Navy Hero Talks Leadership with Cadets

Retired Navy Capt. Paul X. Rinn describes events after his ship was nearly sunk by a mine. Photo by 1st Lt Kevin Geiss, CAP.
Retired Navy Capt. Paul X. Rinn describes events after his ship was nearly sunk by a mine. Photo by 1st Lt Kevin Geiss.

Thirty Civil Air Patrol cadets and volunteer officers of the Mount Vernon Composite Squadron were treated to an evening with an extraordinary Naval leader on May 16.

Retired Navy Capt. Paul X. Rinn came that night to speak about leadership, bravery, and heroism.

Events that occurred after the ship under his command were the context for his presentation.  The USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG58) struck an Iranian mine while on patrol in the Persian Gulf on April 14, 1988.

That day Rinn commanded a crew of 220 sailors from 46 states ranging from Washington State to Key West, Fla.

“The most important part of leadership is to understand your people and how they can rise up in certain situations,” said Rinn.  “Sometimes it is people whom you least expect that will do the thing that may save your life.”

The explosion blew a 24 foot hole in the hull, broke the ship’s keel, and lit fires on four decks.  The ship was sinking and without power.

As he recounted the story, he focused on the actions of key individuals whose innovation and courage helped to keep the ship afloat.

There was the troubled fireman who was the only person able to start the lone functioning engine while isolated in a forward compartment.  He also described the actions of a communications technician who kept intruding water at bay to keep the ship’s pumps running.

After many hours, the fires were finally extinguished and the ship limped out of the mine field on emergency power.  No lives were lost that long night 25 years ago.

Hearing this story inspired C/A1C Mary Ruscoe to comment, “Learning the jobs of those around you can pay off in a crisis situation.”

“The part of the story that struck me the most is that even though the ship was destroyed and the captain had a broken foot, he stayed with it and handled the situation,” said C/A1C Jonathan Ruscoe.

In closing, Rinn challenged the cadets to think about what kind of legacy they want to leave behind.

“Ordinary individuals can accomplish extraordinary feats if well led, trained, and given a sense of focus pride and purpose,” said Rinn. “Invest in your people and they will invest in themselves.”

C/2d Lt James Hildebrand summed up his impressions.  “Capt. Rinn’s story was truly inspirational. His story is an example of how hard work and preparation can truly save your life,” he said.