Thirty-six years ago, Hogan High School graduate Butch Dollaga never saw himself making much of a career in the military.
Oh, how the tide has changed.
Rear Adm. Dollaga is currently Chief of Legislative Affairs in Washington, D.C. He’s in Vallejo for his first visit in over three decades, a trip that will include stops and visits with Mayor Robert McConnell, Vallejo City Unified School District Superintendent William Spalding, Jesse Bethel students and cadets at Cal Maritime to name a few stops.
On Tuesday morning he was at Cal Maritime speaking with cadets to attempt to reconnect the Navy with the local community.
“I’m here to let everyone know that there is an opportunity there to have a great life after graduation from high school,” Dollaga said. “We used to have all the jobs at Mare Island years ago, but not anymore. I’m here to let students know that although the Navy might not be for everyone, it’s a great stepping stone. I want to convince the young adults and the kids in the community that yes, you can do this.”
Dollaga says he initially chose the Navy because it was the most affordable plan he could think of.
“I had to go to school, but I also had to have someone pay for my college scholarship and I felt the military was the best path,” Dollaga said. “I thought I’d only be with them for around five years, but 36 years later here I am.”
Dollaga joked that when the first went into the Navy, the 1986 film “Top Gun” was all the rage.
“And it’s weird that I’m back in Vallejo and there is another ‘Top Gun’ movie out,” Dollaga said, with a laugh. “That being said, I didn’t decide to get my wings, I went another route. I didn’t choose ‘Top Gun,’ I chose ‘Top Sub.'”
In the 36 years between the two Tom Cruise films, Dollaga has avoided singing popular 1960s hits in bars and beach volleyball matches. Instead, he stayed busy as a 1990 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, along with a master’s degree in Engineering Management from George Washington University.
Dollaga’s sea tours include division officer assignments aboard USS Los Angeles (SSN 688); engineer officer aboard USS Rhode Island (SSBN 740)(B); and executive officer aboard USS Cheyenne (SSN 773). He commanded USS Charlotte (SSN 766) in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and also served as commodore of Submarine Development Squadron 12, Groton, Connecticut. His shore and staff assignments include admissions officer at the U.S. Naval Academy; technical assistant to the Director of Naval Nuclear Propulsion; nuclear officer program manager and the submarine officer community manager on the staff of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Manpower, Personnel, Training, and Education) just to name a few.
His flag assignments include commander, Undersea Warfighting Development Center in Groton, Conn., and most recently commander, Submarine Group SEVEN/Task Force 54/Task Force 74 leading undersea operations in both CENTCOM and INDOPACOM areas of responsibility.
He completed three overseas deployments in Indo-Pacific Command and five strategic deterrent patrols in the Atlantic. The units he served with collectively earned four unit awards, five Battle “E”s, and U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Arleigh Burke Fleet Trophy.
“It’s weird, but when I first decided about possibly going into the Naval Academy, a lot of people in school or close to me said that I was setting too high of a bar for myself,” Dollaga said. “Thankfully I had a teacher Georgia Applegate and Mrs. Louis Brown who believed in me. “I had some self-doubt, but they believed in me and now I’m able to come back to my hometown and be the person I always wanted to be.”
“John F. Kennedy once said, ‘Any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worth while, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: ‘I served in the United States Navy,'” Dollaga continued. “I really love that quote and take it seriously.”