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ASU's 1st Naval ROTC unit celebrates 'plankowners'

Naval officer on stage
May 02, 2011

Naval honor and tradition was unfurled at Arizona State University April 28 during a plankowner celebration for its first Naval ROTC class. Side boys stood at attention and saluted while the Boatswain mate piped dignitaries, including Rear Admiral James A. Symonds, Retired, and Gilbert Mayor John Lewis, as they walked along a red carpet and were greeted by the unit’s commanding officer, Capt. Steven Borden.

“This has truly been an incredible first year,” Borden told the midshipmen, faculty members, families and community guests who gathered for an end-of-the-year celebration to honor those who have served in bringing the Naval ROTC unit alive and into active service at ASU.

He spoke of the term “plankowner,” and recalled “back in the day when our ships were made of wood and sailors were made of iron,” that the name was applied to crew members who were around when the ship was being built and commissioned. Plankowner (or plank owner) is not an official Navy term, though plankowners proudly wear the moniker on baseball caps and T-shirts.

Much has changed in the Navy since those early days, Borden said, “but one thing has not changed. A command is made up of its people. It is the spirit and the character and personality of the individuals in the command that form the command.

“The men and women who are plankowners of this command are in a very real way creating the culture, climate and tradition of this unit,” said Borden, who has served 27 years in the Navy, in helicopter mine countermeasures squadrons, as a flight instructor, and as commanding officer of an aviation squadron.

Success of an NROTC unit, said Borden, is measured not only in numbers but in individual progress.

“What makes me the most proud with respect to these young men and women is the way they have advanced in leadership skills, their military professionalism, the unit camaraderie that has developed inside the Sea Devil Battalion, as we call ourselves, and the esprit de corps.”

The Naval ROTC unit at ASU was established in August 2010. There are two other NROTC host units in the Southwest: at the University of Arizona, and the University of New Mexico. Arizona State University also has Army and Air Force ROTC units.

“The addition of the Naval ROTC unit is a spectacular step forward for ASU and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences,” said Quentin Wheeler, university vice president and dean of the college. “We are honored to play a small role in training, preparing and inspiring the next leaders who will come out of this unit.”

“It is a proud time for us to see the first class finish their first year,” said Linda Lederman, dean of social sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The midshipmen who participate in the Naval ROTC take naval science classes offered through the college.

“What we have in common,” said Lederman, “is service. Every kind of work that each of us does is service.”

That theme of service was repeated in remarks made by John Sentz, a retired captain from the Navy Reserve and member of the Gilbert Town Council.

“We’re all here about service, service to your country … service to your community,” said Sentz, who has two degrees in business from ASU.

“I wanted to be in a Naval ROTC unit when I was a freshman at ASU,” he told the audience, lamenting the absence of a unit at that time. Sentz, who was a member of the team that put together the proposal to the Navy to create an ROTC unit at ASU, stressed that “while the unit is located in Tempe, this is a community asset, and we’re proud to have you here.”

The full-time ASU students in the NROTC unit, known as midshipmen, were introduced and stood in their new service khaki uniforms. Of the 62 midshipmen, 47 are freshmen, 13 are sophomores and two are juniors. There are 50 males and 12 females; 38 are enrolled in the Navy option, 22 in the Marine option and two in the nursing option. Upon graduation the midshipmen will be commissioned either as ensigns in the U.S. Navy or a second lieutenants in the Marine Corps.

Midshipman Battalion Commander Jake Tyra, a sophomore majoring in kinesiology, thanked those in attendance for support over the past year. He spoke of the bond that has grown among the midshipmen by enduring physical training and attending naval science classes together.

“I’ve noticed a unity in the battalion,” he said.

One of the defining moments, he said, was wearing their new uniforms on campus.

Additional information about the ASU Naval ROTC unit is online at