Former U.S. Navy officer Capt. Dan Gruta on success, meeting Filipino mariners in unlikely places, and giving back
Originally published by Seafarer Asia Nationalism Issue on November 2015
Dan Gruta was born in the Philippines to a U.S. Navy family who had transferred to San Diego, California shortly after Martial Law was declared in 1972. His parents decided to give up a comfortable retirement in the Philippines in order to give their children a brighter future-one that seemed far-fetched in the country at that time.
As his father’s pension was only enough to cover the family’s basic needs, the eldest of five siblings worked two jobs-one as a janitor-to pay three quarters of his tuition in high school and provide for personal items. Capt. Gruta shares this was when he started to develop a sense of independence. “My plan was, I pay for my own tuition, I get good grades, and these good grades will get me to college. And then I’d work part time again to relieve my parents of the responsibility of paying for my education. When things didn’t go my way, it was okay. I believe that if you can’t change your situation, then you can always change your tactics,” he says.
Capt. Gruta eventually entered a preparatory program in San Diego to groom him for the United States Naval Academy (USNA) in 1981. In 1986, he graduated with a degree in Political Science and was commissioned as an ensign for the navy.
The man in uniform
After attending Basic Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) School, Capt. Gruta was deployed to the Arabian Gulf, Alaska, and South America onboard a U.S. frigate, and participating in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm during the first Gulf War. He was subsequently assigned as a Master Training Specialist and Course Developer to the U.S. Navy. He stayed in service for eight and a half years before resigning from his regular commission in 1994.
Capt. Gruta has been recalled to active duty three times since. In 1997, he was appointed as the Staff Operations Officer responsible for sea-training of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) warships in the Mediterranean. Shortly after, he went back to San Diego and practiced his first Master’s Degree as an environmental consultant for a private company called SAIC (Science Application International Corporation). He was recalled again in 1999 for the Y2k program of SPAWAR (Space and Naval Warfare) System Command as a program manager for IT management, war-gaming, cost analysis, and project control and management. In 2002, he went out of active duty and returned to SAIC, developing programmatic metrics for SPAWAR.
Since the 9/11 tragedy, the demand for reservist increased and he was assigned in Hawaii for a part-time job in the military. “During the height of the conflicts with Iraq and Afghanistan, about 12,000 navy sailors served on land with the army. Out of that, over half are reservists-people plucked out of their everyday jobs to help develop the government of Iraq and Afghanistan. As for me, I was sent to Hawaii,” he relates.
In 2005, he was recalled on active duty once more-this time, as an Operational Briefer for the admirals in the command fleet of Pearl Harbor. After two years of service, he went back to San Diego and worked on a small private company involved in installation of communication systems for aircraft carriers and submarines. In 2012, he was hired by the U.S. government as a program analyst for the U.S. Navy.
“It’s very confusing for people because O lived a parallel career-most of my involvement in the military were part-time, while those in the private sector was full-time,” explains Capt. Gruta, adding that these arrangements were not always smooth-sailing. There were many times when he would run out of billable hours while working for private companies. He was grateful, therefore, for being recalled by the U.S. Navy for duty. Before he finally retired from the Navy Reserves last November 2014, Capt. Gruta became the recipient of numerous awards, including four Meritorious Service medals, two Navy-Marine Corps commendations, and two Achievements medals. After his tour of duty, Capt. Gruta now works as an analyst, as a civilian.
Filipinos around the world
According to Capt. Gruta, one of the highlights of his naval career was meeting Filipinos around the world, many of whom were seafarers.
“Filipino mariners are very welcoming. It was always great for them to see another Filipino. In fact, I was probably helped most by Filipino mariners during the first Gulf war,” he shares. When Gruta was assigned in Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield in 1990, he was onboard a U.S. Navy warship imposing an embargo in Iraq and Kuwait and their task was to collect information from ships passing the area.
Filipinos were manning most of the ships in the area then, and the U.S. Navy found it challenging to communicate with them. Capt. Gruta recounts one of his encounters with a Filipino-manned ship: “It was the night before the shooting started. We were heading out of Persian Gulf when I encountered a merchant vessel. I called him on the radio repeatedly, ‘Merchant vessel on my starboard side, this is the U.S. Navy warship.’ Walang sumasagot so and sinabi ko ‘Pilipino ka?’ It finally responded, ‘Oo, asan ka ba?’ Sabi ko ‘nasa kaliwa mo ako.’ And then, ‘O? Alam mo kanina may U.S. Navy warship na tumatawag sakin dyan eh.’ Sabi ko, ‘Pare ako yon.’ Nagulat siya. ‘Ay naku! Kumusta na and gera?’ – That was one of the most memorable (experiences onboard).”
(“No one was answering, so I asked ‘Are you Filipino?’ And then, ‘Yes, where are you?’ I said I was to his left. And then, ‘O?’ You know just a while ago there was a U.S. Navy warship calling us.’ I said, ‘Friend that was me.’ He was surprised. ‘Ay! So how’s the war going?””)
According to Gruta, being a Filipino enabled him to better serve the U.S. during its time of need. Gathering data, for one, was made easier since he could easily communicate with the other vessels. “By and large, the most foreign language (in the area) was Tagalog and I used that to listen find out what was going on until they switched to other dialects-and then I couldn’t understand anything,” he shares, laughing.
Capt. Gruta also interacted with Filipinos on shore during his time in Hawaii. His deployment in 2006 was very timely, as this was when the “100 Years of Filipinos in Hawaii” was celebrated.
During the mudslide in Leyte the same year, Capt. Gruta witnessed the efforts of OFWs in Hawaii, when they worked hand in hand with U.S. Navy relief operations. “The people whom I celebrated with were the same people who sent help,” he shares.
One thing Capt. Gruta finds noteworthy about his fellow countrymen is how Filipinos would proudly brandish their culture wherever they are. “Living a life away from your country often pressures you to conform with foreign culture, but Filipinos are able to uphold theirs while adapting to their environment at the same time, “Don’t let the culture control you; rather, influence and control the culture.”
Capt Gruta says he owes his success to the people who helped him throughout his career and that it is now his time to give back. “There’s this saying, ‘paga amor con amor’ (to repay love with love),”he says. “That’s what God put us here for-that’s why he gave us gifts,” he ends.