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Jerry O. Tuttle, VADM, USN (Ret)

December 18, 1934 October 30, 2018
Jerry O. Tuttle,  VADM, USN (Ret)
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Obituary for Jerry O. Tuttle, VADM, USN (Ret)

Vice Admiral Jerry O. Tuttle, an only child of Depression-era Indiana farmers who rose from the ranks to become a highly decorated combat pilot and one of the great military innovators of the 20th century, died October 30 in Fairfax VA after a long illness. He was 83.
Admiral Tuttle was an iconic, even cult, figure in the U.S. military as well as in many Allied militaries abroad and is generally credited with being the inventor of modern command and control and the pivotal personality that led Navy especially across the divide from the industrial to the digital age. He was seen by many as a genuine military genius and compared with the air power and blitzkrieg innovators of the 1920s, with British Admiral Jackie Fisher, who transformed the Royal Navy at the opening of the last Century, and with Admiral Hyman Rickover, whose nuclear submarines would rely on many of Admiral Tuttle’s innovations.
In contrast with these, however, he was neither a theorist nor the champion of a single technology, though he had deep expertise in military communications and revolutionized both its form and function. He spent much of his career at sea and much of that time in command at sea. In particular, he had exceptionally long tours as a commander of four separate carrier task forces. In consequence, Admiral Tuttle’s inventions and innovations arose out of operational experience, and more than once, from operational necessity.
Like Thomas Edison, Admiral Tuttle was a perpetual dynamo for whom innovation was a part of his essential character— a consequence of indefatigable and explosive energy, a unique intellect, technological curiosity, and relentless drive. One after another, his innovations continued throughout the span of his career and across the entire landscape of warfare, from submarines and satellites to cryptography, information technology, avionics, antennas, modeling and simulation, and above all, operational synthesis.
“He seemed at once to be both an irresistible force and an immoveable object,” a former aide said. Less than eight years off the farm with just a small-town high school education, then-Lieutenant Tuttle was already an accomplished pilot, had earned both his undergraduate degree and a graduate degree in communications engineering (he later would earn two more graduate degrees) and at the age of 28 was designing and fielding the critical system that enabled Navy’s new nuclear submarines to communicate.
Above all, he was an exceptional pilot. Like almost every other boy in America during the late 1940s, he was fascinated by the first jet airplanes. In time, he flew nearly all the Navy fixed-wing and jet carrier aircraft inventory. He made so many arrested landings on carriers that if one were flown each day it would take nearly three years to duplicate his feat. For a time, he was Navy’s senior aviator— the “Gray Eagle”— a position that de facto made him the community leader and patron for more than half of Navy’s officer corps. As such he held great power over promotions and positions, which he wielded masterfully, gathering about him a school of officers who were both technologically and operationally astute. He placed them key positions within the Fleet and the shore bureaucracies, where collectively they became the lever by which he revolutionized the Navy.
In Vietnam, Admiral Tuttle became a highly decorated combat pilot, flying 260 missions in the single-seat light attack A-4. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for personal heroism three times, and he held twenty-three Navy Air Medals. Combat contemporaries invariably describe him in the cockpit as intense, ferociously aggressive, and fearless under fire of North Vietnamese surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft guns. But he told an interviewer in 2006 that the most frightening moments in his life were when he proposed to Barbara Ann Bonifay, whom he met on a blind date at flight school in Pensacola in the summer of 1955. She said yes, and the couple were married for 63 years. They had five children.
In “Boots” — as she was known to their friends— Tuttle met his match. Beautiful, vivacious, and polished, she, too, had a brilliant mind, a formidable will and extraordinary reservoirs of energy. In particular, she had a gift for human empathy, and like her husband, she had innate leadership skills. During the frightening years Tuttle’s squadron was in Vietnam and later during the long tours in which he had command at sea, she carried exceptionally heavy burdens for decades to look after families left at home.
Together they were a matched set, and in the end, they both became legendary in the Navy. “They had a sort of gravitational pull that caused people in any room, no matter how large or small, to gather around them,” said a wardroom friend. “He had a great laugh you could hear across a room, and inevitably all the action would gravitate around Boots’ animated figure. It simply was not possible not to want to be around them.”


