Princeton Weekly Bulletin May 24, 1999
Ideal of the citizen soldier
Career that began with NROTC brings administrator to rank of rear admiral in US Navy Reserve
By Caroline Moseley
Congratulations, Kirk. You've been selected for flag."
Kirk Unruh (photo courtesy US Navy)
To most civilians this message would be meaningless. To Kirk Unruh, director of campaign relations and a dedicated officer in the US Navy Reserve for a good part of his adult life, it meant he had been selected for promotion to the lofty rank of rear admiral.
Why "flag?" A flag officer, Unruh explains, is "an admiral in the Navy or Coast Guard (or a general in the Marines, Army or Air Force) who is, by tradition, allowed to fly a flag displaying one or more stars indicating rank."
Captain Unruh, soon to be Rear Admiral Unruh, received his congratulatory phone call April 13 from Admiral John Totushek, commander of the US Navy Reserve.
Concept of service
"My family always believed in the ideal of the citizen soldier," says Unruh. "My father flew B25 bombers in World War II; my grandfather fought in World War I; and my great-great-grandfather was a sergeant of infantry in a Pennsylvania Civil War regiment."
As a freshman at Princeton, which he attended on an NROTC scholarship, Unruh was impressed when "President Goheen talked to us about the concept of service. It was clear to me how seriously Princeton takes the concept of 'Princeton in the nation's service.'"
A politics major, he was commissioned an ensign in the US Navy upon graduation in 1970. His first tour of duty included two years in the western Pacific as chief engineer aboard the USS Elkhorn, which operated for part of its deployment in the waters off the coast of Vietnam, and three years as specialist at the Navy's Human Resources Management Center in Pearl Harbor. While at Pearl Harbor, he earned a master's degree in American studies at the University of Hawaii. Though only committed to the Navy for four years, he remained for five "because I loved my job."
After he left active duty in 1975, Unruh enrolled in Harvard's School of Education and earned his second master's degree. Being a full-time civilian lasted only a few months, however, and he joined the Navy Reserve.
Deputy for Readiness
Unruh came to Princeton as regional director of admission in 1976, moved to the Development Office in 1980 as director of development relations and took over campaign relations in 1982.
Concomitant with his career at Princeton has been his rise to the rank of captain in the reserve, in which he has served in a variety of positions -- such as commanding officer/reserve coordinator of the USS Oliver Hazard Perry, a guided missile frigate; Navy Department Duty Captain at the Pentagon; and instructor at the Navy Command Leadership School in Newport, RI, where he continues to teach every summer.
He is currently Deputy for Readiness on the staff of the Commander, Naval Reserve Readiness Command, Region 4, which is headquartered at Fort Dix. In this position, he gives six days per month to the Navy, including, on average, two full weekends--in addition to teaching for 24 days a year at the Command Leadership School.
Unruh is grateful to the University for supporting his longstanding commitment to the military, and to his wife Diane and children Meredith '95, Allison and Chip. "My family has paid a price for my Navy service," he says, "but has always been wonderfully understanding and supportive." He notes that Admiral Totushek specifically thanked the Unruh family, because, the admiral said, "I know what kinds of sacrifices are required."
Possible active duty
It is a given of the reservist's life that he or she might be called to active duty in case of national emergency. "There are about 95,000 officers and enlisted men and women in the Navy Reserve," Unruh points out. "Of those, there are about two dozen officers wearing one or two stars, and four or five of them are on full-time active duty." Since reservists may serve until the age of 60, it looks like Unruh won't be "going home" (in Navy parlance, retiring from the service) anytime soon.
Unruh is quick to point out that so far he has only been "selected" for promotion. He will continue to wear on his sleeve a captain's four narrow gold stripes until the US Senate confirms the nomination sent by the President. Then he will proudly wear a rear admiral's single wide gold stripe on the sleeve of his dress blues--and on his khaki uniform collar, a silver star.