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In Memoriam: Rear Admiral Mark D. Guadagnini, USN

June 21, 2022 | By Samuel J. Cox Rear Adm., USN (retired) Director of Naval History and Heritage Command, Curator for the Navy
It is with deep regret that I inform you of the passing of Rear Admiral Mark Daniel “Guad” Guadagnini, U.S. Navy (Retired), on 10 June 2022 at age 64. Rear Admiral Guadagnini entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1976 and served as a naval aviator until his retirement in 2013 as the director, Maritime Headquarters for U.S. Fleet Forces Command. His commands included VFA-15, CVW-17, Carrier Strike Group NINE, and Chief of Naval Air Training. He served in multiple combat and crisis operations, including Desert Storm, Provide Comfort, Deliberate Force, Southern Watch, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom, flying 95 combat missions and earning multiple Air Medals and Navy Commendation Medals with Combat “V.” 
After attending Long Beach City College, Guad took the oath of office at the U.S. Naval Academy on 6 July 1976 and was assigned to 3rd Company. He coached women’s volleyball and majored in economics, graduating with distinction and a commission as an ensign on 28 May 1980. He was first stashed at Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN), then at Naval Air Station (NAS) Miramar, California, before reporting to Naval Aviation Schools Command at NAS Pensacola, Florida, for flight training in September 1980. Following initial ground syllabus, he reported to Training Squadron THREE (VT-3) in November 1980 for primary flight training in the T-34C Turbomentor. He commenced jet training in the T-2C Buckeye with Training Squadron TWO SIX (VT-26) in May 1981, followed by advanced jet training in the TA-4J Skyhawk in VT-24 at NAS Chase Field, Beeville, Texas, in January 1982. He was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) in May 1982 and subsequently designated a naval aviator. In August 1982, he reported to Attack Squadron FOUR TWO (VA-42) for training in the A-6 Intruder all-weather attack jet. 
In June 1983, Lieutenant (j.g.) Guadagnini reported to his first fleet squadron, Attack Squadron SIX FIVE (VA-65), the “World Famous Fighting Tigers,” in the midst of the 1983 Mediterranean deployment by carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69). The deployment coincided with the 1983 Lebanon crisis and contingency operations following the terrorist bombing of the U.S. Marine Corps Barracks in Beirut, for which the ship and air wing (CVW-7) were awarded a Navy Unit Commendation. He subsequently made the 1984 “D-Day 40th Anniversary” deployment to France and Britain, followed by a 1984–85 Mediterranean deployment embarked on “Ike.” He was promoted to lieutenant in June 1984. Guadagnini was described by the VA-65 executive officer/commanding officer (then-Commander Fox Fallon) as “my top J.O. [junior officer].” 
In June 1986, Lieutenant Gaudagnini reported to the U.S. Navy Test Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, for training as a test pilot. Following graduation in June 1987, he was assigned as a project officer in the Flight Systems Department at Naval Air Test Center, NAS Patuxent River. In January 1988, he became a flight instructor at the U.S. Navy Test Pilot School. In May 1989, he returned to VA-42 for refresher training in the A-6E, with additional training in the F-14 Tomcat. 
In October 1989, Lieutenant Guadagnini was assigned to Carrier Air Wing EIGHT (CVW-8) as the air wing landing signal officer (LSO). He was promoted to lieutenant commander in June 1990. He subsequently deployed with CVW-8, embarked on carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) for the short-notice Desert Storm combat deployment in December 1990, flying multiple combat missions over Iraq in January–February 1991, when Kuwait was liberated from Iraqi aggression. On the return transit, Theodore Roosevelt/CVW-8 participated in Operation Provide Comfort in northern Iraq, a “humanitarian” combat action supporting the Iraqi Kurds. The carrier and the air wing were awarded a Navy Unit Commendation for this deployment. Lieutenant Commander Guadagnini was named “COMNAVAIRLANT LSO of the Year” in 1991. 
