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Passing of Rear Adm. Thomas D. Paulsen, USN (Ret.)

By: Samuel J. Cox Rear Adm., USN (retired) Director of Naval History, Curator for the Navy Director, Naval History and Heritage Command

It is with deep regret I inform you of the passing of Rear Admiral Thomas Dean Paulsen, U.S. Navy (Retired) on March 27, 2020 at age 83. Entering the U.S. Naval Academy in 1956, he served in submarines and surface ships until his retirement in 1994 as Deputy Director for Naval Training (N7B).  His commands included USS Whipple (FF 1062), USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19), and Cruiser-Destroyer Group TWO/USS America Battle Group.

Thomas Paulsen entered the U.S. Naval Academy in June 1956, majoring in electrical engineering, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Naval Science, and was commissioned an ensign in June 1960. Following six months at the Naval Submarine School, New London, Conn., Ensign Paulsen reported to the diesel submarine Corporal (SS 346) as Weapons and Communications Officer, while she was deployed to the Mediterranean.  Corporal then underwent conversion from GUPPY II to GUPPY III configuration. In December 1963, Lieutenant (junior grade) Paulsen underwent instruction as Naval Guided Missile School, Dam Neck, before reporting to fleet ballistic missile submarine Theodore Roosevelt (SSBN 600) as Blue Crew Navigation and Operations Officer. During this period (1965-1967), SSBN 600 underwent a nuclear refueling before conducting several deterrent patrols from Holy Loch, Scotland. In July 1968, Lieutenant Paulson reported Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, where he earned a Master of Science in Computer Science, and in June 1969 was promoted to Lieutenant Commander.

Rear Admiral Thomas D. Paulsen, Commander, Cruiser Destroyer Group 2; John Davis, United States ambassador to Poland, other U.S. naval officers and civilians attend a wreath laying ceremony at a Polish memorial. Officers and crew members of two US Navy ships, the guided missile cruiser USS Harry E. Yarnell (CG 17) and the guided missile frigate USS Kauffman (FFG 59) are visiting Poland in conjunction with BALTOPS ’90, a NATO exercise in the Baltic Sea. Their port call represents the first visit by United States Navy vessels since 1927.

In August 1970, Lt. Cmdr. Paulsen assumed duty as Executive Officer for diesel submarine Sailfish (SS 572) homeported in Pearl Harbor, for a Western Pacific Deployment. In January 1972, he was assigned to Commander Submarines Pacific as a Command Center Watch Officer. In June 1973, he assumed duty as Executive Officer for guided-missile destroyer leader Reeves (DLG 24, later CG 24) homeported in Pearl Harbor for a Western Pacific, South China Sea, Indian Ocean deployment.

In June 1975, Lt. Cmdr. Paulsen assumed command of guided-missile frigate Whipple (FF 1062) and was promoted to commander in September 1975.  Whipple underwent a major overhaul to be configured to operate LAMPS helicopters, before deploying to the Western Pacific and operating with the SEVENTH Fleet. Cmdr. Paulsen then reported to the SEVENTH Fleet Staff in July 1977 as ASW Readiness and Surface Warfare Officer embarked on guided missile light cruiser Oklahoma City (CLG 5) homeported in Yokosuka, Japan until Oklahoma City was decommissioned in 1979 and the SEVENTH Fleet Staff embarked on amphibious command and control ship Blue Ridge (LCC 19) in December 1979. In July 1980, Cmdr. Paulsen reported to the U.S. Naval Academy as Director of the Division of Professional Development, and was promoted to captain in November 1981.

Following several months duty under instruction at the Bureau of Naval Personnel, Capt. Paulsen assumed command of the SEVENTH Fleet flagship Blue Ridge (LCC 19) homeported in Yokosuka, Japan for operations in the Western Pacific, including the rescue of 25 Vietnamese refugees in the South China Sea in May 1984, which earned the ship a Humanitarian Service Medal. In November 1985, Capt. Paulsen reported as the Executive Assistant to the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, Admiral Carlisle Trost, who then took Capt. Paulsen to be Executive Assistant to the CNO when Adm. Trost became CNO in July 1986.

