DAHLGREN, Va. — Dennis McLaughlin retired from the Department of Defense Senior Executive Service during a ceremony held at a command he considers the “crown jewel” of Navy Warfare Centers, April 1.
McLaughlin — Technical Director for Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) since October 2013 — described his tenure at NSWCDD as “the capstone to my career” in his last letter to the command’s workforce prior to his retirement.
“It has been a tremendous experience,” McLaughlin told more than 6,000 employees, comprising government civilians, defense contractors, and military personnel. “Dahlgren is often called 'The Crown Jewel' of the Warfare Centers - and for good reason! Our long history of success is well known throughout the Navy.”
McLaughlin led the command’s widespread technical efforts impacting a myriad of Navy and joint programs including — to name just a few — Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense; Chemical, Biological, and Radiological Warfare Defense; Cyber Warfare; Homeland Security and Defense; Combat Systems; Radar and Distribution Systems; Directed Energy from Electromagnetic Railgun to the Laser Weapons System; and the weaponization of Surface and Air Unmanned Systems.
“Of course, I have only touched the wave tops of all the interesting work we do here,” McLaughlin wrote. “There is a lot more — far more than I could describe in a simple message. It's all good and all highly valued. A prime example of this is the ground breaking we just had for our new SLBM (Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile) facility, laying the foundation for the future of Dahlgren. Dahlgren Division has a bright future, and you are all a key part in shaping it.”
McLaughlin led the command’s research, development, test, evaluation, analysis, systems engineering, integration, and certification of complex naval combat, sensor, weapon, and strategic systems associated with surface warfare as well as homeland and force protection.
“I am proud to have worked here,” McLaughlin continued. “I'm particularly proud of the smart, hardworking and innovative Dahlgren people that make our Navy the best in the world. Our people are the intellectual capital the Navy looks to in order to solve issues facing war fighters. Over the past few years, I have had the privilege and honor of getting to know you and to hopefully help you in your journey. If it wasn't for all of you, we could not turn ships into warships. You have my admiration and heartfelt thanks for a job well done.”
In an interview prior to his departure, McLaughlin reflected on the top three highlights of his civil service career: his leadership impact as NSWCDD’s technical director; his work on the open architecture design for the Navy's Virginia class submarine; and his founding of the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) Wounded Warrior Program.
“The design of the Virginia Class Combat System is something that I did with a small team of folks,” said McLaughlin, who wrote the specification and led the design team for the submarine's combat control system. It was the first such structural design for a U.S. Navy vessel. “At the time, we didn’t realize it but now it’s clear that we had a huge impact on how U.S. submarine service will operate and fight their ships.”
A leader in the Navy's Disabled Veteran Outreach efforts, he served as the director of NAVSEA’s Wounded Warrior Program.
"I have seen firsthand the benefits of hiring disabled veterans," said McLaughlin. “Since, I started that program, somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 wounded warriors have come in to service in the Navy. In some cases, it really made a difference to have a job and participate. Former service members have a lot of pride and they understand teamwork. They want to be part of a team and they don’t want handouts.”
What departing words of advice does McLaughlin have for his (yet to be selected) successor?
“Focus on technical excellence,” McLaughlin advised. “That’s our reputation and our future. We are technically excellent and people recognize that, but to stay on top we’ve got to continue to focus on it.”
McLaughlin and NSWCDD Commanding Officer Brian Durant also provided guidance related to the command’s technical excellence and its core capability to deliver integrated solutions through innovation and systems engineering in a document called the NSWCDD 2015-2020 Strategic Plan.
“Special emphasis is placed on technical opportunities in emerging warfare areas aligned with our core capability to deliver integrated solutions through innovation and systems engineering,” they advised. “The thrusts we are pursuing build off our science and engineering foundation and are envisioned to become an integral part of our core technical expertise in the future. Over the next five years, we will lead electric weapons design, development and integration; institutionalize mission engineering and analysis; and incorporate cyber warfare engineering in our naval systems.
McLaughlin, commissioned as a Navy officer in 1980, held a variety of positions on active duty and as a reservist before he retired as a Captain. In 2004, McLaughlin was appointed to the Senior Executive Service.
Prior to his NSWCDD technical director position, McLaughlin served as NSWC Indian Head Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division technical director, directing a workforce of more than 1,700 employees, while providing technical capability in energetics and explosive ordnance disposal technology for all Navy warfare centers.