In September 1991, Guadagnini returned to VA-65 as maintenance and safety officer. The squadron earned the Battle E before being disestablished in March 1993. Commencing in May 1993, he served in the office of Senator John McCain as a Legislative Fellow in Washington, DC. In February 1994, he reported to the Office of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (DCNO) for Manpower and Personnel (N1)/Chief of Naval Personnel, where he served as aide and special assistant. In July 1994, he reported to Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet, as flag lieutenant and aide to Admiral Ronald Zlatoper (who took Guad with him from N1) at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He was promoted to commander in July 1995. 
In July 1995, Commander Guadagnini reported to Strike Fighter Squadron ONE ZERO SIX (VFA-106) for transition training to the F-18 Hornet strike fighter at NAS Cecil Field, Florida. In March 1996, he assumed duty as executive officer for Strike Fighter Squadron ONE FIVE (VFA-15) “Valions,” conducting carrier qualifications/certifications and “Orange” (opposition) services for the initial work-ups of newly commissioned carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74). VFA-15 was also designated as a “night attack” squadron, deploying in 1997 aboard carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) for a Mediterranean/Persian Gulf deployment. The deployment included port visits in Ireland, England, and Israel, as well as strike missions against Bosnian Serbs (Operation Deliberate Guard) and participation in Operation Southern Watch enforcement of the no-fly zone over southern Iraq. Guadagnini assumed command of VFA-15 mid-deployment in July 1997. 
In September 1998, Commander Guadagnini was assigned to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs, serving as special assistant for advanced development, research and technology. In July 2000, he reported to Commander Carrier Group EIGHT (COMCARGRU 8) as assistant chief of staff (ACOS) for operations, embarked on USS Theodore Roosevelt for short-notice deployment for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “TR” joined USS Enterprise (CVN-65) and USS Vinson (CVN-70) in numerous strikes against Taliban and al Qaida targets, bringing about the rapid collapse of the Taliban government.  Guadagnini was promoted to captain in September 2001. Theodore Roosevelt and CARGRU 8 were awarded a Navy Unit Commendation for this deployment. 
In November 2001, Captain Guadagnini returned to VFA-106 for refresher flight training. In August 2002, he assumed duty as deputy commander (DCAG) for Carrier Air Wing ONE SEVEN (CVW-17), embarked on carrier USS George Washington (CVN-73) for a Mediterranean/Indian Ocean deployment, and flying combat missions in Operation Southern Watch (Iraq) and Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan). He assumed command of CVW-17 in August 2003, deploying to the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf embarked in carrier USS John F. Kennedy, again flying combat missions in Operation Iraqi Freedom (this was the carrier’s last of 24 deployments before decommissioning). In February 2005, he attended the Joint Forces Staff College. In July 2005, he reported to the Commander, Naval Personnel Command as director, Aviation Career Management Division (PERS 43). In this assignment, he created a joint electronic individual augmentation unit from zero to 300 personnel on the ground in Iraq in 90 days. In 2006, he was designated a joint specialty officer (JSO). 
On 15 August 2007, Guadagnini was designated a rear admiral (lower half) for duty in a billet commensurate with that rank, and in September 2007 assumed duty as the chief of Naval Air Training, where he was responsible for 10,000 personnel and 725 aircraft, and successfully trained 8,000 pilots, navigators, and enlisted aircrew. He was promoted to rear admiral (lower half) on 1 November 2007. He graduated from Capstone in 2008. 
In January 2010, Rear Admiral Guadagnini assumed command of Carrier Strike Group NINE (CSG-9), embarked on carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72), homeported in San Diego, for a deployment to the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean/Persian Gulf (September 2010–March 2011). This included operations with the new French nuclear carrier Charles de Gaulle, 3,600 sorties in support of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq (including 76 strike sorties in Iraq—Operation New Dawn—and 999 strike sorties in Afghanistan), plus the destruction of two pirate vessels. 
In June 2011, Rear Admiral Guadagnini reported to Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command as deputy commander for fleet management and chief of staff. He was promoted to rear admiral (two star) on 1 August 2011. In September 2012, he assumed duty as director, Maritime Headquarters for U.S. Fleet Forces Command. As a result of a flag officer drawdown, Rear Admiral Guadagnini retired on 1 October 2013. 
