Commander of the Midwest

By Andy Balaskovitz
Rear Admiral Rick Williamson. Andy Balaskovitz/City Pulse

Navy admiral on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and women in the military

Friday, Jan. 11 — The man overseeing about 40,000 U.S. Navy personnel throughout the Midwest was in town today to discuss the status and the future of the world’s largest naval fleet, while addressing more contentious issues surrounding the U.S. military.

Rear Admiral Rick Williamson, who as commander of the Navy’s Midwest Region oversees bases in 16 states from North Dakota to Tennessee, says the Navy is on a mission to become “leaner and meaner,” through more efficient equipment and cutting edge technology.

“The Navy you may remember from a few years ago doesn’t look the same today,” he said. “We’re leaner and meaner.”

Williamson, speaking today during a meeting of the Lansing Rotary Club, referred specifically to faster, more dynamic combat ships — like the latest 454-foot littoral combat ship that can travel 45 miles per hour.

He also fielded questions about the Navy’s response to the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — a policy adopted during the Clinton administration that prohibited the harassment of closeted gays and lesbians serving in the military while also barring openly gay and lesbian persons from serving — and the role of women in the military.

“I think we are doing fine,” Williamson said of the Navy’s response to the Obama administration’s ending of the policy, allowing for openly gay service members. “The bottom line is: people are people. They’re serving their country. I’ve seen no repercussions whatsoever.”

Williamson was also asked to respond to recent reports of sexual harassment toward women within in the military. In November, The New York Times reported that “more than 3,000 sexual assault cases were reported in 2011 throughout all of the military services,” though Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said “actual figures could be as high as 19,000.”

“It’s not right,” Williamson said today. “We’re all people. We should all be civil. You don’t want to do it in my command.”

Meanwhile, Williamson says the Navy is also meeting its quota for new recruits “very easily.” He added that women serving in the Navy are “thriving” and that it will continue to seek more. “Like any corporation, we want the most valuable people.”

Williamson, who said he’s moved 25 times in the past 37 years, has served in his post for sixth months. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1985 with a bachelor’s in computer science, followed by an M.B.A. from the Naval Postgraduate School in 1990.