NPS Alumni's Continued Impact on the Force

The Naval Postgraduate School is at the intersect of education and operation. Only NPS synchronizes student operational experience and graduate education with applied research and expert faculty, to deliver twice the return on education investment: relevant warfighting solutions and leaders educated to employ them. NPS alumni return to the force with the critical thinking skills to lead confidently and the technical skills to forge innovation adoption throughout the Department of Defense. This month's interviewees, Capt. Edward "Tick" McCabe, Lt. Erick Samayoa, and Lt.j.g. Suzelle Thomas, are shattering ceilings, forging innovation, and shaping the next generation of military leaders.



Capt. Edward "Tick" McCabe
NPS Air Warfare Chair 
MS in Systems Technology '00 

Capt. Edward "Tick" McCabe currently serves as the Air Warfare Chair at the Naval Postgraduate School, mentoring the cadre of aviator students on campus and serving as a liaison between the Naval Aviation community and the NPS community. McCabe came to the institution following recent assignments such as Commodore for Strategic Communications Wing ONE, Commander of Task Force 124, and three tours with the Ironmen of Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron THREE. He has also served as an aircraft launch and recovery officer, or “shooter,” on board the USS CARL VINSON, where he completed a deployment to the North Arabian Sea and participated in Operation Enduring Freedom.

McCabe's shore assignments include serving as the TACAMO Readiness and Requirements Officer and subject matter expert on Naval Aviation’s unmanned systems for Commander, Naval Air Forces staff, where he also served as the point of contact for all aviation awards. He was recognized as the 2007 Honorary Tailhooker of the Year for his extensive work with the Tailhook organization recognizing Naval Aviation’s best. He also worked for the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the Chief of the National Military Command Center, Raven Rock Mountain Complex.

McCabe commissioned through the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps program in June 1992 after graduating from the University of California at Los Angeles with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science. He earned his Masters of Science in Systems Technology, Joint Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence from the Naval Postgraduate School in 2000.

What led you to NPS, both as a student and now as the Air Warfare Chair? What was the most important thing you learned as a student? What has been most impactful during your time on staff?  

I would like to say that an unquenchable thirst for knowledge led me to NPS, but the reality was not quite as professionally inspirational. It was for family, both my wife’s family and mine lived in California, and since we were the only young parents on either side of the family tree, our two sons were the only grandkids. I honed my critical-thinking skills and gained an appreciation for my fellow services and a thirst for knowledge that has stuck with me throughout my career. The people, no question, from my aviation students, to former shipmates, faculty, staff and Sailors... I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to lead, learn and develop myself and others, and build some friendships that will last for years.

You are the first Air Warfare Chair at NPS. How has the role impacted NPS’ connection to the Naval aviation community? How has it enabled NPS student and faculty research to address challenges in the aviation community? 

Airboss Miller’s vision for my position was to change the narrative with regards to resident graduate education and Naval aviation, and there appeared to be excellent momentum as the Air warfare chair position was established and we began to become actively engaged with the entirety of the Naval aviation organization. Unfortunately, this effort was challenged by two short-term factors: an inventory crisis and COVID. The inventory crisis exacerbated a decreasing aviation student population. This was partially mitigated by a brilliant plan to utilize initial training delays and backlogs to facilitate in-residence learning. Shoemaker scholars (named for a former Airboss) and IGEP (Immediate Graduate Education Program) enabled a small number (20-30) Ensigns to come to NPS and within 12-18 months graduate and begin flight school with minimal negative impact on their career timing. Career timing is the number one driver for Aviation's disconnect with technical graduate education. COVID's impact was felt across the board, but particularly for the Air Warfare Chair that was in its infancy. The prohibition on travel significantly impacted the relationship building that will be key if we are going to reverse this trend. The upcoming work with Naval Aviation Warfare Development Command and ongoing work with U.S. Pacific Fleet should work to turn the tide, but it will take some time to fix the inventory challenges within Aviation writ large. Time will tell. Regardless of the number of aviators that are fortunate enough to attend NPS, each of them will make an impact and have a positive influence moving forward.

One of your goals as Air Warfare Chair is to keep NPS students on track for leadership roles during their time at NPS. How has that been addressed during your time here? 

