By: Samuel J. Cox, Rear Adm., USN (retired),
Curator of the Navy and Director, Naval History and Heritage Command
It is with deep regret I inform you of the passing of Admiral Carlisle Albert Herman Trost, U.S. Navy (Retired) on Sept. 29, 2020 at age 90.
Admiral Trost entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1949 and served as a Submarine Officer until his retirement in 1990 as the 23rd Chief of Naval Operations. His commands included USS Sam Rayburn (SSBN 635), Submarine Group Five, U.S. Seventh Fleet, and U.S. Atlantic Fleet. He led the U.S. Navy at the culmination of the Cold War with the Soviet Union.
Carl Trost entered the U.S. Naval Academy on 23 July 1949 with the class of 1953 at a time of draconian budget cuts to the U.S. Navy (reversed by the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950.) Midshipman Trost graduated first in his class with a Bachelor of Science in Naval Science. While at the academy he played soccer, crewed yawls, and was Vice President of the class. The “Lucky Bag” yearbook was prescient in noting that he had “the stuff of which leaders are made.” The entry also showed insight to his character, “many a man was thankful for Carl’s willingness to help with a hard problem.”
Commissioned on 5 June 1953, Ensign Trost reported to USS Robert A. Owens (at that time classified as a destroyer escort – DDE-827) serving as navigator, ASW officer, and assistant gunnery officer for operations and exercises on the U.S. East Coast and Caribbean, with a deployment to the Mediterranean. Selected for submarine duty, in December 1954, Lt. j.g. Trost reported to the Naval Submarine School in Groton, CT, graduating once again first in his class. In June 1955, Lt. j.g. Trost reported to diesel attack submarine Sirago (SS 484) coming off repairs following a fatal explosion and fire that killed two civilian painters. Attached to Submarine Squadron Six, Sirago conducted North Atlantic anti-submarine warfare operations and exercises, while Lt. j.g. Trost served as assistant engineer, electronics officer, communications officer, and gunnery officer, qualifying as a submarine officer.
Selected for nuclear power training, Lt. j.g. Trost reported for duty under instruction to the Naval Nuclear Power Training Unit in Idaho Falls in June 1957, again finishing first in his class. In November 1957, Lt. Trost reported to the pre-commissioning crew of Swordfish (SS 579.) Following her commissioning on Sept. 15, 1958, Lt. Trost served aboard for sea trials, shakedown and inter-fleet transfer to Pearl Harbor in July 1959, becoming the second nuclear submarine to join the Pacific Fleet, after Sargo (SSN 583,) racking up more than 35,000 nautical miles in her first year of operation while Lt. Trost served in a wide variety of positions including auxiliary division officer, diving officer, supply and commissary officer, gunnery officer and “M” division officer. He also qualified for submarine command track. In December 1959, Lt. Trost was assigned to the Army Language School at the Presidio of Monterey, CA to learn German before proceeding in June 1960 to study political science and international relations (in German) at the University of Freiburg, West Germany having been selected for the highly competitive Olmsted Scholar program.
In January 1962, Lt. Cmdr. Trost assumed duty as Executive Officer of nuclear fast attack submarine Scorpion (SSN 589) for operations in the Atlantic and Caribbean that earned Scorpion a Navy Unit Commendation and Lt. Cmdr. Trost a Navy Achievement Medal (this was a big deal at the time.) With Scorpion going into overhaul, Lt. Cmdr. Trost then attended the Polaris Command Course at Dam Neck, VA before reporting as Blue Crew Executive Officer for new construction fleet ballistic missile submarine Von Steuben (SSBN 632.) Commissioned on Sept. 30, 1964, Gold crew test fired the sub’s first Polaris ballistic missile in December 1965 and Lt. Cmdr. Trost in the Blue Crew launched the second in January 1965.
In March 1965, Lt. Cmdr. Trost was assigned as the Military Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense, where he was promoted to commander on May 1, 1965 and was awarded a Legion of Merit for among other things, “an unusual ability to promote harmonious working relationships among the most senior civilian and military officials of the Department of Defense.” (An LOM for a commander truly was a big deal in those days.)
In January 1968, Cmdr. Trost assumed command of Blue Crew of fleet ballistic missile submarine Sam Rayburn (SSBN 635) conducting strategic deterrent patrols from Charleston, SC until she went into overhaul after her 14th deterrent patrol. In October 1969, Cmdr. Trost assumed duty as the assistant chief of staff for personnel and administration for Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, where he was promoted to captain on July 1, 1970.
In August 1970, Capt. Trost assumed duty as the executive assistant and naval aide to the Undersecretary of the Navy, the Honorable John W. Warner, and when Warner became Secretary of the Navy in May 1972, Capt. Trost continued as his executive assistant and naval aide, earning his second Legion of Merit and was noted for his “keen insight and judgment, persistent sense of humor, devotion to duty and, above all, his candor.”
On June 26, 1973, he was designated a rear admiral for duty in a billet commensurate with that grade and assumed command of Submarine Flotilla One in San Diego with additional duty as Commander, Submarine Force Pacific, West Coast Representative. When Flotilla One was disestablished, Rear Adm. Trost assumed command of Submarine Group Five in San Diego. On July 1, 1974, he received permanent promotion to rear admiral. In December 1974, Rear Adm. Trost reported to the Bureau of Naval Personnel as Assistant Chief of Naval Personnel for Officer Development and Distribution. This was followed in January 1976 by duty in the Office of the CNO as Director of Systems Analysis Division (Op-096.)