John Davis, United States ambassador to Poland; Rear Admiral Thomas D. Paulsen, Commander, Cruiser Destroyer Group 2; Captain Gary Zwirschitz and other officers are filmed by a cameraman as they gather for a ceremony at a Polish memorial.

On September 1, 1988, Capt. Paulsen was promoted to Rear Admiral (lower half) and in July 1989 assumed command of Cruiser-Destroyer Group TWO/America Battle Group, embarked on carrier America (CV 66) while deployed to the Indian Ocean. The deployment was cut short and America sent into the Eastern Mediterranean in response to Iranian-backed terrorist group’s execution of Lieutenant Colonel William R. Higgins (abducted while serving with the UN Peacekeeping Force) and subsequent evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. In the summer of 1990, Rear Adm. Paulsen deployed to the Baltic Sea for exercise BALTOPS-90, embarked on guided missile cruiser Harry Yarnell (CG 17) that with guided missile frigate Kauffman (FFG 59) on June 27, 1990 made the first U.S. port visit to Poland since 1927. Rear Adm. Paulsen detached in December 1990, before America sailed for Desert Storm, but he was responsible for ensuring her readiness for combat operations.

In December 1990, Rear Adm. Paulsen reported to Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet as Deputy Chief of Staff Plans and Operations (N3) and was promoted to Rear Admiral (two star) on May 1, 1991. In March 1993, Rear Adm. Paulsen assumed duty as CINCPACFLT Deputy and Chief of Staff. In October 1993, Rear Adm. Paulsen returned to Washington, D.C. to the Office of the CNO, as Deputy Director for Naval Training (N7B) where he served until his retirement on October 1, 1994.

Curious Polish citizens observe Rear Admiral Thomas D. Paulsen, Commander, Cruiser Destroyer Group 2, during a ceremony welcoming Paulsen, along with officers and crew members of two United States Navy ships, to port.

Rear Adm. Paulsen’s awards include the Legion of Merit (3), Meritorious Service Medal (2), Navy Commendation Medal, Navy Achievement Medal, Navy “E” Ribbon with Wreathed “E,” Navy Expeditionary Medal, National Defense Service Medal with two Bronze Stars, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Vietnam service Medal with two Bronze Stars, Humanitarian Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Medal with three Bronze Stars.

After retiring from active duty, Rear Adm. Paulsen entered the corporate sector, to include serving as Chief Information Officer for Williams Telecommunications, Director of Umbanet, Inc., the Board of Governors of the Institute of Knowledge Management, George Washington University, the Board of Governors for the Japanese American Museum, Los Angeles 2003, and the Board of Directors for eMagin, among others. He also served as an elder of Westminster Presbyterian Church and with his wife Marbeth delivered meals to the homebound in Meals on Wheels. 

Rear Admiral Paulsen is another case-study in the detailer adage, “bloom where planted,” taking tough, unglamorous jobs and excelling. Serving in diesel submarines when the new nuclear boats were that latest and greatest, serving on a nuclear submarine in a non-nuclear billet, then back to diesel boats when they were being phased out of the U.S. Navy. It seemed every sub and ship he was on early in his career spent much of the time in major overhaul, necessary but never much fun. He made the transition to surface ships, with superb performance as XO of Reeves and CO of Whipple. His exemplary service on the SEVENTHFLEET staff and later as CO of the SEVENTH Fleet Flagship brought him to the attention of senior Navy leadership, with a reward (?) of four arduous years as an Executive Assistant in Norfolk and the Pentagon. His last assignments included the difficult job of managing uncertainty as Pacific Fleet operations adjusted to the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, followed by a key billet in revising U.S. Navy education and training during the constrained resource challenges of the post-Desert Storm 1990’s. Wherever he went, he was highly regarded as a leader, mentor, and role model. Rear Adm. Paulsen served with great distinction, and the Navy and the nation should be very grateful.  

 Rest in Peace Admiral Paulsen.