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In Memoriam: Rear Admiral Michael P. Nowakowski, USN (Ret).

May 3, 2022 | By Sam Cox (Rear Adm. USN, Ret.), Director, Naval History and Heritage Command

It is with deep regret I inform you of the passing of Rear Admiral Michael Peter “Mike” Nowakowski, U.S. Navy (Retired), on 22 April 2022 at age 69. Rear Admiral Nowakowski was commissioned via Officer Candidate School in 1974 and served as a surface warfare officer until his retirement in 2007 as the president, Board of Inspection and Survey. His commands included USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44), USS Saipan (LHA-2), Amphibious Group TWO, Mine Warfare Command, and Naval Surface Force U.S. Atlantic Fleet. 

Michael Nowakowski earned a bachelor of science in communications from Ohio University in 1974. He then entered the Navy via Officer Candidate School, Newport, Rhode Island, and was commissioned an ensign on 11 October 1974. Ensign Nowakowski then reported to Training Squadron TEN (VT-10) at Naval Air Station Pensacola for training as a naval flight officer in T-39D Saberliner and T-2C Buckeye jet trainers. In January 1975, he reported to Naval Aviation Schools Command, NAS Pensacola, for duty under instruction. He then transitioned to the surface warfare community, reporting to Surface Warfare Officer Schools Command, Newport. 

In August 1975, Ensign Nowakowski reported for his first operational assignment aboard tank landing ship USS Barnstable County (LST-1197), homeported at Little Creek, Virginia. He served as communications officer and assistant first lieutenant during a Mediterranean deployment in 1976 that involved a violent storm off Sicily, and extensive time off Cyprus as Lebanon degenerated into civil war, which resulted in an evacuation of American citizens. This was followed the same year by an extensive exercise in the North Atlantic, Teamwork 76, which included port visits in Norway, Denmark, Germany, and Portsmouth, England. Ensign Nowakowski was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) in October 1976. In 1977, the ship participated in multi-national amphibious exercises in the Caribbean and served as a platform for launching target drones. Lieutenant (j.g.) Nowakowski was designated a surface warfare officer (SWO) in 1977. 

In December 1977, LTJG Nowakowski reported to Naval Guided-Missile School, Dam Neck, VA before reporting in February 1978 to guided-missile cruiser USS Biddle (CG-34), homeported in Norfolk, Virginia, on which he served as missile battery officer. In 1978, Biddle deployed to the Mediterranean, to include a port visit to Constanta, Romania, on the Black Sea. Nowakowski was promoted to lieutenant in November 1978. In June 1979, Lieutenant Nowakowski assumed duty as an assistant professor of naval science at the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) unit at State University of New York (SUNY) Maritime College. During this period, he earned a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) from Hofstra University. In March 1982, Nowakowski reported to frigate USS Pharris (FF-1094) as engineering officer, deploying to the Mediterranean in 1983 for operations in support of the Multi-National Peacekeeping Force in Lebanon. In July 1983, he reported to the staff of Destroyer Squadron TEN (DESRON 10), a seagoing readiness squadron based in Norfolk, as the staff material officer. Lieutenant Nowakowski was promoted to lieutenant commander in March 1984. 

In June 1985, Lieutenant Commander Nowakowski assumed duty as department head engineering instructor at Surface Officer Warfare Schools Command, Newport. In October 1986, he reported to the staff of Commander Cruiser-Destroyer Group EIGHT, homeported in Norfolk, serving as flag secretary. In January 1988, he returned to Surface Warfare Officer Schools Command for duty under instruction. In February 1988, Nowakowski assumed duty as executive officer of landing ship dock USS Whidbey Island (LSD-41), homeported at Little Creek and deploying to the Mediterranean as the first East Coast amphibious ship to deploy to Europe with LCACs (landing craft air cushion), which was followed by support to Hurricane Hugo relief operations in South Carolina. In March 1989, he was assigned to the Comptroller of the Navy as a financial management officer in the research and development account. He was promoted to commander in March 1990. 

