Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Vandenengel, assigned to Commander, Submarine Force Atlantic in Norfolk, Virginia, was announced as the U.S. Naval Institute General Prize Essay Contest award winner, April 30.
The Naval Institute presented the award during their annual meeting which featured guest speaker Adm. James Foggo, commander, Naval Forces Europe and Africa, and Allied Joint Force Command-Naples.
In his speech, Foggo attested to the importance of having a platform “to read, think, speak, and write” through a professional organization for the sea services. A platform that allowed him to publish his first article thirty years ago as a lieutenant.
Vandenengel took motivation in that moment of the admiral’s speech.
“It is always interesting to see what senior leaders were writing when they were junior officers or young petty officers,” Vandenengel said. “The U.S. Naval Institute has a long history of featuring the works of prominent naval leaders before they became renowned, including admirals William Sims, Chester Nimitz, James Stavridis and James Foggo. It should serve as motivation for the rest of us to think boldly and publish our own thoughts.”
The idea for Naval Institute essay contests was first proposed by Lt. Cmdr. Allan D. Brown May, 8, 1878. The contest was designed for young naval officers to write on professional subjects. Currently, the Naval Institute sponsors 14 essay contests a year.
Vandenengel’s essay, 100,000 Tons of Inertia, focuses on the success the Navy has had at overcoming resistance to change. It highlights that the Navy will likely one day decide to shift to a new fleet structure, one where the aircraft carrier is no longer the U.S symbol of power. In an attempt to avoid the debate over whether the Navy should keep building large nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, Vandenengel wanted to explore a different angle.
“I want to stress my article is not about whether or not we should stop building aircraft carriers. Instead, it is much more focused on the resistance to change present in any large organization,” Vandenengel said. “Executing a shift to a new fleet structure will be difficult, but the Navy has the right people to persevere and field the best fleet possible in service of the nation.”
Vandenengel used his experience as a submarine officer to help analysis research and develop solutions in his writing.
“Submariners tend to be very analytical in part due to our rigorous nuclear training,” Vandenengel said. “That has certainly affected my writing, where I do a lot of research, thoroughly examine all aspects, and methodically address the problem. The submarine force has taught me how to rationally examine a problem, identify the root cause, and develop robust solutions, hopefully making me a better writer.”
Vandenengel was shocked when he found out his article won, but thanked his fellow submarine officers for support throughout the writing process.
“I was surprised and thankful. Several fellow submariners helped edit my work for submission and provided invaluable feedback,” Vandenengel said. “Without them, I doubt my article would have done well at all.”
Vandenengel continues to write as a hobby, and encourages other shipmates to submit their own articles. He credits the submarine community for impacting his life for the better since deciding to join the military, and hopes to see more submariners in print soon.
“The Submarine Force has given me the chance to live out my dream job,” Vandenengel said. “Within this community, my fellow submariners and I have participated in exciting missions around the world and worked with an incredible group of men and women. Unless I find an office job that lets me shoot torpedoes, I will be sticking with the Submarine Force.”