Retired Adm. Tom Fargo has witnessed multiple generations of U.S. armed forces during his lifetime.
The 73-year-old veteran, whose own decorated 35-year Navy career culminated in his role as commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, comes from a lineage of service.
“I’ve seen certainly three, maybe four, generations of veterans, from my grandparents to my parents to my own service and then of course the current generation that I think are absolutely eye-watering,” said Fargo, who is the keynote speaker for Anthem’s annual Veterans Day ceremony.
“After watching them serve for 20 years in the Middle East and around the world, they have deployed longer and more frequently than even my generation.”
He plans to honor those multiple generations at the upcoming ceremony, set for 10 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 11, at the Anthem Veterans Memorial in Anthem Community Park, 41703 N. Gavilan Peak Parkway.
“There’s a common theme here, and that is that these men and women have stepped up to serve their country in very challenging times,” Fargo explained.
He will also address current national security threats and the challenges they pose, what can be done to ensure the community embraces veterans and their needs, as well as what veterans can do for their communities in return.
“I think they’re unique in their ability to step up and contribute in lots of ways, volunteering being something that veterans have done for as long as we can remember,” Fargo said.
Coming from a Navy family, Fargo recalls moving every two years during his childhood. But “that’s just the way it was as my father was assigned to different duty stations,” he added with a laugh.
Tours of duty took his family to places like Sasebo, Japan, and Washington, D.C., with Coronado, California, near North Island Naval Air Station, serving as their “center of gravity.”
“We saw a great deal of the country and a great deal of the world growing up, and I think that was helpful to us,” he recalled.
Both his father, who he said was killed in a carrier accident, and his stepfather were also in the Navy, and his mother had been a Navy nurse during World War II. His brother went on to serve, too.
Fargo ultimately found inspiration in his family, allowing him to forge his own path of service. “My father clearly loved what he was doing, and my mother and father had a great set of friends in the military... people that they had served with, people that they had met throughout their military lives, and it was clear to me that they felt serving, and of course we were a Navy family, but serving was both tremendously rewarding and a lifestyle that they embraced — and so did I,” he said.
A 1970 Naval Academy graduate, Fargo was trained in joint, naval and submarine commands, according to an archived Department of Defense webpage. Having served a variety of sea and shore assignments over his subsequent 35-year career, he views his rise through the ranks as taking things one assignment at a time.
“What I learned was that the Navy kind of prepares you each step of the way,” he said. “In other words, you look at the next job and it seems pretty daunting when you’re a couple years away from it, but you learn and develop and gain experience, and before too long you say, ‘This is a big job, but I can do it.’ And that’s how you move along, pretty much.
“I think it helped me to go to Washington, D.C., to gain some of the bigger picture, as to what would be important in a career in terms of development, but fundamentally, you have to do well in your assignments at sea.”
The best job he ever had? “I think, for most of us, the clear goal is to command at sea,” he said. While working aboard a sub or ship, he said, “you know every one of those sailors, you know whether they’re having a good day or a bad day, and you have a tremendous ability to make an impact — make an impact in the performance of the ship and make an impact in the lives of those sailors.”
According to the Department of Defense, his assignments included executive officer of the USS Plunger (SSN-595) and commanding officer of USS Salt Lake City (SSN-716). It was aboard the latter that he recalled welcoming actors Scott Glenn and Alec Baldwin during their preparation and training for the 1990 film “The Hunt for the Red October.”
“He did a superb job of representing exactly how a captain and the crew come together on an operation,” Fargo said of Glenn.
And from 1992 to 1993 he commanded Submarine Group 7, Task Force 74 and Task Force 157 in the Western Pacific, Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf, a period of time that he looks back on as challenging and demanding but also rewarding and exciting.
“The pace of the operations during that period of time was very high, and we were stationed in Japan,” he recounted of his time in the Western Pacific. “And it provided my first real significant opportunity to understand how you coordinate operations between not only the submarine force but the aviation assets, during a period of time when anti-submarine warfare was very important, as well as the surface Navy.”
He considers his command of the U.S. Fifth Fleet and Naval Forces of the Central Command — a position he held from July 1996 to July 1998, according to the Department of Defense — to be another interesting point in his career.
“It was another stretch of time where there were continuing sets of Iraqi contingency operations kind of in between the first Gulf War and the second Gulf War,” he said. “But the culture is so unique, and the manner in which you operate in those areas was different than I’d seen before and it gave me a perspective on kind of geopolitical operations that I hadn’t had before.”
Eventually, according to the Department of Defense, he reached the position of commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet from October 1999 until May 2002, when he assumed the role of commander of the U.S. Pacific Command — directing Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force operations across more than 100 million square miles — until his retirement in 2005.
During these years, he acknowledged “there were a number of very significant things that occurred,” among them being the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people and for which he and a task force coordinated humanitarian relief to countries in the region.
But even having carried out many assignments and received commendations, Fargo is most proud of a different sort of accomplishment.
“I’d say the achievement that I’m most proud of is the young officers that I had the pleasure to train and mentor that went on to command in their own right,” he said. “And I stay in touch with those officers today. A lot of them have completed their careers and retired also. But watching them learn and gain experience and become very confident leaders and operators and go on to command their own submarine, for example, is without a doubt the most rewarding part of my career.”
Despite transitioning to the private sector post-Navy, working with various organizations and serving on numerous boards of directors, Fargo finds hope in those who continue to serve the nation.
“Make no mistake about the quality of the young Americans that are serving the country today,” Fargo said. “They’re bright, they’re hugely dedicated and they’re willing to sacrifice, as has been evidenced over the last 20 years. ... It’s a great generation, and just like the ones that preceded them, they’re serving their country tremendously.”
For more information on the Anthem Veterans Day ceremony, visit onlineatanthem.com or see the related story.