Salute to Veterans with Paul Vasilauskis, U.S. Navy

  • Paul Vasilauskis, Navy, 1981-2001

Paul Vasilauskis served as a Nuclear Propulsion Plant and Reactor Operator in the Navy from 1981 to 2001. He started his career at Jefferson Lab in 2001 and now works as the Accelerator Operations Group Leader.

"Nuclear training has given me a wide spectrum of understanding on how things work from electronics, to the electrical and mechanical aspects and more," said Vasilauskis. "All of these things have helped me greatly as an Operator and a Crew Chief here at Jefferson Lab."

Q&A with Paul Vasilauskis, U.S. Navy

What did you do for the military?
I operated nuclear propulsion plants on Nimitz class carriers. I started out as a Reactor Operator monitoring and controlling the nuclear core then later as a supervisor guiding the overall operations of the whole propulsion system from the reactor core to the steam turbines that provided propulsion and electric power plus the multitude of support systems in between even down to the chemistry of the water used in those systems.

What made you decide to join the military?
I was fresh out of high school, working a just above minimum wage job. I had no idea what college was about, what was available, how to apply or even where to start. Some friends from school/work who had already signed up with the Navy got me to go to the recruiter's office and take a test. I got one question wrong and when the recruiter read the question I realized I had misinterpreted what it asked for and said "Oh, it's..." at which point the recruiter put his hand on my shoulder and said something on the order of "Son, anyone ever tell you about our Nuclear Field Program?" and I think at that point I was hooked.

Why did you choose the branch of service that you did?
Truthfully, it's simply what my friends had already joined. Looking back, I don't know if anything other than the nuclear field would have intrigued me as much. Well... I was into electronics and computer programming at that time (oh yeah, I was a geek, still am). At the Induction Center in Chicago I had to choose a secondary classification in case I didn't make it in the nuclear field (that was a "Wait, what!?!?" moment). One of the fields I qualified for was Aviation Electronics Technician, working on the high tech electronic gear on aircraft. Had the nuclear path not worked out for me, I probably could have gone down that road in the Navy or a similar path in one of the other branches.

What was your favorite part of the job?
I got to run a nuclear reactor, how cool is that?!!

What was your most interesting/favorite deployment or duty station and why?
My last ship, last command and last deployment was on the USS NImitz CVN-68. Once I got back to the states and settled down, we went to Newport News Shipyard for a refueling overhaul where the old reactor cores were pulled out and new ones put in. The most time I spent as an enlisted watch officer were on here but that was what I really enjoyed doing. I served with a great bunch of people. Together we ripped her apart and put her back together. In the end, I left the Nimitz and the Navy just days before she sailed to change home ports to the West coast. I was on my last week going through the ship's checkout process when 9/11 occurred. Everyone was recalled back to the ship and nobody knew what was going on. Would the ship still leave to change home ports, would we be called to get underway, if so what would I wear as I had already cleaned out my locker and all I had was what I was wearing that Tuesday and finally was I still leaving the Navy? It took a few days to get answers but eventually the Nimitz still changed home ports and I still retired from the Navy as planned. Later the next week I took my little daughters to Fort Monroe, made it through security and together we watched the USS Nimitz leave Norfolk and sail away for the West Coast.

What skills did you develop that you use now after your military career?
Nuclear training has given me a wide spectrum of understanding on how things work from electronics, to the electrical and mechanical aspects and more. I have learned how to work in a group as a team, to coordinate and share the load, to assist others when necessary yet to also be responsible to get my part done. All of these things have helped me greatly as an Operator and a Crew Chief here at Jefferson Lab.

The regional home of Jefferson Lab, Hampton Roads, has a rich military history. Located in Southeastern Virginia, the region is currently home to more than 80,000 men and women in uniform, representing every branch of the armed forces. Throughout November 2018, Jefferson Lab is celebrating the region's military ties by highlighting some of our veteran employees who have served in the armed forces and who continue to serve their nation by supporting the research efforts carried out at the laboratory.

A tinkerer from the Navy finds purpose at Jefferson Lab
A tinkerer from the Navy finds purpose at Jefferson Lab

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Jefferson Science Associates, LLC, a joint venture of the Southeastern Universities Research Association, Inc. and PAE Applied Technologies, manages and operates the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, or Jefferson Lab, for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit science.energy.gov.