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Capt. Milciades “Tony” Then, commodore, Destroyer Squadron 22, speaks during the DESRON 22 change of command ceremony on board the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mitscher (DDG 57) on Dec. 3. 2021.
Capt. Milciades “Tony” Then, commodore, Destroyer Squadron 22, speaks during the DESRON 22 change of command ceremony on board the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mitscher (DDG 57) on Dec. 3. 2021. (Jacob Milham/U.S. Navy)

(Tribune News Service) — As with many sailors, life in the Navy is a family affair for the new commodore of Destroyer Squadron 22, Capt. Milciades “Tony” Then — but in his case, it started when he was a new-minted U.S. citizen and an empathetic recruiter helped his mom come to terms with her worries about his enlisting in a time of war.

It was 1991, during the Gulf War, “I was just out of high school, 17, and my mom had to sign my contract,” Then recalled.

She was pretty nervous about that.

“Now, she’s a real Navy mom. She’s down in Miami, and last Saturday, she called me every time Navy scored a touchdown against Army,” he said, referring to this year’s Army-Navy game.

Then’s family moved to the United States from the Dominican Republic when he was just 10. Like many newcomers on the path to citizenship, making ends meet was a day-to-day struggle — his mother worked two jobs as long as he could remember. College wasn’t really an option.

But serving his new country was.

“I was first, and my brother enlisted too,” he said. “It demonstrated that we were Americans, and that we were ready to serve.”

Fresh out of boot camp, he quickly earned a meritorious promotion on his first ship, the frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts, where his division officer, then-Ens. Ted Schick, spotted something special in the young sailor.

Schick had earned a commission after serving an enlisted engineman, rising to the rank of Petty Officer 1st Class and thought he saw the same potential in Then.

“He thought I had the motivation,” Then said.

The two talked a lot about the demands on commissioned officers — the good and the bad. Schick looked over Then’s application essay for a Navy program aimed at putting enlisted sailors on a track for a commission, correcting a few errors in English. Together, they won his commanding officer’s endorsement.

That application landed Then in two demanding years in Broadened Opportunities for Officer Selection and Training program — which, Then said, meant lots of P.T., lots of drill and lots and lots of study, making up for lost time back in high school where he had struggled a bit as juggled school and work and learning English.

At the end though, he applied to five colleges with ROTC programs — and got accepted to the elite U.S. Naval Academy.

And, besides his family, Schick was there when he graduated from the academy and took his oath as a new-minted commissioned officer.

From that point, except for service as the anti-submarine warfare officer aboard the cruiser USS Cape St. George and command, after promotion to lieutenant, of the patrol ship USS Sirocco, Then has been a destroyer sailor — eventually commanding Norfolk-based USS Mitscher.

“On USS Sirocco, I had 27 sailors, and I knew each and every one; on Mitscher, I had more than 300, but I walked the ship every day and I knew pretty well each and every one of those sailors,” he said.

But as commodore of a squadron of four ships, including Mitscher, it’s not as easy to be be in touch with 1,200 sailors, but one basic of the job hasn’t changed and that’s something he’s going to miss, he said.

Still, a lot of what he did as commander of a warship will be what he does as commander of several.

“I have four captains, and I think I’m as much a mentor as a boss,” he said. “When I was CO, I was mentor to junior officers and senior enlisted ...

“The captains call and say, should I do X and ask for advice and maybe I’ll say you can try Y or Z, too and here’s what my experience was ... I did the same thing in the wardroom on Mitscher,” he said.

That’s pretty much what he’s done every step of the way, whether back on USS Sirocco or as a destroyer division officer and executive officer.

“When you walk into a combat information center (on a destroyer) ... all those computers, all those radars, they can’t do anything until a sailor energizes them and makes them work,” he said. “You’ve got 18- and 19-year olds you’ve trained to operate a billion dollar ship — that’s what the Navy is about.”

©2021 Daily Press (Newport News, Va.).


Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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