Jerry Owen Tuttle was born December 18, 1934 in Spencer County, Indiana to Charles Tuttle and the former Wenonah Parker. They worked a small, marginal family farm only a few miles from Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood homestead cleared from the woodlands and plowed out of the sandy deposits of Ohio River. Growing up there, Admiral Tuttle told an interviewer, “all you could do was throw a hundred baseballs a day against the barn wall and listen to the radio at night.”
Like Lincoln, he spoke in a reedy and nasal Midwestern twang. Both were pranksters and both were accomplished storytellers and actors. Both exhibited a genius that was evident at an early age to those they grew up with; both were exceedingly ambitious; and both had a gift for rapidly seeing into the heart of complex problems and finding the core matters.
There, however, any comparison ends. If Lincoln strove to be the calm in the storm, Tuttle was himself a storm. Neither laconic nor patient, Admiral Tuttle had the wiry athletic frame of the baseball shortstop he once aspired to be as a boy, and it was fueled with endless reservoirs of physical energy. He was a relentless, focused and demanding personality that wore out almost everyone that worked for him, yet he was genuinely interested in them and meticulously attentive to them.
His mind was remarkably clear and worked so fast that at times in conversation his speech could not keep up. To the uninitiated, he seemed to talk in a stream of consciousness that could be bewildering and made all the more so as he grew more intense with gestures like a boxer’s jabs and suddenly-narrowed blue eyes that could burn through iron plate. He could be easy to underestimate— once.
Admiral Tuttle was masterful in command. There was never a question of what he wanted or when he wanted it, which was always immediately. Famously, on more than one occasion as a carrier group commander, he summarily fired a particularly poor performing staff officer, ordered him to be launched immediately off the ship and then recall the aircraft and the unfortunate passenger an hour later once the lesson was learned. Such episodes betrayed an essential character attribute: he was a master of delegation and a consummate builder of teams, and it was this that enabled him to extend his vision far beyond his personal reach.
Like Lincoln, Jerry Tuttle left home and never returned, but in the final years of his life the Admiral was preoccupied with plans to improve the economic future of his hometown of Hatfield. It was one of the few projects in which he would not succeed, for time would not allow it. In 1955, he reported to Navy enlisted boot camp in Great Lakes, IL along with hundreds of other recruits for basic training. So obvious were his abilities that at the end of the first week, he was pulled aside and offered flight training and a commission. He was awarded the American Spirit Honor Medal on graduation from Great Lakes.
Eighteen months later in the autumn of 1956, Boots pinned his wings on him. They spent the next four years at Naval Air Station Miramar in San Diego CA, where Admiral Tuttle flew both fighters and attack aircraft and held every billet in the squadron. There he had been noticed again, and although he had only a high school degree, he was sent to the prestigious Navy Postgraduate School in Monterey CA. By then, he was already a father of two young children, and he worked night and day to earn both his undergraduate and a graduate degree in communications engineering simultaneously.
In 1962, only eight years out of an Indiana high school, Lieutenant Tuttle was ordered to the Pentagon to head a team tasked with developing the technology to solve one of the most urgent operational problems of the time. In the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedy Administration had grown increasingly concerned about command and control of nuclear weapons and had ordered an overhaul of the existing national command system. Lieutenant Tuttle was given the task of devising and fielding a system to provide nuclear launch codes to the first class of the submarines capable of launching intercontinental ballistic missiles. His team fielded an aircraft-borne radio antenna nearly five miles long that trailed behind a modified tanker aircraft and could transmit signals capable of penetrating the ocean depths to the submarine. It was a solution typical of him: throughout his life he led people to bring new technology to tactics in order to enable new ways of operating. Tuttle’s system was known as TACAMO for “Take Charge and Move Out”— a certain Tuttle-ism. It remains in use today more than six decades later.
For the next 20 years with only three short interruptions, Admiral Tuttle’s career was a continuing series of increasingly senior aviation and command assignments. During two tours over Vietnam, like Senator John McCain, Admiral James Stockdale and hundreds of other Navy aviators of his generation, Tuttle flew the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk— universally called the “scooter” by pilots— in the Rolling Thunder bombing operations over North Vietnam conducted from 1965 to 1968. Though it was fast for the time and handled well under light load, the A-4 was sluggish to maneuver when it carried heavy bomb loads, and against increasingly sophisticated North Vietnamese surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft fire, losses mounted.
A replacement aircraft was needed urgently, and after a hiatus at the Naval War College, where he earned his second master’s degree, and a tour as an aide to the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, it would be then-Commander Tuttle who was tapped in 1970 to introduce the A-7 successor aircraft into the fleet, to define its tactics, and to command its first squadron. He was promoted to Captain, and throughout that decade he ascended to a series of major commands, including Carrier Air Wing 3, USS Kalamazoo (AOR-6) and the aircraft carrier USS John Kennedy (CV-67). All along the way, he redefined operations by pushing men, technology and tactics to the edge. In one exercise, he commanded his pilots to land on anchored carriers to force them to learn to fly with less speed and lift. In several others, he developed the first tactics for very-long-range carrier air strikes from the sea onto land. A contemporary called him “the best tactical commander since World War II.”
