As the Area’s ‘Navy Mayor,’
Frederic Ruehe Fits Right
In With the Local Lifestyle
BY ANDREA SIEDSMA
e runs. He flies. He has even competed in a triathlon.
Sound like a typical San Diegan?
Well, he may have the outdoor traits many San Diegans have, but Rear Adm. Frederic R. Ruehe’s current job is less than typical.
After all, he is San Diego’s new “Navy Mayor.”
As the commander of Navy Region Southwest in San Diego, Ruehe oversees naval facilities in San Diego, Arizona and Nevada.
He has only been on the job for about three months. Although he has at least a couple years’ worth of local Navy efforts to catch up on, Ruehe says there’s no time to sit back and set aside time for learning.
He is concentrating on today and tomorrow.
First off, Ruehe wants to complete the regionalization process started by his predecessor, Rear Adm. Ronne Froman, who left for the Pentagon in February to become director of shore installation management for the Navy.
Regionalization , which has included consolidating local commands and combining services such as child care , has saved the local Navy command about $42 million over the last three years. For fiscal 2000, Navy Region Southwest must save an estimated $16 million. The command’s budget this year is $433 million.
There are, however, other things to deal with besides budget woes.
Stabilizing base consolidations and closures under BRAC , base realignment and closure , is a high priority, says Ruehe, a naval aviator. BRAC, he says, “has caused a lot of turmoil in the region. For example, at Point Magu, there’s an E-2 Hawkeye wing that moved from Miramar. We’re still working on putting them in suitable hangars.
“People also have new territories and duties. We need to make sure the people working for us are confident at what they’re doing and that we support them.”
The job may be demanding, but Ruehe is always up for a challenge.
“This is an exciting assignment for me,” says Ruehe, who was executive assistant to the chief of staff of the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic in Norfolk, Va., before taking his current post. “It’s impact living. It’s highs and lows. It keeps you going.”
To make sure things go as smooth as possible in this time of change, Ruehe regularly meets with the local Navy base commanders, whom he describes as “some of the best officers the Navy has.”
Ruehe has also had a chance to work with local business and community leaders.
“What I have enjoyed the most is the reception I’ve received in (San Diego). People have been eager to give me advice wherever they think I needed it,” he says with a laugh.
Pete Headley, chairman of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Advisory Committee, says it’s crucial for Ruehe to have close ties with local business leaders and organizations like the chamber.
“San Diego is the largest defense complex in the world. Combine that with a significantly growing private sector and that means the military community has to be even more coordinated and more free-flowing of information,” says Headley, also chief operating officer of Galaxy Management, a San Diego firm that helps companies gain business with the Defense Department.
Headley has no doubt Ruehe will be open with the community.
“Ronne Froman was an incredible asset to our community. What I see from Adm. Ruehe is a sincere effort to continue that. He has evidenced a real effort to continue and maintain the openness.”
Charlie Carey, a local retired Navy captain, is also certain of Ruehe’s capabilities.
Carey describes his friend and former colleague as a very normal guy, who’s low key and has a good sense of humor.
“He has a down to earth view of what’s happening,” says Carey, a senior analyst for Kapos Associates Inc., an operational research and analysis firm in San Diego. “I would call it situational awareness. He’s a pretty keen observer.
“There are a lot of opinions here,” Carey says. “He’s going to do what’s right for the Navy and the city. He’s perfectly suited for the job. Because of his experience both as an aviator and in the surface Navy, he knows the Navy and he’s a terrific representative of the Navy. That’s what San Diego needs. I couldn’t think of a better guy to put in here.”
Carey and Ruehe first met in 1973 aboard the USS Henry B. Wilson, a destroyer that was homeported in San Diego. It was Ruehe’s first assignment after graduating from the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) program at the University of Illinois. He served as the ship’s damage control assistant.
When the Wilson was sent to a shipyard in 1974 for a routine nine-month overhaul, Ruehe packed his bags and headed to flight school in Pensacola, Fla.
It seemed like an opportunity he just couldn’t pass up.
“I was excited about the program. I was able to fly aircraft off of a destroyer,” says Ruehe, whose wings landed him his first job with a helicopter squadron at North Island Naval Air Station. “The program allowed leadership skills at an early age. You have young people making responsible decisions. Frankly, I enjoyed that.”
He also enjoyed piloting a helicopter to and from a destroyer, which has a smaller deck than an aircraft carrier.
“To be able to take off and lift off the ground and stabilize in a hover is a feeling that’s very difficult to describe. ‘Exhilarating’ is as close as I can come,” he says.
Ruehe would remain at North Island until 1979, when he became a flight instructor. His wings also took him to the Philippines, where he was officer in charge of an anti-submarine warfare wing from 1982 to 1984. He also served as officer in charge of a helicopter detachment at North Island.
While flight propelled Ruehe, he knew the job could be a dangerous and serious one.
He came to that realization during his first assignment when he witnessed a fatal aircraft crash near the ship.
“It’s something that sticks with you,” he says. “It makes you realize you’re involved in serious business.”
Ruehe, a self-described Army brat, realized the seriousness of life while living in Germany between third grade and sixth grade.
“It was during a very dramatic time,” he says about the Berlin Wall going up. “You had to have a full tank of gas and a box of C-rations in the back of your car. That was during a period of peak tensions in Berlin when we still had a divided Germany. So in the event that hostilities broke out, families had to be prepared to leave.”
Ruehe, the son of a retired U.S. Army infantry officer, also lived in Wisconsin, Washington, Georgia and Virginia as a kid. Moving around prepared Ruehe for military life.
“You didn’t like leaving, but you were very excited about starting over,” says Ruehe, who was born in the Fort Bragg Army hospital in Columbia, S.C., in 1951, and is the oldest of four children. “It was a significant growing experience.”
Besides following his father’s military career path, Ruehe also attended the same college. In fact, both of his grandfathers also attended the University of Illinois, as did his mother, a retired science teacher.
While Ruehe’s daughter isn’t going to the same college, she is carrying on the Ruehe military legacy , she has an ROTC scholarship.
“Time in the military enhances your resume and makes you a very appealing employee when your service is complete,” Ruehe says.
He says the military needs more young people like his daughter, especially since retention and recruitment have been major issues for the military over the last couple of years.
“All of us in leadership have to live and breathe retention and think about how our actions affect retention, just as they do in industry. We’re in direct competition with industry. We don’t have a new BMW or a $200,000 salary, but we can offer growth, education, exciting positions and high technology.”
Although the Navy is competing with private industry for qualified employees, Ruehe says the military leaders can learn a lot from business leaders.
“They face many of the same issues we face, such as trying to keep up with Web-based technologies and streamlining our processes,” he says.
If keeping up with industry and balancing budgets isn’t enough, Ruehe must also carry on the legacy Ronne Froman left here.
“At first people called me the new Ronne Froman. I was a little put off at first,” Ruehe says, recounting part of his speech at a recent awards luncheon for the National Association of Women Business Owners. “But that opened a lot of doors for me because she established such a great reputation. I need to capitalize on that and build on the program she has built here.
“So here I am, the new Ronne Froman. I’m proud to build on Ronne Froman’s legacy.”