Navy vice admiral in long line of top North Dakota military leaders

Munsch, who graduated from Oakes (N.D.) High School and whose mother lives in Fargo, is one of only 30 three-star vice admirals in the Navy's force of about 337,000 sailors and 200,000 civilians.

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Vice Admiral Stuart Munsch, at center, grew up in North Dakota. Here he speaks with sailors at the Navy Operational Support Center in Fargo. U.S. Navy photo

FARGO — U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Stuart Munsch is continuing the tradition of North Dakotans serving in the upper echelons of the nation's military.

Munsch, who graduated from Oakes (N.D.) High School and whose mother lives in Fargo, is one of only 30 three-star vice admirals in the Navy's force of about 337,000 sailors and 200,000 civilians. There are nine four-star admirals.

The 58-year-old is one of several of those vice admirals serving on the Navy's joint staff, which works for the top command structure for all branches of the military — the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

For the past year, he has been working in the Pentagon on force development issues as he looks into the future needs of the various branches of the military. Those needs involve repositioning of forces and operations, equipment, education and training, he said.

Munsch, who's in the metro area for Navy Week with about 40 other sailors leading up to the Blue Angels' performance at the Fargo Air Sho this weekend, was doing the same duties for just the Navy in the prior year after being named a vice admiral more than two years ago.


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Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Shane Maxwell, assigned to the Navy Operational Support Center in Fargo, reads to children at Rendezvous Park in West Fargo as part of Navy Week on Monday, July 19, 2021. U.S. Navy photo

He pointed out that three North Dakotans have been on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including Army Gen. Harold Johnson of Bowesmont in the far northeast corner of the state, Air Force Gen. David Jones who was raised in Minot and Admiral Bill Owens of Bismarck.

Jones was on the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1978 to 1982; Owens served from 1994 to 1996; and Johnson held a seat from 1964 to 1968.

Also, two North Dakotans have been superintendents of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where Munsch graduated from in 1985. They are Vice Admiral Jeff Fowler of Bismarck and Vice Admiral Mike Miller of Minot.

Munsch also likes to talk about Fargo native Brian Kesselring, commander of the Blue Angels. The vice admiral said Kesselring got interested in flying in the Navy after seeing the Blue Angels perform in Fargo years ago.

While the Navy staff are visiting, Munsch said they hope to encourage young people to join the Navy and, in other cases, simply tell the Navy's story so people better understand what they do. For example, he said many may not know that one-third of sailors are deployed overseas at a time.


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Vice Admiral Stuart Munsch, left, is the lead host for Navy Week in Fargo this week. Here he speaks at Fargo City Hall alongside Mayor Tim Mahoney. U.S. Navy photo

Munsch knows what it's like to be on the front lines as he was involved in military operations that he can't talk about, while serving 10 years on four different submarines. He jokes that being on a submarine is like living in a small town in North Dakota with the flatness of the ocean akin to the seemingly endless prairie.

For Munsch, those early years when he faced many risks on submarines and on an aircraft carrier were the most interesting and exciting of his 36-year career that's taken him to Japan, Bahrain and other ports around the world.

These days, Munsch is excited about fostering the next generation of Navy leaders and considers himself a teacher following in the footsteps of his mother, Kay, who was an elementary teacher, and his late father, Jack, who was a superintendent of schools and held other educational leadership positions.

Looking to the future, he foresees a high demand for what the Navy does. He anticipates a continued drawdown of troops from the Middle East and a shift into the western Pacific because of challenges with China.

Munsch, despite rather flat budgets, is also working on the need for more ships and more troops to meet future challenges.

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