Thursday, July 31, 2008

Teaching at a Different PACE

There have been many Navy College Programs Afloat College Education (PACE) Instructors who have walked the passageways of USS Gonzalez over the years, but none quite like Mr. Dennis Saliny. He was a unique PACE Instructor who not only understood the importance of education but also the discipline and dedication of military personnel, particularly those who invest in a higher education while deployed overseas.

A commissioned officer in the United States Army with a Bachelors Degree in Chemical Engineering from Purdue University, he served seven years in the Army including more than two years working with the South Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. As a Vietnam Veteran he was particularly in tune with Gonzalez’ namesake, Sergeant Freddy Gonzalez, who received the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty at the Battle of Hue City during the Vietnam War. Upon his discharge from the Army, Dennis worked for the Western Electric Company, Bell Laboratories, and Motorola, completing a Masters in Business Administration from Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois. In 2001 he after serving as the Manufacturing Director for the Automotive and Consumer Electronics Group for Motorola, he took an early retirement. Not long after retirement, however, he returned to Northwestern were he taught business and math courses. After four years at Northwestern, he needed a change of pace and a change of environment. In May 2006, Dennis joined the ranks of NC-PACE instructors, having found the perfect opportunity to combine his love for education and his dedication to the military.

Prior to reporting to Gonzalez, Dennis deployed as the NC-PACE Instructor onboard the cruisers USS Shiloh and the Chancellorsville where he taught business and math courses and most recently onboard USS Carter Hall where he taught another math course will deployed to the Horn of Africa. Like all Sailors, he had to learn to make the transition from life ashore to life afloat, getting great support one the home front from his wife, Melva, who also served in Vietnam as an Army MASH nurse. Dennis joined Gonzalez on March 16, 2008 while the ship was at anchor off Antalya, Turkey. From the day he joined, not only his Sailor students, but the entire crew knew he was going to be special – an outstanding shipmate. As the NC-PACE Instructor, he taught College Algebra I and II over the course of his four months onboard. Like the Gonzalez motto, he went “Beyond the Call” of mere instruction. He conducted two teaching sessions a day to ensure that any Sailor who wanted had the opportunity to attend his classes, and he conducted additional study sessions throughout the day so Gonzalez Sailors who may have been having difficulties in some areas would have the opportunity for personal tutoring. Added the Commanding Officer, Commander Brian Fort, “During Dennis’ time as our PACE Instructor, he was truly a member of the crew. He participated in everything we did underway and inport – drills, awards ceremonies, Captain’s Cup events, re-enlistments, fresh water washes, sea and anchor details. He even helped out on working parties and conned the ship for a man overboard drill. You name it, Dennis was there and involved.”

Being deployed with the Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG-2) Task Force, Dennis’ devotion wasn’t confined within the bulkheads of Gonzalez either. After seeing Dennis topside during some close order tactical maneuvering the Commanding Officer of the British ship in SNMG-2 asked about the presence of a civilian onboard. After learning of Dennis’ qualifications, HMS Somerset (F82) asked if he might be available to assist some their Sailors as well. He then spent a week onboard the Royal Navy frigate where he conducted a preparatory course helping British Sailors prepare for a mathematics test given by Cambridge University, pertinent to them for either advancement purposes or as a pre-requisite for a GED-like test or college placement upon discharge from the Navy. He held classes twice a day for six days and tutored eight students in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, statistics, and beginning Calculus. He even assisted a British Sailor who was taking a physics course as part of a distance learning course.

Dennis further influenced Sailors onboard Gonzalez in teaching them that there is no limit to learning. STG2(SW) Benjamin Lane stated, “Mr. Saliny is a real go getter, and also a very unique instructor whose passion for teaching or passing down any type of knowledge is apparent. Even students who have had little knowledge for math in their previous years were brushing the cobwebs off with ease.”

Of course when asked why he loved to teach Dennis simply smiled and said, “I love and respect the Sailors. They are giving up their free time to do this in addition to working and completing pertinent qualifications. I have been impressed with their interest and dedication.” After a special ceremony to recognize Dennis’ service to Gonzalez, when asked what he liked most about the ship, he added, “I love how the ward room and Chiefs and the Sailors are so close and supportive of each other. I have also had the chance to interact more with the crew onboard this ship.”

Dennis departed Gonzalez and returned to his family with one month left to go in the ship’s deployment. To date, this was his longest period at sea as a NC-PACE Instructor. On behalf of the men and women of Gonzalez, fair winds and following seas to an outstanding instructor, Sailor, and shipmate.

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