New chief of naval operations a Steelers fan and a 'regular guy'


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In the 1975 yearbook of the U.S. Naval Academy, Jonathan Greenert's biography mentions "colorful weekends," athletic prowess and ends in this send-off: "With his personality, good looks, receding hairline and quick wit, he is bound to be a success."

Little did they know.

The guy they called 'Nert' -- from Butler High School's Class of 1971 -- is now a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the country's new chief of naval operations. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the promotion Thursday.

Adm. Greenert must be confirmed by the Senate. His duty would begin in September, when Adm. Gary Roughead retires after four years as the Navy's top commander.

For Adm. Greenert, 58, there was no level of command left to ascend to. But this top gun was in submarines.

He graduated from the academy in 1975 with a bachelor of science degree in ocean engineering and studies in nuclear power for service as a submarine officer. He has spent most of his career as a commander on attack vessels and ballistic missile submarines before becoming head of U.S. Fleet Forces command.

At present, and since August 2009, he has been the vice chief of naval operations. He and his wife, Darleen, have three grown children.

"He has had an amazing career path," said John Wise, editorial page editor of the Butler Eagle and a high school classmate. "He was a very easygoing, quick-witted guy, but he always had that right stuff that people talk about in terms of leadership."

His sister, Mary Kreinbucher, who lives in Butler, called him "a regular guy." A regular guy who will be advising the president.

"Yes," she said, chuckling. "He worked so hard. I can't tell you how thrilled we are for him."

Even as a boy, her brother was "extremely grounded with such a sense of responsibility in everything he did," she said. "He was a hard worker. He had two paper routes.

"One thing we are grateful for is that he has kept close with all of us [siblings] and with all of his friends. He's always coming home to Butler."

Next weekend, he will be in town for a wedding, and in July, there's the 40th Butler High class reunion. He has said he will attend.

Commenting on his hometown on a Navy website, Adm. Greenert said, "You take what you learned from growing up and from high school, and you apply it to real life. I'm very proud of being from Butler."

At Butler High, he was active on the swim team, in intramurals, on student council, a member of the National Honor Society, the archery club, the Latin club and the maitre d' club.

One of his best friends since high school, Chris Romney, of Avon-on-the-Sea, N.J., was also in the maitre d' club. "We were the guys who carried around the hot dogs at ball games, and if there was a Rotary Club dinner, we would wait on people," he said. "It was a club for guys to make a little money."

The son of a steelworker at Armco Steel Corp., Adm. Greenert was in the middle of the pack of six children.

"We had an uncle who was in the Navy, and he had visited him at the academy several times, so that was a big influence," said Ms. Kreinbucher, whose brother was interested in an engineering career. She said he was accepted at the University of Pennsylvania, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the Naval Academy.

"He was an excellent student, and with six kids in the family, it was a good way to get one of the best educations he could get, paid for by the government," Adm. Romney said.

The Navy was a good fit for his serious side.

In his ascendancy through the ranks, he earned his third star in 2005 when he took command of the Navy's Seventh Fleet, the largest. He has been awarded five Distinguished Service Medals, the Defense Superior Service Medal and four Legion of Merit awards.

But by his last year as a student at Annapolis, Md., the qualities that impressed his classmates were his easygoing, fun side as a charter member of the Friday Night Club who could balance a week of hard work with weekends that were good times, "always colorful and almost religiously non-academic. His likeable personality and Ricky Ricardo laugh made life at USNA a little easier," according to the yearbook, with a tell-all style that spared nobody.

A frequent speaker, Adm. Greenert gave an address last year at a military strategy forum in which he described himself as "a sports enthusiast, a Steelers fan" and joked that Navy contractors "are not all bad. It's like cholesterol."

"That's like him," Mr. Romney said, laughing. "He has an excellent sense of humor. He's an extremely likeable man's man and an excellent storyteller who's never in a hurry to get to the punch line."

He said Adm. Greenert puts in the details that add depth of character and includes human flaws with which everyone can identify, wrapping it all up in a self-deprecating way he has always had.

"I think of the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling: 'If you can walk with the crowd and keep your virtue and walk with kings nor lose the common touch,' " Mr. Romney said. "That's how I see Jon."


Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626.


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