Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sailor, Rest Your Oar

This post is a day late because I received the news just as I was departing for a family vacation and I've been on the road yesterday and all day today. It put a significant damper on my spirits and I've been composing this post in my mind for many hours driving across country.

Terry Garbuzinski was killed in a head-on collision on I-95 in Mystic, Connecticut on Thursday night.

Update 3/28/2010: Terry's obituary is posted in The Sun Chronicle of Attleboro.

If you've served on a U.S. fast attack submarine or went through any of the submarine officer training pipelines from SOAC through SCC anytime in the last two decades, then you have benefited from the superb interactive tactical training provided by Terry.

I first met Terry in the spring of 1996 when he came down to provide pre-deployment training (PDT) to our wardroom on USS PROVIDENCE (SSN-719). My CO at the time was a very highly respected submarine tactical god of sorts and somewhat of a legend in the submarine force. I was just a nub ensign at the time, and I thought it was kind of weird to have this guy in a suit coming down to our boat to tell US how to do things on the pointy-end of the spear. However, to see the way our captain respected Terry and listened intently to everything Terry had to say gave Terry a lot of credibility.

Bubblehead's post has some great comments about Terry. Over on FastNav's post, one commenter wrote that Terry " treated everyone around him with great respect." He hit the nail on the head. One of the things that impressed me about Terry back in 1996 was the way he spoke to me as if my opinion mattered and he valued my opinion - even as an ensign.

It didn't take long that first morning in 1996 for me to develop a feeling of awe both for Terry's level of knowledge in the history of submarine operations and the way he employed that knowledge in an interactive manner to help us think through difficult situations. Instead of the typical canned training powerpoint presentation (like the old version of the collisions and groundings brief) which just recited in a monotone voice, "on such-and-such a date in such-and-such an ocean, USS UMPTYFISH collided with so-and-so. The root causes of why they collided were (a)... (b)... (c)..." zzzzzzzzzzz.

Terry's style of training was always tremendously valuable in the way he put you in the moment and made you go through the same decision-making process that the crew did in that difficult situation. He would pick someone in the wardroom, "Okay, LT Blunoz, you're the Officer of the Deck, the ship is at PD, on course 270, speed 3 knots, and you observe the following..." He would present you with the same raw data that those guys had and see if you would make the same decisions they did. He would walk you through the current submarine force tactical guidance and what you're supposed to do by the book.

After you told Terry what you would have done in that situation, regardless whether or not you made a good decision, then he would make sure everyone was engaged and exercising their brain cells by asking around the table what the other guys thought. Then you could count on Terry saying something along the lines of, "Okay good, so turning right would have been the best maneuver here. However, let's say you thought (whatever was in the mind of that OOD back on that day), so you turned left instead. As a result, now you observe the following..." and he'd present you with the next round of information that became available to the watch team. It was a great way to see how to recover after you've made an initially bad decision and regain control of the situation.

Terry's training in fast attack submarine wardrooms and at submarine school was invaluable and a highlight of any wardroom's PDT or sub school curriculum, and I suspect that's how most guys wearing gold dolphins will remember him with thanks and admiration. However, the awesome training he provided was only the tip of the iceberg. It would be impossible to quantify Terry's contributions to our submarine force and to our national security.

Shortly after hearing the news, I had a meeting with a fellow submarine officer, and we talked about our mutual respect and feelings of loss for Terry. He was much more eloquent than me in the way he described Terry as "the guardian of the realm" -both inside and outside the lifelines of the submarine force. Outside the submarine force, he was a defender of the submarine force's reputation and an advocate for the capability and value of submarines. However, he was never content to let the submarine force rest on its laurels or get an inflated ego of over our capabilities. Inside the lifelines, he was a vigilant protector of our reputation in that he made sure we never abused or took advantage of the position of special trust and confidence the submarine force has earned over the past few decades. His in-depth analysis of submarine operations helped us to identify issues before they became problems, and he was a valued participant in any flag-level oversight discussion in that he spoke the truth and he wouldn't sugar coat it or water it down.

It's very sad to remember the last time you spoke with someone - not realizing it would be the last time you would speak. In my current job, I communicated with Terry on a regular basis via email and telephone. I counted on Terry for backing me up with the historic precedent of policy decisions and providing critical insight on how to handle new challenges. I saw Terry several times per year when we tag-team briefed the Submarine Command Course (SCC) or attended conferences together. When Terry was in DC last week for a conference hosted by my office, it never even crossed my mind that it would be the last time I would see or speak with him.

Terry - Thank you for your truly remarkable contribution to our submarine force and our national security. Thank you for the way you treated everyone with respect and valued their input. Thank you for always having a positive attitude and making everyone who met you genuinely glad that they did. Thank you for teaching me at every stage of my career, especially in the past year and a half. I am a better submarine officer because of you, Terry, and I was really looking forward to hearing you brief my SCC class next year.

