For Vice Admiral Norbert R. Ryan, remembering those who put their lives on the line for our country is a daily reflection - he keeps a list of those lost in the September 11, 2001 Pentagon attacks on his desk. As one of the Navy’s top legislative officers who worked near the crash site at the time, his desktop list fuels his drive to fight for those who serve, to preserve and increase their benefits, to meet what he regards as obligations that must be fulfilled.
"We overcorrected when the Cold War ended," he says. "The only weapon system that has never let us down is the men and women in uniform."
Since September 2002, when he became president of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), an Alexandria, Va.-based group of nearly 400,000 dues-paying members, Ryan has made it his responsibility and obligation to reinforce the confidence and optimism of the all-volunteer U.S. military. He understands what they’ve done for us in the past, and the increasing demands they will face in the future. And armed with Beltway experience, he knows the importance of bringing a sense of purpose to Washington politics.
"It was a natural for me to come over here [to MOAA]," he said. "It takes a lot of advocacy, education and working with the public in reminding them what their priorities ought to be." Committed to improving the quality of life for those who serve, MOAA has taken a leadership position on Capitol Hill. Thanks to the effectiveness and persistence of Admiral Ryan and his team, their efforts have met with great success on the legislative front.
As the head man at MOAA, Admiral Ryan caps a career of ensuring that military brass--and Washington politicos--take care of those in uniform. He has also commanded aviation units at the squadron, wing, and fleet levels, beginning as a Naval Aviator in 1968, and later moving up the ranks to become the Navy’s Chief of Legislative Affairs, and then Chief of Naval Personnel, his last position before retiring in 2002.
As Chief of Naval Personnel, Ryan was responsible for recruiting, retention, MWR programs and overall staffing of the Navy—invaluable experience he brings to his role at MOAA.
"They [active duty military] are under tremendous pressure and we want them to always respond. They will do it all on dedication and faith the first couple of times…but [the question they later ask is], is it worth it to stay on? We need them to always say ‘Yes.’"
Admiral Ryan also considers benefits for the National Guard and Reserve as a chief focus of his role because of the military’s increased dependency on them since the end of the Cold War.
"The National Guard used to be called ‘Citizen Soldiers,’ but I call them ‘Soldier Citizens’ now," he said. "We need to increase their benefits."
MOAA’s Web site lists over 30 legislative goals for 2005--primarily in the area of Health Care, Retirement & Survivor issues, Active & Reserve force issues. Its activities have also brought innovative approaches, too: Earlier this year, its members’ flooded Capitol Hill with about 16,000 brown bags with hand-written messages urging lawmakers to exempt World War II and Korean War retirees from Medicare premium payments. The message: Veterans were being treated like old paper bags to be discarded after use.
The Mountainhome, Pa. native graduated from the United States Naval Academy in June 1967. Vice Admiral Ryan is also a graduate of George Washington University, with a Master of Science Degree in Personnel Administration, and the Senior Officials in the National Security Program at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Vice Admiral Ryan is authorized to wear the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit (w/3 Gold Stars), Meritorious Service Medal (w/2 Gold Stars), Navy Commendation Medal (w/1 Gold Star), Navy Achievement Medal (w/1 Gold Star), the Joint Meritorious Unit Award, and a number of service and campaign awards.
Photo Credit: http://www1.moaa.org/chaptersymposium/