After passing all the U.S. Navy’s screening tests for entrance into its nuclear propulsion program with flying colors, Pat Cassidy had one more challenge. He had to impress a four-star admiral.
A senior tight end and long snapper for the Tufts football team, Cassidy found himself sitting in the Washington, D.C., office of Admiral Kirkland H. Donald, director of Naval Nuclear Propulsion, in May. His admission to the nuclear program would hang on his responses to the admiral’s questions.
A Navy ROTC midshipman who has committed to five years of active duty after graduation, Cassidy interviewed for one of the Navy’s most challenging assignments: to become an officer on a nuclear-powered submarine.
“I will never sit in a four-star admiral’s office probably ever again, unless I reach that rank,” Cassidy says. “That’s how seriously they take this.”
Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, known as the father of the nuclear Navy, launched the world’s first nuclear-powered vessel, the USS Nautilus, in 1954. Known as “silent assassins,” nuclear subs don’t need to refuel and can prowl the ocean’s depths without a sound. To ensure he had top-notch crews aboard the subs, Rickover established the protocol requiring all candidates for the nuclear program to meet with the sitting admiral. The Navy has 200 nuclear submarines, and they want officers like Pat Cassidy to operate them.
A mechanical engineering major, Cassidy was approached by a captain within minutes after his interview. Admiral Donald was impressed, and he was in.
“I first met Pat at NROTC freshmen orientation in August 2008,” says Capt. Curtis R. Stevens, who leads the Boston University-MIT NROTC Consortium, which includes Tufts. “He was on crutches [due to a football injury], but that did not stop him from being a very active participant. His enthusiasm has never waned over the past three years. Pat’s successful interview not only says much about his superb academic performance, but is affirmation of Tufts’ outstanding engineering programs.”
Drawn to the Subs
Cassidy came to Tufts from New Fairfield High School in Connecticut, where he received the Rensselaer Medal as the top student in math and science. He wanted to pursue engineering, play football and join ROTC. Tufts was one of the few places that offered everything, and so he followed his older brother, Max, A09, to the university.
He became interested in nuclear energy after taking classes in thermodynamics and heat transfer. Knowing that the Navy did nuclear energy better than anyone definitely appealed to him, but he says he also felt obligated to serve.
“Obviously we’re involved in a war right now,” he says, quietly. “I figured there are plenty of young men stepping up, and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t.”
As part of his NROTC commitment, Cassidy was sent to different naval bases for a few weeks each summer. When he was stationed on a submarine out of Pearl Harbor two summers ago, he was convinced that duty would be the perfect fit.
“I saw the way that the enlisted crew interacted with the officer crew on board a sub and their ability to lock in when doing their job, and the amount of focus and attention to detail that occurs, while still being able to relax when you’re off duty,” he says. “It was really impressive.”
As a football player, Cassidy was initially drawn to playing at Tufts by a similar sense of team unity and commitment. From his first visit to campus, he says he felt a part of the Tufts football family. As a senior, he has caught four passes for 42 yards this season. He’s also a role model for his younger teammates.
“Our expectations of our players are to be ‘champions in the classroom, champions in the community and champions on the field,’ ” says head coach Jay Civetti. “Pat fits that perfectly.”
After he graduates from Tufts next spring, Cassidy will join what is considered to be the most technically challenging and academically rigorous program in the military.
“The Navy has standards in general, and submarines have standards for the standards because they are nuclear powered,” he said. “It’s manual on top of manual. I’m going to be in school for almost 18 months before I even get on a submarine.”
Even though the next five years are mapped out for him, Cassidy isn’t cruising through his senior year at Tufts. That doesn’t fit the profile. He took on the position of NROTC battalion commander, which Capt. Stevens says goes only to the student who excels in academics, physical fitness and military aptitude.
During the ROTC commissioning ceremony next May, Cassidy will become an active duty officer and soon after, begin a training regimen that will include the concepts and theory behind nuclear power, practice running a prototype land-based reactor and then submarine officer school.
“Pat’s commissioning in May will be one of my last official acts before I retire,” Stevens says. “For me, it will be a singular honor to commission this fine young man and turn him over as the next generation of nuclear submarine officers. Pat will be an outstanding submariner, and I know his sailors will enjoy working with him.”
The Jumbos next take on Amherst on Saturday, Oct. 29, at 1 p.m. at home.
Tufts Sports Information Director Paul Sweeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.