This is a terrible tragedy and substantial loss for the submarine force.

My thoughts and prayers are with Terry's family, friends, and coworkers.

Sailor, rest your oar.


Hilary said...

Kevin, I'm so, so sorry for the loss of your friend, Terry. This is a beautiful tribute to him. I hope his family will read it. He sounds like he was a wonderful man. What a sad loss.

michelle brosseau said...

Kevin - thank you from the bottom of my heart for your heartfelt thoughts about terry. you helped me understand another dimension of his beautiful life. my husband sean works for terry out here at subpac. terry has been our friend for the last 10 years, we see him so often. he was so kind, lighthearted. we had dinner nearly every time he was in hawaii. he always took the time to ask sean about me, his wife, feeling bad if i was sick with a flu or happy if something fun happened in our lives. the pain of his loss is tremendous.

blunoz said...

Hilary - thank you for your thoughts and your kind words.

Michelle - thank you for visiting my blog and for sharing your thoughts. Your husband is also a great guy and well trained by Terry to continue his support to the submarine force. Based on how much this tragedy has affected me personally, I can't imagine how people like Sean who worked with Terry much more closely must feel. I continue to pray for Terry's family - both his personal family at home and those he worked with around the globe.

Tanya said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, as well as the sub community's loss. We'll keep his family & your's in our prayers during this tragic time.

Vijay Chakravarthy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kel said...

The post was very heartfelt and wonderful - I'm sorry for the loss of your friend. My prayers will be with his family and friends in this sad time.

SamanthaSimons said...

So sorry to hear of the loss that touched so many. Condolences to you and all those widespread that are affected.

Ed said...


I am Terry's brother in law, and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kind words of memory and affirmation. Please know that your post was printed out and passed around to family & friends. We are preparing for his wake this afternoon.
This is a devestating loss to so many, particularly my sister and her boys, as well as Terry's brother, sisters, and father Henry. Terry was as fine, intelligent and honorable man as I've had the pleasure to know. It is obvious that he was very respected in his career because of his passion and dedication to cause. He was equally loved and revered with regard to his honor, capacity for love, and dedication as a husband, father, son and brother.
Thank you all so very much for you kind words and remembrances...they are heard and appreciated. An article on Terry below:

blunoz said...

Ed - Thanks very much for visiting and for your comment. The post I wrote is the best I can do in an unclassified forum to try to explain the significance of Terry's contribution to our national security. He will be sorely missed.

I'm very sorry I couldn't be there for the wake today and the mass tomorrow. If I hadn't already been en route on a family vacation when I heard the news, then I would have dropped everything to be there. It's just logistically not feasible from where I am now. Even so, your family is in my thoughts and prayers.

Ed said...


You were there in spirit, and your post was well read and regarded. Thank you.

The funeral service was a beautiful tribute to Terry with an impressive Navy contingent despite the impossible logistics due to flooding. Terry's boys Mike and John delivered a warm and heartwrenching eulogy with poise and composure.

God Bless everyone for all their support to Jen and her boys in this sorrowful time.

jennifer said...

Hi Kevin,

I wanted to contact you and let you know how much I appreciate your tribute to Terry. The boys and I have re read your article multiple times, and it fills us with pride for my husband.
Tuesday we will be dedicating a flagpole to Terry that I had given him as a Christmas present. The Saturday before the accident, he and I picked the perfect spot in our yard to have it installed. Mike, John and I decided to go ahead with the flagpole as a tribute to Terry. There will be some Navy personel, along with some of his Sonalysts co workers in attendence. My son John will be reading some of the comments that were written about Terry. We have chosen to read a large portion of your comments,because we found that you captured Terry and his devotion to the submarine force. He was proud of his job, the submarine force and the US Navy.

We miss Terry more than you can imagine, and June is a tough month as my son John just had his 16th birthday, and we have what would be our 22nd anniversary coming up, quickly followed by father's day.Dedicating the flagpole will provide us with a positive experience this month.

I hope you do not mind our using some of your comments about Terry, as we hope that others will find them as comforting as we have.

Thank you,

Jennifer Garbuzinski

blunoz said...

I am honored that you would use my tribute to Terry and wish I were closer to attend the new flagpole installation.
I miss Terry. His phone number is still posted right over my phone in my office, and I frequently wish I could pick up the phone and ask for his advice.
Thank you for your kind words about my blog post and for the update about the flagpole and the difficult milestones you and the boys are going through for the first time without Terry.
God bless you and your family. I have faith you and I will be with Terry again someday. The song "Homesick" by the group MercyMe is running through my head right now.

Take care,