On Aug. 22,t 1978, Rear Adm. Trost was designated a vice admiral and reported for duty as the deputy and chief of staff for Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Pearl Harbor, where he was awarded his third Legion of Merit where it was noted, “Of especially great value were his astute political assessments, superbly structured decision alternatives and total involvement in every aspect and detail of concern to the Pacific Fleet.” In February 1980, Vice Adm. Trost assumed command of the U.S. Seventh Fleet embarked on USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) in Yokosuka, Japan where he was awarded his first Navy Distinguished Service Medal, which noted the “unprecedented operational tempo,” and battle readiness of U.S. Navy forces in the Indian Ocean (in response to the Iranian hostage crisis), “achieved despite the longest, most complex logistics support lines in U.S. Navy history, extending 4,000 miles into the Indian Ocean” as well as the rescue of more than 9,000 Vietnamese refugees in the South China Sea.
In October 1981, Vice Adm. Trost returned to the Pentagon as Director, Navy Program Planning (OP-090) in the Office of the CNO. He was awarded a second Distinguished Service Medal as the “CNO’s principle staff executive for all except joint staff matters…while coordinating the planning and programming for the significant growth and sustainability needed to regain U.S. maritime superiority.”
Designated a four-star admiral on Oct. 4, 1985, Adm. Trost was appointed Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, with additional duty as Deputy Commander, U.S. Atlantic Command, at a time of extensive Soviet naval activity in the Atlantic. He wasn’t there long enough for an end-of-tour award as he was selected to be the 23rd Chief of Naval Operations, relieving Adm. James D. Watkins in June 1986. Although he was not the Secretary of the Navy’s first choice to be CNO, he apparently was everyone else’s. Adm. Trost successfully continued Secretary John Lehman’s force build-up and implementation of the Maritime Strategy at the same time Soviet submarine out-of-area operations reached their peak, along with increasing U.S. domestic calls for budget austerity. He guided the Navy through initial implementation of the Goldwater-Nichols Act as the Navy provided trained and ready forces in support of an undeclared shooting war with Iran and dealt with associated crises including the attack on USS Stark (FFG 31,) Operations Ernest Will and Nimble Archer, the mining of USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58,) Operation Praying Mantis and the accidental shoot-down of an Iranian airliner. At the same time he led the Navy during Operation Just Cause in Panama, as well as the challenging aftermath of the tragic explosion on battleship USS Iowa (BB 61.) Having gone toe-to-toe with Soviet submarines during the Cold War (without them knowing he was there), Adm. Trost would experience the unexpected irony of being the first CNO to visit the Soviet Union, as a guest of his Soviet counter-part Fleet Admiral Chernavin (also a submariner), as the Berlin Wall came down, the Warsaw Pact came apart, and the Cold War ended. Adm. Trost retired after four years as CNO on July 1, 1990, with the Navy trained and ready for Operation Desert Shield/Storm.
Adm. Trost’s awards include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal (2), Navy Distinguished Service Medal (3), Army Distinguished Service Medal, Air Force Distinguished Service Medal (all of the preceding for his time as CNO except two Navy DSMs), Legion of Merit (3), Navy Achievement Medal, Navy Unit Commendation, Meritorious Unit Commendation, Navy Expeditionary Medal (submarine special operations), Navy Occupation Service Medal (Europe), National Defense Service Medal (2), Antarctica Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal , Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Order of the National Merit (Republic of Korea), Order of the Rising Sun 2nd Class with Grand Cordon (Japan), Order of the Cloud and Banner 2nd Grade with Grand Cordon (Republic of China), Order of Naval Merit, Grand Officer (Brazil), Royal Norwegian Order of Merit, Commander with Star.
After his retirement from active duty, he assisted his wife Pauline to bring about her vision to assist families of injured and ill service members, leading to the formation of the Fisher House Foundation which has assisted more than 400,000 military families while undergoing medical treatment. Adm. Trost also served on the Board of Directors of the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association and was named a distinguished USNA graduate. He was also an Eagle Scout, active in scouting as an adult, and was awarded the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award. He also served as the Chairman of the Olmsted Foundation. His leadership continued even very late in life as President of the Annapolis Life-Care Resident Board at Ginger Cove.
As a leader in the U.S. submarine community and in key Navy leadership positions including Seventh Fleet, OP-090, Atlantic Fleet and CNO, Adm. Trost played an absolutely key role in bringing about the end of the decades-long Cold War with the Soviet Union, dramatically reducing the threat of imminent nuclear annihilation. Despite the Soviets’ best efforts, U.S. submarines retained an advantage over Soviet submarines during operations where the only difference between peace and war was pulling the trigger. As a result, the Soviet Navy could not guarantee the survivability of their strategic ballistic missile submarine deterrent force. That fact, coupled with the pressure on the Soviet Union by the Reagan Administration’s Maritime Strategy (aided by the extraordinary intelligence collection capability of U.S. submarines) pushed the Soviets into unsustainable resource decisions that were a significant factor in tipping over the Soviet economic house-of-cards, leading to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. ADM Trost’s career and accomplishments speak for themselves, so I won’t elaborate much further. The accolades will pour in over the next days, many of them regarding his care in leading people. I can personally attest that these are true. As a young lieutenant in 1986-87 I had the privilege to be a CNO intelligence briefer for Adm. Trost during the peak of aggressive soviet submarine out-of-area operations in the western Atlantic and during the quasi-war in the Persian Gulf. I marveled at his ability to instantly grasp the strategic and operational implications of any intelligence report or to understand the nuances of any geopolitical situation no matter how complex. He was the epitome of a hard-charging Navy Officer, but never once was he anything but a consummate gentleman and role model for a junior officer. In the words of CNO Adm. Michael Gilday, “He was a true patriot, man of honor, and committed public servant. He will be sorely missed by our entire Navy family.”
Rest in Peace, Admiral Trost.