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Admiral Bill Owens

As you may have noticed, North Dakota has produced a great many high-ranking military officers. Retired Admiral Bill Owens was born on this date in 1940. He graduated from Bismarck High in 1958, then went to work for a farmer that summer. 

In an interview for the Carnegie Reporter, he said, “I came from a very poor family… and I was imagining my life if I stayed there. North Dakota is a great place, but the opportunities available to me there, at that time, were not ones that I could imagine myself pursuing for the rest of my life. In those days,” he continued, “there was a television show called The Men of Annapolis. That sure looked a lot different from anything I was contemplating. So I went to Quentin Burdick, my Congressman, and asked, could I get into the Naval Academy? He said, ‘Nobody’s ever asked me that question before.’ About four weeks later, I was actually at the Naval Academy. It was a lot easier then than it is today.”

Owens got his bachelors in math and became a nuclear submariner. He served on four strategic nuclear powered submarines and three nuclear attack submarines, including tours as Commanding Officer aboard the USS Sam Houston and USS City of Corpus Christi. Owens spent a total of 4,000 days (more than 10 years) aboard submarines, including duty in Vietnam, and he was commander of the U.S. Sixth Fleet, from which the first attacks of Desert Storm were launched.

Owens also earned masters degrees in politics, philosophy and economics from Oxford and a masters in management from George Washington University. The military put his knowledge to good use by making him responsible for reorganizing the armed forces at the end of the Cold War.   Under his watch, the four armed forces underwent the most significant changes since World War II.

In March 1994, President Clinton appointed Adm. Owens Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the country’s second highest-ranking military officer.  People in the Pentagon referred to him as “the futurist”, because he felt the military got bogged down by old technology from former wars rather than planning for new types of warfare like terrorism, bio-weapons and dirty nukes.

Admiral Owens and his wife Monika reside in Kirkland, Washington, and San Diego, California.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm



Transcript of Capitol Hill policy luncheon, 9-16, 2004, “Convergence in a Network Centric Warfare Environment”; Susan Robinson King, Carnegie Reporter,Vol. 1/No. 4, Spring 2002

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