Thomas A. Dames

For his dedicated service to his country as an officer in the United States Navy and his outstanding accomplishments in engineering and construction operations worldwide, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to Admiral Thomas A. Dames.

Rear Admiral, Civil Engineer Corps, U.S. Navy
Commander, Pacific Division, Naval Facilities
Engineering Command
Commander, Third Naval Construction Brigade (Seabees)
BSCE '68, MSCE '68, PhD '72


On his Purdue days

The collegiality of the graduate students is a very warm memory. The easy accessibility of the faculty is another thing that I remember very well. I occasionally read or hear criticism of life in academe-about the distance between faculty and students-but the relationship between faculty and students at Purdue was a close one, at the undergraduate as well as the graduate level. The giants in the field in those days were around and about and able to chat with students.

The School of Civil Engineering has established a "wall of fame" on which photographs of professors emeriti are hung. When I look at that wall, the warmest memories return of professors who devoted their lives to the university: Bill Grecco, my major professor; Harold Michael, one of the giants in the field; John McLaughlin, another great hero of mine; John Hayes; Phil Soneson; Lloyd Kemmer; Adolph Altschaeffl-also K. B. Woods, who taught a course called "Engineering Soils of North America" and had a personal and encyclopedic knowledge of the engineering characteristics of at least 49 of the 50 states. We've got some great heroes now, as well.

On his career

I've built many things: two bridges, three hospitals, three chapels-hundreds of structures. The ones that I enjoy the most had a sense of quality and appropriateness that gives me great satisfaction. Part of that satisfaction, as I look back on it, was that I was intimately involved with those jobs from an engineering standpoint. I used my engineering education to good advantage. I always felt that Purdue truly prepared me to be a practicing and practical engineer.

When I headed the Atlantic Division, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, I was involved in a number of humanitarian-assistance operations, including those to Somalia, Haiti, and Guantanamo Bay. These kinds of operations have a very high engineering and medical content, and engineers are paramount to their success. What we as military engineers practice doing for conflict is almost entirely applicable to disaster relief and humanitarian assistance. In Somalia, public health, the water supply, food provisions, and transportation were so abysmal that we Americans had the chance to be great heroes and improve the lives of thousands of people. I saw famine ended, water running, farms being replanted-all on the basis of the American intervention. Most of that was because of civil engineering.

On challenges facing the Navy

It seems almost trite to say that we are seeking to re-form our navy to the new realities of the military requirements of the United States, and generally that means a smaller navy, but we always must be ready to respond to national emergencies, military and natural disasters. The greatest challenge ahead is the same challenge that we've faced throughout the history of our republic: to have a navy trained, equipped, and prepared to carry on the duties asked of it.

On the engineer's role in society

A Purdue engineering degree is an extraordinary credential. My being a Purdue engineer carries the professional debates that I get involved in. I am concerned about the issue of the engineer's voice being somewhat muted or stilled in our society. It seems to me that engineers have so much to offer in terms of shaping society but that some engineers are rather too shy, too reserved. The profession is more than a shade underutilized in public service: the public issues and public problems of our world have a high engineering content. There's a role for the engineer to play as executive. The governance and leadership of our country are too important to be left to professional politicians.

On Purdue's reach

My naval experience has been very salubrious. I've served in the Atlantic and the Pacific, in the Navy and the Marines, in peace and in war, in our country and overseas. My duties have carried me to near and far corners of the planet-and I find that the reputation of Purdue extends to every place I've been able to touch. The citizens of Indiana ought to know and feel proud that what they've created and nurtured in Purdue University is a national asset and an international force for good. Because of my career, I can personally attest to the reach of Purdue into life on Earth.


1995-:
Commander, Pacific Division, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, and Commander, Third Naval Construction Brigade (Seabees), Pearl Harbor. Responsible for the planning, design, and construction of shore support facilities throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans and Southeast Asia. Directs Seabees operating in the Pacific theater.
1992-95:
Commander, Atlantic Division, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Norfolk, Va. Provided engineering and construction for the Atlantic, European, Central, Southern, and Special Operations commands and NATO. Operations included Somalia, Haiti, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Atlantic Division received the Secretary of the Navy's Meritorious Unit Commendation for this service.
1990-92:
Commanding Officer, Northern Division, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Philadelphia. Served in Joint Task Force Andrew, the U.S. military hurricane relief and recovery operation in southern Florida.
1988-90:
Financial Program Office of the Chief of Naval Operations and the Secretary of the Navy, the Pentagon. Staff member to the Chief of Naval Operations. Headed Program Appraisal and Information Branch. Was assigned concurrently to the staff of the Secretary of the Navy as deputy director, Department of the Navy Program Information Center.
1986-88:
Commanding Officer, Navy Public Works Center, San Francisco Bay.
1983-86:
Executive assistant to the Commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Alexandria, Va.
1981-83:
Resident Officer in Charge of Construction, Charleston, S.C.
1979-81:
Public works officer, Naval Air Station, Keflavik, Iceland.
1977-79:
Director, Systems Analysis Division, Naval Facilities Engineering Command headquarters, Alexandria, Va.
1975-77:
Staff engineer for Assistant Vice Chief of Naval Operations/Director of Naval Administration, Washington, D.C.
1972-75:
Planning officer for the European Branch Office, Atlantic Division, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Naples, Italy.
1970-71:
Aide and special assistant to the Commander, Construction Battalions, U.S. Pacific Fleet/Commander, Pacific Division, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Pearl Harbor.
1968-70:
Company Commander, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133, Gulfport, Miss. Was deployed twice to Vietnam.
1965-66:
Assistant Resident Officer in Charge of Construction, Midwest Division, Bureau of Yards and Docks, Great Lakes, Ill.

BS '65, U.S. Naval Academy; BSCE '68, MSCE '68, PhD '72, Purdue; Program for Management Development, Harvard Military awards and decorations: Legion of Merit (four times), Meritorious Service Medal (two times), Navy Commendation Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Navy Achievement Medal, Combat Action Ribbon.