Active mentorship and involvement are keys to this at every level of our organization, and this has been the most rewarding part of my time here at NPS. The aviators on campus range from Ensigns, fresh from the Academy or Naval ROTC, and eventually headed to flight school, all the way to command-selected O-5's who will begin their command training track as they depart. Each echelon requires different levels and amounts of leadership and mentorship, and individual needs definitely vary but they are and will continue to be leaders as they return to the fleet. Formal and informal counseling, social events and milestone awareness have been three focus areas for me during my time. The nature of shore duty leads to some relaxation and recharging of our strategic reserves, but we have to stay ready and prepare for that next role as well. 

Why is an NPS education valuable to leaders in Naval aviation as they return to the fleet?

The critical-thinking skills developed and honed at NPS are priceless assets for our leaders as they return to the fleet. Command selectivity is extremely daunting and most will not be among the chosen few, but they will continue to serve in a variety of other roles and these skills will make every day and every decision that they make, more informed and given enough data, accurate.

While on staff at NPS, you’ve played a large role in STEM outreach, to include Discovery Day. What is the best part of participating in that kind of outreach? What makes NPS a unique and viable option for students interested in a STEM career field and/or those interested in joining the military?  

First, Discovery Day is amazing. Seeing the excitement on all the kids' faces is something that everyone should witness. It is refreshing and energizing. Second, getting an up-close view of our selected NPS warrior-scholars who serve as ambassadors and truly come to represent so much of what is good about our men and women in uniform is awe-inspiring. Finally, the STEM facet and our faculty. Their ability to teach graduate-level science and tech on Thursday and then effortlessly explain complicated topics to middle schoolers, all while keeping everyone's rapt attention, consistently surprises me. Our hope is that there will be young people that attend Discovery Day that are inspired to become scientists and thinkers and/or motivated to serve in some capacity. Regardless, our hope is that they leave campus with an appreciation for STEM and our men and women who wear the uniform, and at least learn a little something along the way.

From your time as a student studying systems technology to your time on staff at NPS, how has collaboration with industry and other DOD organizations evolved? Why is NPS’ role in the design and innovation adoption process important to military operations? 

‚ÄčI don't remember a single reference to working with industry back in the day (1998-2000), and frankly, that is part of why we have the challenges we have today. Sometime between the 60s and today, industry took over the lead from DOD as the lead innovators with regard to science and technology particularly. We know that we must work closely with industry to mitigate and solve the complex problems facing us today and into the future. NPS and the Naval Warfare Studies Institute (NWSI) are focused on this facet of our future. I don't believe that anyone knows how this will work, we seem to be struggling to "get out of our own way," as the rules and guidelines that we have developed and built over that same time period seem to be hindering us at every turn. This is definitely a motivating factor for me and has been over the last six months or so in my role as the Outreach and Engagement lead for NWSI. If we hope to remain dominant, not just competitive, this collaboration will be critical, as will developing the "grey matter" of our future leaders.


Meet Cmdr. Ed Jatho
PhD Student, Computer Science

Cmdr. Ed Jatho is a member of the Navy’s permanent military professor community. He is pursuing a doctorate in computer science at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, where his research focuses on trustworthy AI and defending deep neural networks from adversarial attacks and deception. Watch his full interview here. 


Lt.j.g. Suzelle Thomas
MA in National Security Studies ‘19 

U.S. Navy Lt.j.g Suzelle Thomas, MA in National Security Studies ‘19, is a 2018 graduate of the United States Naval Academy where she received a Bachelor of Science in political science. Thomas is the first woman in the Navy to directly select F-35C Lightning II postgraduate training after earning her Wings of Gold. Thomas was named to the Commodore’s List during primary flight training, during which she flew the T-6B Texan II turboprop aircraft. She was also named VT-7 Student of the Quarter for spring 2021. She carrier qualified in the T-45C Goshawk jet trainer aircraft onboard aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). In November 2021, Thomas reported to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 125, also known as the "Rough Raiders" in Lemoore, California. VFA 125 is a fleet replacement squadron flying the F35-C Lightning II.

What was the most impactful moment during your studies at the Naval Postgraduate School? How has your time at NPS impacted your operational career since graduating?

