After concluding his term in what he calls “probably the greatest job in the Navy,” Capt. Brian Tanaka has one heck of a consolation prize as the next step in his Naval career.
Tanaka, a Rochester native and 1992 graduate of Lourdes High School, will be deputy commander of Task Force 69, of the U.S. Sixth Fleet in Naples, Italy. We caught up with him by phone recently as he was packing up his family — wife, Jessica, and the couple’s three daughters, ages 7, 5 and 4 — for the move. “It’s pretty exciting,” he said.
Naples is at the heart of U.S. Naval involvement in Europe, Eurasia and Africa — think Russia, Crimea, NATO and Syria and you get a sense of the gravity of the assignment.
Thankfully, Tanaka is up to the pressures of the job, having just finished 50 months commanding the U.S.S. Minnesota, a next-generation high-tech Virginia class attack nuclear submarine, bristling with Tomahawk missiles and advanced surveillance equipment. It’s one of the most formidable weapons in the world.
“Being in command of a ship like that, it’s really an awesome job,” Tanaka said. “We operate independently. The only people who know what we’re doing and where we are, are the people on board.”
Though the Minnesota spent a considerable portion of Tanaka’s 50 months of command in dry dock having a manufacturing defect repaired, it managed to traverse some 40,000 miles at sea, with stops at ports in Norway, Spain and Scotland before returning to home base in Connecticut last month. Tanaka relinquished command to his scheduled replacement at a ceremony on April 20.
He’ll likely never command a sub again — these assignments are typically given just once in a career, Tanaka said. So he relishes his memories of the time at sea, developing a crew that won top prizes in the fleet for navigation and battle readiness.
“What really makes it work is the quality of the people,” he said.
Growing up in Rochester laid the foundation for his life’s successes, and as captain of the Minnesota, Tanaka relished having first command of a new vessel named for his home state. Tanaka named his golf coach, the late Tom Murphy (“I frequently recall things that he used to say”) and football coach Dennis Nigon as two big influences from his teen years.
“Maybe at the time, in high school, I didn’t realize the significance of everything,” he said. “I came to realize the value of the lessons — the work ethic, the pride of doing a job well, being family-oriented.”