even heard of that,” Anderson said. It turned out he liked the job and the variety it offered. Upon graduating from The Apprentice School, he was promoted to dockmaster trainee/dry dock foreman. In 2007, he became senior dockmaster – only the 10th in NNS history.
Since then, his team has planned and executed the launches of the first two Ford-class carriers and docked Nimitz-class carriers coming in for refueling and complex overhaul (RCOH). And when NNS reentered the submarine fleet support business after several years, the team was instrumental when the submarines arrived at the shipyard.
“I’ve had a lot of fun. Obviously, there are hard times as well, but sometimes I find the most challenging things we do are the most rewarding,” Anderson said.
That includes the recent “historic” move of Enterprise (CVN 65) from Pier 2 to Dry Dock 12. “Since 1984, when we launched the first carrier from Dry Dock 12, it has always been a one-way trip,” he said. “This is the first aircraft carrier to go back into Dry Dock 12. It just happens to be the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, and it was going into the dry dock where the next Enterprise will be built.”
Anderson said he’s had the opportunity to rescue wildlife from dry docks, and see things most shipbuilders don’t. And he now shares his pride as a shipbuilder with his son, who is a pipefitter on USS George Washington (CVN 73).
“I was pretty overwhelmed with the place – like most people – when I first walked in and saw a ship under construction,” Anderson said. “Sometimes, years later, you kind of forget that, but hearing my son talk about it kind of brings that stuff back into perspective.”