The most impactful part of my studies at NPS was taking classes and learning alongside so many international students. The discussions with people of such different backgrounds enriched my academic experience in a way I had never seen before. It is one thing to comb through the many academic journals, books, lectures, etc., that we research in order to understand different parts of our world, but it is another experience entirely to then have officers and civilians from the very countries we study right next to you in class. I will forever value their unique insights and new perspectives on analyzing international issues. I continue to stay in touch with many of them today, and I have NPS to thank for these connections. Flight school has dominated my time since NPS, so I will be joining my first operational squadron in about a year once I finish the Fleet Replacement Squadron. However, I believe the openness and willingness to seek out other people’s perspectives that I treasured at NPS will continue to stick with me as my career progresses. NPS does a great job of bringing us together in the classroom in a way we can carry over into working with our allies in the fleet.

What factors influenced your area of study at NPS and why did you choose your research thesis, “India’s grand strategy: Ambitions & Capacity”?

During my final year at the Naval Academy, my senior thesis centered around China’s peacekeeping operations and how these actions further the long-term Chinese international agenda. So, when I arrived at NPS, the importance of Asian geopolitics was fresh on my mind. I took a class with Professor Feroz Khan and became hooked on his teachings about India’s rich history and relevance today in the Indian Ocean region and beyond. Through his guidance as my thesis advisor, I learned more about how important it is for the United States to understand foreign players like India in order to forge meaningful partnerships, especially as China continues to spread its influence across Asia. I had no idea how connected geopolitics were in the Indian Ocean region and thoroughly enjoyed learning the economic, diplomatic and military influences at play both historically and today.

Your studies at NPS focused on the Indo-Pacific region and specifically the relationship between India and China. How do you think the Russian invasion of Ukraine will affect the relationship dynamics and foreign policy of major powers (Russia, China, India, Japan) in the Indo-Pacific?

Overall, I believe the Russian invasion reminds the United States to consistently nourish alliances and good faith with foreign partners around the world. I also think these recent events have shown us a culmination of the growth of geopolitics really since the fall of the Soviet Union. Since that time, the United States has wielded an overarching international presence. However, over the last three decades and even before, we have seen more concentrated spheres of influence rise in particular geographic areas. We have the Chinese who continue to test the waters in Asia and even Africa in an attempt to yield a greater influence over their neighbors, and we similarly see Russia trying to exercise its own dominance in eastern Europe. Are these the step stones for other world powers to counter the United States’ hold internationally? We cannot know the inner workings of each action these nations and their leaders make, but it is ever more apparent now that the United States’ relationship with major Indo-Pacific players is vitally important to prevent unwanted influence. Japan is certainly a key ally, and India also continues to rise as a strong actor over smaller nations in the region. Places like NPS foster expert analysis of these foreign regions and will hopefully help provide our policymakers and military members with the tools to successfully shape our strategies for years to come.

What drew you to naval aviation? What are your next career goals?

During my time at the Naval Academy, I always admired the naval aviators. I liked the way their careers centered around a work hard, play hard mentality where you spend so many hours perfecting a craft that you love to do each day. I also felt that flying a plane seemed a lot like playing a sport where your physical and mental sides come together to perform. I have loved the community so far and feel so fortunate to be where I am today. I continue to be blessed by incredible mentors in every phase of my career, and I have also been surrounded by great peers who help me continue to progress through the phases of training. In naval aviation, I learned the phrase “closest alligator to the boat” which we often use to describe studying/preparing for phases of training. It just means how sometimes you need to focus on what is directly ahead of you – the very next flight or simulator – rather than worry about the many things you will have to be doing next week or two weeks from now. In terms of career goals, the closest alligator to my boat is flying the F-35C as well as I can and finishing the FRS, so that is my focus for now. I am excited to finally be flying the jet that I will hopefully fly for the rest of my career.

Your mentor Capt. Beth Regoli gave her Wings of Gold to you when you worked for her at the Naval Academy. What was it like to pin those on in October 2021 while simultaneously making history as the first woman selected to go directly to the F-35C after earning your wings?

