Rear admiral sets sights on retiring – and returning home
Rear Adm. Robin Watters is coming home to Jamestown soon. The admiral is retiring after a distinguished naval career that culminated in his role as commander of all United States armed forces in the Pacific region.
By his own admission, Watters was an Air Force brat. His father was a career military man, and his family followed him from assignment to assignment. Watters was actually born in England, and went on to live in places like Guam and California.
Since Watters’ father was stationed in Nebraska twice – and eventually retired there – the admiral considers Bellevue, Neb., to be the place that he thinks of as home. He attended the University of Nebraska, where he got his commission through the ROTC program.
Shortly after being commissioned, Watters came to Newport to attend what was then called the Surface Warfare Officers School. He lived in the area for two years in the late ’70s while taking the course.
His first assignment was to an amphibious helicopter carrier based out of Norfolk, Va., the USS Inchon. The ship deployed to the Mediterranean. Following that tour, Watters returned to Rhode Island to be an instructor at the school that he had previously attended. His next assignment was as a department head on a guided missile frigate based in Charleston, S.C.
Watters got married and left active duty in the Navy for a couple of years, working at a company called Sonalysts in Middletown. “Even though we’ve been married for 28 years, she says I’ve been gone so much that it’s almost like we’ve been dating,” Watters joked.
He remained in the Navy Reserves during that time. When he returned to active duty he found himself assigned to various staffs associated with the Pacific. Detours from this duty found him on a minesweeper with a crew based out of Newport for Operation Desert Storm, a serving the naval commander in the Middle East during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. He served in that capacity for 11 months.
Watters spent time with 7th Fleet staff. He was the senior naval commander in the Western Pacific, and then the Pacific Fleet commander, having charge of all the naval forces in the Pacific. Finally he became chief of staff of the U.S. Pacific Command, the job that he holds today.
The joint command has charge of all U.S. military forces in an area that stretches from the West Coast of the United States to the border between Pakistan and India. The command takes in nearly half of the Earth’s surface. It includes countries such as China, Japan, Australia, North Korea and South Korea.
When Watters returned to this area as an instructor in 1981, his family rented a house in Portsmouth, where they lived for many years. In 2004 they decided to move and bought a house on the north end of Jamestown. His wife and son, who is now in college, have remained there during all of the Watters’ subsequent assignments.
“That was the big downside to taking this job,” Watters said. “My son is in college, and my wife works full time in the Navy lab there. She’s also working on advanced degrees. She decided that she was going to stay in Jamestown and continue with her work.”
Unfortunately, Watters has not been able to spend much time in Jamestown, although that will change when he retires in a few weeks.
“It’s been a super experience and an honor to be able to have the experiences that I have, and get to serve with the kind of folks that you get to serve with,” Watters said. “When you get older you come to appreciate how special the service is. It is first and foremost to me, the people that you get to work with. They are really remarkable. ... This is the last stop for me, but all those guys in the tanks, the airplanes and the submarines, they are doing great work with long, long hours. That’s what I’m going to miss the most, those relationships.”
Watters went on to say that he also appreciated how interesting he found the work. He enjoys having to look at a breadth of issues and resolving problems in a large area of responsibility. According to Watters, that sort of work makes for quick days, and that will be the challenge as he decides what to do during his retirement years.
Watters enjoys running and fishing during his free time. He grew up as a fresh-water fisherman and hasn’t figured out salt-water fishing yet, but he plans to learn how to catch striped bass more reliably than he has been able to in the past. Despite the amount of traveling he’s done for work, which has taken him to places like Vietnam, Mongolia and the Solomon Islands, he plans to do more traveling without having to worry about work.
It is important to Watters that people understand the importance of the Pacific region to the future of the United States. He said that since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are winding down, the issue of what to do with the forces that have been fighting in the Middle East needed to be addressed. When President Obama made a decision on that in January, a priority was placed on the Pacific region.
“If you think about it, it’s been over a decade that we’ve been involved in those two conflicts,” Watters said. “Over that time, we have taken a lot of the forces from the Pacific to support that effort. The economics of the Asian Pacifi c have become more and more important to the world, including the United States. Those lines of communication are the lifeline of the world’s economy.”
Watters said that strategically the United States wants to rebalance toward the Pacific. The Navy has already said that 60 percent of their forces would go to the Pacific. The issue of how best to specifi- cally redeploy U.S. forces based on the president’s strategic decision is what is being worked out right now. Since Watters is responsible for all of the military forces in the region, he is a key player in that decision making.
Watters said that the issues in the Asian Pacific region are vital to the entire county, particularly in a coastal state. “Any disruption, which it is our goal to preclude, would have a direct impact on business in Rhode Island.”