Not many know what it’s like to be away from home for long periods of time quite like U.S. Navy Captain Marc Ratkus.
He has 10 years of “sea experience” aboard five ships, two aircraft carriers, and two cruisers. He’s also been deployed to Afghanistan and Bahrain. Cumulatively, he estimates he’s been away from his family for about 14 years.
But even during all this time, he hasn’t forgotten about his hometown: High Point, North Carolina.
After graduating Andrews High School in 1983, Ratkus enlisted in the U.S. Navy immediately.
“The service was a great opportunity for me to go out and get some experience and make a name for myself,” he told me during a recent virtual interview.
Today, more than 35 years later, he’s still there. Most recently, he was appointed commander of the Navy’s Center for Information Warfare Training (CIWT).
Headquartered at the Navy Technical Training Center Corry Station in Pensacola, Florida, the CIWT trains sailors in the fields of cryptology (the study of writing and solving codes) in addition to (among other fields) intelligence and information technology.
“I like to say we influence everything from the foxhole to the White House. We communicate with the tactical warfighter, the operational commander and the national decision-maker and provide context and understanding of what’s happening so they can make the right decisions,” he told me. “They’re also our fleet commanders. So on board ship, they manage the radios, the satellite communication systems and the data.”
Ratkus also told me if you watched the recent epic war movie “Midway,” you witnessed the critical role of Navy cryptologists during that battle against the Japanese in June 1942.
Commander Joseph Rochefort’s team was able to break intercepted Japanese code in a way that would give the Navy a major competitive advantage in what would be a key United States victory in the Pacific.
Of course, technology has changed tremendously since World War II and continues to change, making the CIWT’s mission even more important.
Ratkus now oversees four subcommands that include more than 1,300 military and civilian staff. They train about 20,000 students every year. And they drive the Navy’s information warfare force.
But at least in his mind, he’s never gotten too far away from home.
“My fondest memories (of growing up in High Point) are with friends just walking in the outdoors and having the freedom to walk a creek bed and enjoy nature,” he said.
That included spending time around Oak Hollow, City and High Rock lakes. He also fondly remembers camping with the Boy Scouts in the southern Davidson County community of Denton.
Ratkus isn’t ruling out the possibility of coming back to central North Carolina one day with his wife, Brenda, and staying a while.
“My wife, Brenda, has been phenomenal,” he said. “She’s the glue that held the family together while I was away.”
But now his plate is full training sailors to fight an ever-changing and, in many ways, invisible enemy.
For more information on the U.S. Navy’s Center for Information Warfare Training, click here.