Specifically wearing the wings from my mentor reminds me of all the help and guidance I have received to get to where I am in my life, and I hope that I can continue to give that same help to those that come after me. Pinning on Capt. Regoli’s wings served as the culmination of years of hard work. There is no other feeling like it. Since my senior year at USNA, I have kept those wings displayed on my bookshelf in my room through my year at NPS, the year in Pensacola, Florida, during primary flight training, and the year in Meridian, Mississippi, flying the jet trainer aircraft. They served as a constant reminder of my goal to become a U.S. Navy pilot which still feels surreal to have come true. My opportunity to fly the F-35C is absolutely a testament to the many women who have come before me and made history in so many other ways. It is also a testament to all the people who guided me as a pilot through my phases of training as well. While women may be the minority, we all work together for a common goal and push each other to be the best in our craft for the benefit of the whole

Erick Samayoa (top left)

Lt. Erick Samayoa
MS in Applied Physics '21

Lt. Erick Samayoa is a native of California. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Physics from The Citadel and commissioned through NROTC as a Surface Warfare Officer.

Samayoa’s operational assignments include Strike Officer onboard USS Anzio (CG 68) and deployed with Harry S. Truman Strike Group in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. He then reported onboard USS Mobile Bay (CG 53) as Training Officer went on global circumnavigation deployment with John C. Stennis Strike Group. Ashore, Samayoa reported to the Naval Postgraduate School as a student in the Applied Physics of Combat Systems Program and a Rear Admiral Wayne E. Meyer Scholar.

Samayoa is currently a student at Surface Warfare Officers School completing the Department Head Course before reporting as Weapons Officer to USS Princeton (CG 59). His personal awards include Navy Commendation Medal, Navy Achievement Medals (two awards), and unit awards.

You were selected to be a part of the inaugural Meyer Scholar program at NPS. Can you describe the program and its goals and how it evolved during your time at NPS?

The program is named after Wayne E. Meyer, who is known as the Father of AEGIS after having been the first program manager of the AEGIS Shipbuilding Project. We aim to follow and preserve the fundamental principles he developed for combat systems engineering. The Meyer Scholar Program goal is to develop officers who are exceptionally well-educated in the science and engineering disciplines associated with Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) and help lead the development and employment of these intricate systems. The program started off with discussions among the students after reading articles in regards to IAMD. As the program continued, we began to have guest speakers such as the intelligence briefs from the IAMD N2 cell from the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center to completing Joint Knowledge Online courses relating the link architecture to ballistic missile defense on top of our NPS course load.

Your study was the first to look at the use of UHTCs in aircraft turbines.  What prompted you to start researching this potential? What was the most interesting thing you found over the course of your research?

Originally, I was interested in hypersonic development — more specifically, the material needed to withstand the extreme temperatures experienced during flight. After exploring different thesis topics, I became interested in Professor Nieto’s research — the same material used for hypersonic can be used in aircraft turbines. The most interesting thing I discovered over the course of my research is how many DoD applications require new unique solutions to operate in extreme environments from the aero-bodies for hypersonic missiles to the turbine blades of aircraft to laser systems in a littoral environment.

What potential impact can your research and continued research in the area have on DOD aircraft safety and maintenance?

The research can actually reduce maintenance requirements and extend the service life of engines as well. More importantly, it can enable the warfighter to operate in the more extreme environments without hazarding the aircraft — our armed forces will continue to operate anywhere our nation calls on us to go.

How did your time at NPS impact your career trajectory? What are you doing now and what are your goals?

I am more committed to the IAMD mission set and realize this is a joint project that requires interoperability with our sister services from the F-35 from the Air Force to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) batteries from the Army to the Aegis Combat System from the Navy — I want to work in this field. I am finishing up Department Head Course at Surface Warfare Schools Command before reporting to USS PRINCETON CG 59 as the Weapons Officer. My goal after completing my department head tour is to become an IAMD Warfare Tactics Instructor and work on developing new tactics for the Fleet.

At NPS, operationally experienced students work directly with their peers in a joint environment and with expert faculty to address the challenges of the force. How does this approach to education set NPS apart from other institutions and affect student learning?

This is what makes NPS a great institution! The fact that students from across the DOD can collaborate with professors is a unique experience no other place can offer. Current issues that our military faces quickly make their way to technical experts and professors who are eager to tackle and solve these problems with active-duty students. NPS works for the warfighter.




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