By Moses Kamuiru.
A big heart
Born in 1944 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Capt. Pete Tzomes decided to pursue a career in the United States Navy after viewing a presentation about the U.S. Naval Academy while in junior high school. Against his guidance counselor’s suggestion that an African American would never be accepted into the academy Tzomes applied, but was rejected the first time around. When he took the appointment exam a second time he was selected as an alternate and entered the Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1963. As African Americans all across America dealt with violent oppression resulting in killings, riots, and public hostility, Tzomes also faced prejudice during his time in the academy.
Captain Tzomes was later told he was too short to become a pilot in the Marine Corps. He graduated in 1967 and was commissioned as an ensign. Tzomes overcame the challenges and through hard work obtained some prominent positions. He was the second black service member accepted into the nuclear-power program and the first on submarines. Tzomes entered the submarine field, and after 12 months of nuclear-power training and six months of submarine training, he reported to the “blue crew” of the ballistic missile submarine USS Will Rogers (SSBN 659) in February 1969. During a time when some white Sailors refused to salute black officers, Tzomes persevered and continued to over the next 14 years.
Tzomes was assigned to the pre-commissioning unit of the fast attack submarine USS Pintado (SSN 672). In December 1970, he served in division officer billets until completing his engineering officer qualification. In April 1973, Tzomes was assigned as an engineering officer aboard USS Drum (SSN 672), where he served until August 1976. From September 1976 until September 1979, he was assigned to the nuclear propulsion examining board on the staff of then commander in chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. In November 1979, he reported as executive officer aboard USS Cavalla (SSN 684), where he served for almost three years. While on his executive officer tour, Tzomes screened for a command position, hoping that a successful trip could lead to attending commanding officer nuclear training and eventually commanding his submarine. It worked. In the spring of 1983, he reported for duty aboard USS Houston in Norfolk, Virginia, as the first black commanding officer of a nuclear-powered submarine. Six months later, the submarine switched homeports to San Diego, where Tzomes received a hero’s welcome.
Appointments and command
Captain Tzomes was assigned as the force operations officer following his command tour zones on the staff of Commander Submarine Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet, and Pearl Harbor. He also served as the director of the Equal Opportunity Division of the Bureau of Naval Personnel; advisor to the Chief of Naval Personnel; and commanding officer of Recruit Training Command Great Lakes He retired from the Navy in 1994 after serving as assistant chief of staff for Operations and Inspector General. Thomas was a member of the National Naval Officers Association an organization that supports minority officers in the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, including two years as a regional vice president. He has also been involved with the Naval Submarine League, the U.S. Naval Institute, the United States Submarine Veterans, and the Navy League. His military honors and decorations include the Legion of Merit (with two gold stars), the Meritorious Service Medal (with three gold stars), and the Navy Commendation Medal (with two gold stars) along with various unit and campaign ribbons.
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