In 1980, Tuttle was selected as a flag officer, and in an unusual assignment, he was sent to a high position within the Defense Intelligence Agency. There he became exposed for the first time to the detailed inner workings of the intelligence world and especially its satellite assets, which he saw could be refocused and reapplied to tactical targeting if new technology could be applied. And, like a bargain hunter in an estate sale, he saw that the intelligence agencies had a diminishing use for an entire constellation of communications satellites, which if modified, a communications-starved Navy might take over on the cheap.
As a result, though Admiral Tuttle held many flag assignments including command of the Sixth Fleet Task Force off off Lebanon in 1983 and was later the Navy Inspector General, for the remainder of his career he became focused on three fundamental tasks that would transform the Navy and ultimately all military command and control. First, he was determined to bring targeting intelligence directly to the battle commander and, on a machine-to-machine level, directly to the weapons themselves, eliminating the practice of channeling it first through intelligence “fusion centers.” This forced him to take on a large segment of the entrenched Navy community, which he ultimately dismantled. It was a complex, multistep achievement that paved the way for the modern weapons of Desert Storm— long-range cruise missiles targeted precisely by the Global Positioning System and other resources that he would bring on line during the last years of his career.
The second task was to buy, borrow or steal the communications bandwidth necessary to get that information onto Navy ships at sea and tactical units ashore where communications were poor. He did all three to do it, had the antennas and processors invented to use different signals and wavelengths, and a second fiefdom, the Navy Communications Command, fell under his axe.
The third task he set about was so revolutionary it is difficult to imagine today. In 1983 aboard his flagship as commander of the Mediterranean carrier task forces steaming off Lebanon, Admiral Tuttle’s frustration mounted daily as he watched dozens of sailors and staff officers inside his darkened command center struggle with grease pencils, teletype messages and paper charts to try keep a simultaneous plot of the complex and dynamic tactical air, land and sea picture ashore and afloat.
He pulled together a team of contractors and Navy technicians, who three years later produced the world’s first tactical workstation. It projected targeting data from a variety of different sensors all over the earth as real time targetable positions overlaid on electronic charts and manipulable on new screen technology then called simply “windows.” Officially it was called the Joint Operational Tactical System— JOTS— but everyone understood it was Jerry O. Tuttle’s system. It made long-standing programs in the Navy that cost hundreds of millions of dollars and were years overdue obsolete overnight.
Armed with this and an increasing cadre of followers in the Navy, in Congress and in industry, over the next 10 years, hundreds of people at first, then thousands, were called in to hone the JOTS system. When he got his third star, Admiral Tuttle moved to JCS and once there, when he personally beat, dragged and kicked the long-delayed Navy GPS Program into space, he had created something so fundamental that several billion cell phone users today could not imagine a world without Google Maps. By February 1991, the JOTS terminal was a joint system in reality, and GPS-enabled work stations made it possible for General Norman Schwarzkopf ’s “Hail Mary” play to sweep across the western desert of Iraq to destroy the Iraqi Army.
His final career tour was on the Chief of Naval Operations staff, where he was deliberately extended longer to solidify his revolution and slay any remaining dragons. By the time he retired in 1994, his legacy was set in stone. He succeeded both dramatically and decisively, after a long succession of technological innovations both large and small, many redirections and reallocations of large Pentagon programs, operational and tactical exercises, and without question as a result of sheer personal determination. Before Admiral Tuttle, Navy used manual Morse, teletypes and paper charts to drop dumb bombs from airplanes over short distances. When he finished, Navy had the Global Positioning System, AEGIS, modeling and simulation, the full use of three communications satellite constellations, digital workstations, and altogether new weaponry that flew up and down mountain sides and landed a thousand miles inland with accuracy that astounded the world.
Admiral Tuttle’s personal decorations include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal (3); Defense Superior Service Medal; Legion of Merit (4); Distinguished Flying Cross (3); Meritorious Service Medal (2); Air Medal (23); Navy Commendation Medal (4); Letter of Commendation from the Japan Defense Agency; and numerous campaign awards.
Admiral Tuttle is survived by his wife, Barbara Bonifay Tuttle; five children: Michael, Vicky, Mark, Stephen and Monique; six grandchildren: Michael, Carleigh, Sean, Lauren, Scott and Caroline; and two great-grandchildren: Corianne and Taryn.
The family will receive friends at the Money & King Funeral Home, 171 W. Maple Ave., Vienna, Va on Friday, November 9th from 6 to 8 PM. Funeral services will take place at Arlington National Cemetery at a future date. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Naval Aviation Museum, 1878 S. Blue Angel Parkway, Pensacola, Florida 32508.


Previous Events

Visitation

Friday

9

Nov

6:00 PM 11/9/2018 6:00:00 PM - 8:00 PM 11/9/2018 8:00:00 PM
Money & King Funeral Home

171 W. Maple Ave.
Vienna, VA 22180

Money & King Funeral Home
171 W. Maple Ave. Vienna 22180 VA
United States

Cemetery Details

Location

Arlington National Cemetery at a later date Final Resting Place

1 Memorial Drive
Arlington , VA 22211

1 Memorial Drive Arlington 22211 VA
United States
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