In January 1992, Commander Nowakowski commenced a period of training at Ships Material Readiness Group before assuming command of landing ship dock USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44), homeported at Little Creek, in April 1992. Gunston Hall deployed to the Mediterranean in October 1992 for multiple amphibious exercises, and port visits to Spain, Israel, and Italy, before returning in April 1993. CDR Nowakowski reported to the National War College at Fort McNair in August 1994, graduating in June 1995 with a master’s degree in national security strategy. In June 1995, he reported to the Bureau of Naval Personnel as head, Surface Commander Assignment Branch (PERS-410). In May 1996, he assumed duty in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as appropriations liaison officer. He was promoted to captain on 1 June 1996. 

In July 1998, Captain Nowakowski assumed command of amphibious assault ship USS Saipan (LHA-2), deploying to the Mediterranean the same month with 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (22nd MEU) Special Operations Capable (SOC). Saipan rescued the crew and guests of a burning motor yacht off Corfu, Greece. Saipan spent most of her time in the Adriatic due to turmoil in Albania, and to support Operation Balkan Calm and the Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission (KDOM). Upon return from deployment, Saipan was designated the developmental and operational test platform for the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. Captain Nowakowski also received designation as a joint specialty officer in 1999. 

In June 2000, Captain Nowakowski reported to Commander, Amphibious Group TWO (COMPHIBRON 2), for a short period, before assuming duty on the staff of Commander-in-Chief U.S. Atlantic Fleet as director of Shore Activities Readiness (N46). He was promoted to rear admiral lower half on 1 October 2001. 

In August 2002, Rear Admiral (lower half) Nowakowski assumed command of Amphibious Group TWO, homeported at Little Creek and responsible for about 20 amphibious ships and 12,000 personnel, and deploying the first expeditionary strike group. In September 2003, Nowakowski assumed command of Mine Warfare Command, then located at Ingleside, Texas. On 1 September 2004, he was designated a rear admiral (two star) for duty in a billet commensurate with that rank and a month later was promoted. In February 2005, Rear Admiral Nowakowski assumed command of Naval Surface Forces Atlantic (COMNAVSURFLANT). In July 2006, he assumed duty as the 57th president of the Board of Inspection and Survey, evaluating ships’ readiness to conduct combat operations at sea. He retired from active duty on 1 October 2007. 

Rear Admiral Nowakowski’s awards include the Defense Superior Service Medal; Legion of Merit (five awards); Meritorious Service Medal (four awards); Navy Commendation Medal (four awards); Naval Unit Commendation; Meritorious Unit Commendation; Battle Efficiency Ribbon (two awards); Navy Expeditionary Medal; National Defense Service Medal (two awards); Armed Forces Service Medal; Humanitarian Service Medal; Sea Service Ribbon (one bronze star); and NATO Medal. 

After retiring, Rear Admiral Nowakowski worked as vice president, defense contracts, at Colonna’s Shipyard, Norfolk. Later, he also worked as an instructor at AMSEC LLC, a subsidiary of Huntington Ingalls Industries. He also served as a senior mentor at the U.S. Naval War College, to advise senior flag officers in the art of expeditionary warfare during major Navy/Marine Corps and coalition amphibious exercises. 

I don’t have information on memorial services at this time. 

Rear Admiral Nowakowski was described by those who knew him as a great naval officer and leader, superb SWO, husband, family man, and friend. He is a case study in the adage that if at first you don’t succeed, then succeed at something else—never quit. He did not become an NFO; instead, he became an extraordinary surface warfare officer and one of the foremost experts in the entire U.S. Navy on amphibious operations, expertise he continued to impart even after his retirement from active duty. He played a key role in the development and implementation of the expeditionary strike group concept as a means to maximize the utility of deployed amphibious groups in support of theater engagement and crisis response. This forward-thinking concept is now a mature capability in the Navy. With so much time in the “Gator Navy,” and all on the East Coast, his path to flag officer was not the well-worn one 

typical of surface warfare officers, which meant he had to be (even more) unusually good at what he did. Like most SWOs who achieve flag rank, his career was nevertheless characterized by numerous sea tours, many deployments (at least six to the Mediterranean and more to the North Atlantic and Caribbean), and long months at sea, at great sacrifice to his home life. He served our Navy and nation with extraordinary dedication and distinction, for which the Navy is grateful to his family. It is obvious that he has been taken from our wardroom far too early, but his legacy lives on, especially in the best amphibious forces in the world. 

Rest in Peace, Admiral Nowakowski