Follow one man’s journey from the Navy to TVA
For TVA’s Tony White, a military career meant following in his father’s footsteps. But his first move toward joining the service was nearly a huge misstep.
“After visiting a Marine recruiter, I was convinced that I wanted to be a Marine aviator,” said White. “My hopes were quickly dashed when I shared this information with my father, who was a retired master chief with 28 years of naval service. The words, ‘No son of mine is going to become a Marine,’ are still deeply embedded in my memory banks to this day.”
White decided to join the Navy.
“Shortly after our talk, my dad introduced me to a recruiter for the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program,” he explained. “And the rest, as they say, is history.”
After enlisting under the Navy’s Nuclear Power Program in 1977, White completed Nuclear Power school in Orlando, Florida, and qualified as a nuclear plant operator at the Nuclear Power Training Unit (NPTU) in Ballston Spa, New York, with a follow-on tour as an instructor at NPTU. From 1980 to 1985, White served aboard the USS Permit (SSN-594), which was the world’s first modern, quiet, deep-diving, fast-attack submarine. While aboard the 278’ sub, he reached the rank of chief petty officer, leading personnel in the mechanical division for the operation and repair of the submarine’s nuclear propulsion system.
“I didn’t realize it back then but being a shipmate on a nuclear-powered submarine was one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my life,” White said. “Every aspect of submarine life has helped shape me to be a better person.”
It certainly prepared him to join TVA. White spent the past four years as director of maintenance at Watts Bar Nuclear Plant (WBN) before recently moving to a rotational management development role working as an advisor to the site VP. In his current role, he provides oversight for key special projects aimed at improving plant reliability and performance. White has now been with TVA for 13 years. But exactly how he ended up at TVA remains something of a mystery for him.
“Not even 24 hours after submitting my retirement papers to my boss in the Navy, I received an unsolicited call from a WBN ex-Navy SRO recruiter who invited me for an interview,” White said. “I have no idea how he knew that I was retiring since my boss and I were the only ones who knew, and neither of us had ever heard of TVA at the time. I guess we can just say that it highlights the strong relationship between TVA and the military.”
After completing his service on the Permit, White returned to NPTU as a leading crew chief. During his time there, he earned a commission as a naval officer through the Limited Duty Officer program. White’s Navy career continued as a representative for Naval Reactors at duty stations NPTU and Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
“I provided regulatory oversight for all nuclear-powered ships at Norfolk Naval Shipyard and the Norfolk Naval Station,” White explained. “It was a role that’s very similar to what the NRC does for commercial nuclear power stations.”
In 2009, White retired from Norfolk Naval Shipyard at the rank of Commander after 32 years of service in the U.S. Navy. “Serving in the military and living its core values of honor, courage and commitment have clearly prepared me for successful leadership roles at TVA,” he said. “But most importantly, learning how to motivate your people by having and showing genuine respect for their contribution, and showing that you care about them, has made me a better leader. “I was so grateful for the opportunity to practice those attributes as the director of maintenance at WBN, which ultimately allowed the department to significantly elevate its performance.”
That respect and engagement with his team members is a likely factor in overall departmental performance improvements. White says he learned in the military about the importance of providing the right amount of guidance and oversight, but also ‘pretty much getting out of the way of engaged and motivated team members to allow them to excel at their craft and projects on behalf of the organization.’ Between the Navy and TVA, White has enjoyed quite a fulfilling career.
“I know my military career started by following my father, but there’s just something to be said about serving what I consider to be the greatest country in the world,” White said. “The sense of personal pride and accomplishment I have received from serving this nation is immeasurable. And not unlike the military, TVA serves for the betterment of the people of the Valley, which was the dominating reason I was so attracted to working here. “I get the same sense of personal pride and accomplishment, as well as gratitude and appreciation, being employed at TVA.”
Learn more about veteran opportunities at TVA.