A chapter closes on a 37 year Navy career and in the process, the Navy loses one of its best. Vice Admiral John Christenson is retiring today after giving the best years of his life to the Navy he loves. The son of a Navy pilot and a Navy nurse, he never wavered in his dream of following in their footsteps. And boy, did he ever.
He accomplished so much – he was President of the Naval War College, commanded ships and a strike group, and served in increasingly challenging and important positions at sea, on shore and overseas. His last job was as the U.S. Military Representative for NATO.
But I just know him as John, the whiz kid from the Naval Academy who relieved me as Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer on board USS COOK (FF 1083) back in the early 80s. That Ensign became a dear friend who was there for just about every significant event in my life.
He introduced me to my wife and stood by me at the wedding. He escorted my mother at my retirement ceremony. He was – and is – the kind of guy who makes you feel like you are the most important person in the room.
And he has done that for thousands of military and civilian personnel who were lucky enough to have him as their boss. I have visited him many times over the years and each visit followed the same theme. As he walked you around his command, he would stop and introduce you to whatever Sailors he happened to come upon. Then he would tell you where they came from, what their jobs were, and usually include some specifics about their families. When they call someone a people person, a Sailor’s Sailor, they are talking about Admiral Christenson. He and his wife Teresa are the most gracious, welcoming and genuine people I have ever met.
He is a naval history expert and has a great fondness for Admiral Nimitz, who he likes to quote. One of his favorites: “The best ships are also surely the happiest ships.” John’s ships were happy and good. Very good. He was – and is – a technical and strategic genius with the ability to motivate those in his charge.
I have written about him before. He was at the Pentagon on 9/11 and the next day, after assuring us that he was OK, he went back to work (while the building was still burning) to show the terrorists that they couldn’t stop us.
I said the Navy loses one of its best today. That isn’t true, not really. His impact and legacy will course through the veins and capillaries of the Navy for years to come. He isn’t going anywhere.
Vice Admiral Christenson, John, congratulations on a tremendous career. Fair winds and following seas, and thank you for your selfless dedication to the Navy and the country it protects.