Far from landing

Published 12:05 pm Wednesday, June 9, 2010

As far as most maps are concerned, Suffolk is not part of the state of Rhode Island. It’s not connected in any way to the “Ocean State,” and to get there would be a road trip of more than 500 miles.

But for Rhode Island native Rear Admiral Ted Carter, Suffolk and Hampton Roads are home.

“For whatever reason, I’ve always had the opportunity to come back here,” Carter said of his 28-year career in the U.S. Navy. “This is where I started flying (F-4) Phantoms out of Oceana in 1983. I was executive officer of the Harry S. Truman and the commanding officer of the Carl Vinson.”

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Today, Carter is the commanding officer of the U.S. Joint Forces Command’s (USJFCOM) Joint Enabling Capabilities Command in Suffolk; somewhat more reserved a command and assignment for the long-time naval aviator.

A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in 1981, Carter attended flight school at Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida. It was there, he says, that he experienced the moment that helped shape his distinguished career.

“When I was in flight school in Pensacola, I wasn’t sure what type of airplane I wanted to fly. I just knew that I wanted to fly,” Carter said. “I remember the commanding officer of Top Gun coming to Pensacola.”

“I remember listening to him. Seeing the way he carried himself. I thought that was what I wanted to be,” Carter said. “So, that was the start of it.”

What that experience started was a more than two-decade stint as a naval aviator, which took Carter to the decks of 18 different aircraft carriers — including all 11 active carriers — allowed him to command fighter squadrons, gave him the chance to attend Top Gun and provided him the mission to train countless aviators as an instructor.

In the Phantom, and later the F-14 Tomcat, Carter set forth a career that to date gives him the active record for number of carrier-arrested landings at 1,815 and more than 5,750 flight hours.

Carter said USJFCOM’s mission of providing key training and support to forces throughout the world gives him just as much fulfillment as flying combat missions, training naval aviators and commanding squadrons.

“Absolutely nothing can change out the level of intensity that goes with landing on a carrier at night or catapulting off a carrier at night. Or flying in a combat mission where someone is shooting at you. You don’t trade those out. You don’t forget them.”

“And I don’t suggest we try to trade those out,” Carter said. “But the challenges are still just as great in terms of managing an organization like this. They’re just on a much different scale.”

Among Carter’s military decorations are the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross with Combat V, the Bronze Star, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal (four awards) and the Air Medal (two awards with Combat V and five Strike/Flight), among others.

Carter is quick to point out he spends very little time reflecting on the career he has built, but rather the opportunities he has remaining at USJFCOM, with the Navy and with his family.

Just recently, Carter took advantage of his entire family being together, including wife Lynda, daughter Brittany, and son Christopher, to participate in the Virginia Beach Rock and Roll Half-Marathon.

“We set a goal of everyone starting together and finishing together,” Carter said, smiling. “We did just that, but I don’t think any of us expected it to be as tough a task as it was.”

With nearly three decades of service, Carter, who carries the call sign “Slapshot” honoring his four years playing hockey for the Naval Academy, has no plans of slowing down any time soon.

“I still love what I do. As long as the Navy or the Joint Forces finds a need to deploy me or operate me, I’m going to do it,” Carter said. “I can’t say what the future holds, but as long as I’m doing meaningful, relevant work, then I’m really happy to be a part of it.” ←