How Admiral Rogers’ love of the Navy took him from Sea Cadet to Admiral

By Admiral Michael S. Rogers, USN (Ret), Former Commander, U.S. Cyber Command; Director, National Security Agency; Chief, Central Security Service

Ever since I was a boy I wanted to be a naval officer. I’ve always been an avid reader and a voracious consumer of stories about sailors and the sea. Nothing could deter me from going before the mast, as it were. 

At 13, I joined the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps. My family lived in Chicago, an inland city but one with a serious port facility on Lake Michigan, which ocean-going ships can reach by way of the St. Lawrence River. The Sea Cadets, of course, only fueled my excitement about the Navy — from boot camp to swim calls and jumping off the cat walk of one of those very old, very tall hangars at Glenview Naval Air Station in Glencoe. At a time when the appeal of military service had temporarily reached a low ebb in American society, I found the sailor’s calling to be one of action and adventure. It struck me as not merely a job or even a profession, but as a calling. One was expected to know the fundamentals of seamanship and the basics of one’s trade, of course, but one also had a vocation, even a duty, to learn how to work with one’s shipmates as a member of a crew — a team that gives life to a ship and represents the heart and the brain of that vessel as a fighting force. I studied manuals and took tests like my fellow cadets, but what I really learned was that we were only as good apart as we were together.

My favorite memory is taking an old turbo-prop Navy transport (I think it was a C-54) up to a two-week exchange program on Vancouver Island, at Esquimalt Navy Base. We sailed aboard a Canadian patrol boat along the coast of British Columbia. It was absolutely beautiful. My not-so-favorite memory, but a vivid one nevertheless, was going to Great Lakes for our week of mini-boot camp and living in the recruit barracks. Everything else looks good after boot camp.

Upon graduating from Auburn University and Navy ROTC there, I was commissioned in the US Navy and spent my first five years as a surface warfare officer watching the Soviet fleet in the last decade of the Cold War. In 1986, I applied, and was accepted, to change my specialty in the Navy from surface warfare to cryptology, or signals intelligence. I never thought then that I’d be where I am today, Commander of US Cyber Command and Director of the National Security Agency. I had heard a little about NSA, which seemed wrapped in mystery. Cyber Command, of course, did not even exist: “cyberspace” back in the 1980s was literally something that one read about in science fiction. What brought me here was love of country, of service, and of the Navy. 

Throughout my life, those closest to me — my father, my wife — have always said to me, “Michael, you love the Navy, and you love going to sea.” And I do. I am incredibly fortunate to be able to live my dream every day.