During his career, Rear Admiral Guadagnini amassed 4,700 flight hours and 95 combat missions. His awards include the Legion of Merit (five awards); Defense Meritorious Service Medal; Meritorious Service Medal (three awards); Air Medal with Combat “V” and two gold stars with first through third strike/flight awards; Navy Commendation Medal (four awards, at least one with Combat “V”); Navy Unit Commendation (three awards); Meritorious Unit Commendation (three awards); Battle Efficiency Ribbon (two awards); Navy Expeditionary Medal; National Defense Service Medal (two awards); Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (two bronze stars); Southwest Asia Service Medal (two bronze stars); Global War on Terror Expeditionary Medal; Global War on Terror Service Medal; Armed Forces Service Medal; Sea Service Ribbon (silver star); Kuwait Liberation Medal (Saudi Arabia); and the Kuwait Liberation Medal (Kuwait).
Following retirement from active duty, Rear Admiral Guadagnini worked for Shell Oil as vice president of maritime logistics for arctic exploration. In July 2016, he became general manager, Shell Technology Center, Houston, Texas. In May 2018, he became internal consultant for Shell Real Estate Nigeria, Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Limited, and in December 2018, he worked as vice president, real estate and global functions, health, safety, security and environment for Royal Dutch Shell. He became self-employed in March 2022. 
A memorial service is planned for Thursday, 23 June, at 1100 at NAS Oceana, CNATTU Ceremonial Hangar, 790 D. Avenue, Virginia Beach, Virginia. 
Guad Guadagnini has been taken from our flag wardroom far too early, but the legacy of his spectacular career, at the sacrifice of so much home and family life, will live on in the U.S. Navy. Not long after he reported aboard for his first tour, VA-65 was tasked to fly a strike mission against Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon following the terrorist bombing of the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut (this strike was cancelled at the last moment, as were several subsequent iterations). From then on, his career was non-stop action—on every operational tour, he was engaged in some major crisis or combat—Desert Storm, Provide Promise (Iraq), Bosnia, Southern Watch (Iraq), Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom. As a flight instructor in Test Pilot School and later as the director of Aviation Career Management and then Chief of Naval Air Training, he had a profound positive effect on future generations of the naval aviation community. He was a leader and mentor who truly cared about people—everybody—and still achieved great results. As flag officer, he took a strike group that had mostly been idle for two years, and with an innovative training regime quickly brought it up to speed for the USS Abraham Lincoln’s highly successful 2010–11 Arabian Sea/Gulf deployment. Whether as a distinguished graduate at the Naval Academy or “LSO of the Year,” he set an uncompromising standard of excellence for himself and everyone around him. His career path is definitely one to emulate, yet it was cut too short by a precipitous administrative drawdown and an enormous talent was lost. As Senator John McCain said in the Congressional Record upon Guad’s retirement, “I could not be prouder of the accomplishments that ‘Guad’ has earned while wearing the uniform of the world’s greatest fighting force. His impact, particularly in the aviation community, will continue well into the future and our Navy and nation will feel his absence.” A grateful Navy will remember his profound dedication and contributions, and the sacrifice endured by his family so that he could serve.
Rest in Peace, Admiral Guadagnini. 
On a personal note, although we were USNA classmates, I did not meet Guad until we were both in CVW-7 on “Ike” in 1983. I was the intelligence briefer for the cancelled Lebanon strikes and worked with Guad on planning. Fully expecting the strike to be executed, we junior officers “got real” real fast. I was truly impressed by his professionalism. We had intermittent contact over the years and were involved in a number of the same operations. However, after our retirement in the same year, he became an apparently avid reader of my H-grams, and I am confident he read every passing note. He offered frequent insightful comments on the careers of our departed flag officers and heroes, and it became apparent to me just how much he truly cared about other people. My deepest condolences go to his family, who deserved to have far more time with him. This warrior truly deserves to have a big turnout at his memorial service.