On July 26, Ithaca High School 1997 graduate and Ithaca native Benjamin Pollock took command of the USS Wyoming, an Ohio-class ballistic-missile Navy submarine, at Naval Station Norfolk.
Pollock is a U.S. Navy commander who has previously served on three other submarines as well as various shore duty commands, according to a recent press release. At his prior duty stations, Pollock’s responsibilities varied from reactor controls to the safe navigation of the ship.
As Pollock tells it, there was no one event that led him to pursue the military; he was simply drawn to it. With his brother being the only other family member in the military, Pollock attributes the start of his journey to a higher calling.
“God was calling me, and I felt somehow, as I would see things from the military, I would see what they were doing, I’d see ads and stuff, and … I just felt like ‘This is where I think I need to be,’” Pollock said.
Throughout his life, Pollock was blessed with numerous leadership opportunities, he said. Whether it was Boy Scouts, his church or his high school youth group, he led his peers and found he enjoyed that role.
Because of his leadership experience, it was no surprise that, as high school graduation neared, he felt moved to join the military and headed into the Navy Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) parallel program at Cornell University. After that, he pursued the submarine force.
“The caliber of people working in the submarine force was excellent,” Pollock said. “It was challenging, too. The expectations, the way we drive our ships, challenges us to think outside the box, and I appreciated that.”
Pollock said he thoroughly connected with the work the Navy does and how much support it receives from the government.
“There’s an enormous impact that we have around the world in various ways in all the various missions,” he said. “The fact that we’re there makes a difference on the world stage.”
Now that he is such an integral part of the Navy, Pollock said he does not regret his journey. Despite the challenges, he is glad to be where he is.
“I had a few opportunities to get out of the Navy at times,” he said. “Every time, I looked at the pros and cons of getting out. Every job has its ups and downs. This job’s ups and downs are extreme, so if you can put up with the long deployment, time away from home, the long hours, the upside is tremendous.”
The benefits of being a Navy officer are countless and unique, Pollock said.
“The opportunities to lead, the responsibilities that you’re given at a relatively young age, and the opportunities to go see the world and to head out and be on one of the world’s most powerful war ships really is unprecedented just about anywhere else,” he said.
Getting command of the USS Wyoming has been a huge honor, Pollock said. He loves the opportunity to further utilize his leadership skills with amazing people and a powerful mission.
“Generally, within the submarine force, this is the highest point of some people’s career,” Pollock said. “There’s really no one looking over your shoulder, but you’re responsible to make sure the boat comes back and you achieve your mission, and that’s a unique opportunity.”
Pollock said he has come a long way from where he started, and he is proud of his progress.
“I’m sure I was one of the college kids that came out and thought they were ready to change the world, and I’ve learned that leadership and management are much more about experience than just innate talent and book smarts,” Pollock said. “There’s a lot of tricks to the trade. … I’ve certainly matured a lot in that sense.”
Pollock’s leadership and people skills have improved over the nearly two-decades-long career in the Navy, he said, and one of the things he enjoys most is having a positive impact on his sailors.
“I’ve gotten more of an impact on their lives hopefully for the positive … than I really will have on any other job, and it’s important I get that right, but it’s also rewarding to be able to do that and have that much of an impact on so many people,” Pollock said.
Pollock’s family has been supportive of his journey, though it has been difficult, Pollock said. He and his family have moved 14 times, which can be hard especially for his kids, but he said he thinks his kids will have a positive experience from their upbringing, becoming better at adapting to change.
“They don’t know another option in life,” Pollock said. “They’ve always been a part of this. It’s been hard at times for them. I think they have grown a lot. … They’ve developed a lot of skills that I’m confident they’re going to be able to acclimate to the new schools better than they have in the past.”
Currently, the Wyoming is in the middle of a refueling overhaul, with 30 months in the shipyard to completely tear the submarine apart and put it back together, Pollock said. The sub has about a year left before it will be sea-ready again, and the work and the crew have to be certified before the sub can be taken out on patrol.
Pollock said that process has its own set of challenges, as getting an entire crew ready can be difficult.
“No one on board has operated as a crew out at sea, so we have to build those muscle memories, build those processes and procedures and skill set to get this ship back out at sea, which should be a tremendous challenge,” Pollock said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Though this preparation is the hardest job, Pollock said it is rewarding and worthwhile.
“As you work on fixing a process or improving or teaching someone how to do something, and then you see they’ve picked that up, they’ve grown from that and now, they’re able to go forth and operate better and you’re able to see the impact that you’ve had, it’s a very rewarding experience,” Pollock said.
When this tour concludes in about three years, Pollock said he is not sure what the next step in his journey will be. Though he will be eligible for retirement, he has not decided whether he will continue service in the Navy.
For now, Pollock is focused on his current mission, and after almost a year of training and 18 years of operational training to get here, Pollock said he is honored to have this command.
“I think this is a good fit for me, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity,” Pollock said.
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