The Admiral of Lake Martin
After 35 years in the U.S. Navy, Admiral Bill Goodwin sails into retirement on our home water
Story and photo by Natalie Nettles
He served as commander of the Naval Air Force U.S. Atlantic Fleet and was the first commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, but Rear Admiral John W. “Bill” Goodwin is overseeing a different kind of fleet now.
That fleet consists of a pontoon boat – “The USS Goodwin” he jokingly calls it – and two Jet Skis.
Bill retired in June 2010 after serving on active duty with the U.S. Navy for 35 years. He’s now focusing on a new assignment: settling into a slower pace of life on Lake Martin with his wife of 35 years, Harriett.
The admiral says his first taste of Lake Martin was actually as a boy, when his family lived in Auburn for two years while his father was working at the Veteran’s hospital in nearby Tuskegee.
“The first time I ever went camping as a Boy Scout was on Lake Martin back in 1964,” he said. “So that’s part of the attraction to come back here. Also, both my mom and dad were Alabamians. So that’s another reason why, after 35 years of moving around the country, we decided to come to Lake Martin.”
The Goodwins, who met while in school at the University of South Carolina, married on Aug. 14, 1976, just after Harriett earned her degree. Bill had been commissioned in May of 1975 after completing the Navy ROTC program.
Their first home was in Beeville, Texas, but the couple would live in over a dozen other places before getting to Lake Martin: Jacksonville, Fla., Pensacola, Fla., Monterey, Ca., Lemoore, Ca., Herndon, Va., Newport, R.I., Orangeburg, S.C., Orlando, Fla., Charleston, S.C., Silverdale, Wash., Newport News, Va., Stuttgart, Germany, Seattle, Wash., Norfolk, Va. and Washington D.C.
Bill, who says he joined the Navy to be a pilot, was designated as a naval aviator in February 1977.
“I wanted to fly airplanes,” he said. “Then that followed with, ‘Boy, it sure would be exciting to fly airplanes off aircraft carriers.’ And somewhere along the way I heard that Navy pilots had the best training. So I kind of set that as a goal for myself.”
After completing his naval officer training and flight school training, Goodwin reported to Attack Squadron 66 flying the A-7E Corsair, and completed deployments as part of Carrier Air Wing 7 and USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. He then became a flight instructor, in the TA-4J Skyhawk.
In March 1983, he was assigned to USS Lexington as a catapult and arresting gear officer. He was next assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 25 flying the FA-18 Hornet, and completed deployments as part of Carrier Air Wing 14 and USS Constellation.
In June 1990, he reported to the Naval Air System Command Headquarters, Washington, D.C. His first command was Strike Fighter Squadron 94 in August 1992. He graduated from the Naval War College, Newport, R.I., in March 1995 with a Master of Arts degree.
Following Naval Nuclear Propulsion training, he served as executive officer of USS Carl Vinson until April 1998. He assumed command of USS Rainier in June 1998. In July 2003, he assumed command of the Pre-Commissioning Unit Ronald Reagan and then two and a half years later became the first commanding officer of the USS Ronald Reagan.
Goodwin was next promoted to flag rank and assumed the duties of deputy director – Strategy, Plans and Policy of the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany. Following his tour in Germany he was assigned as commander, Abraham Lincoln Strike Group. He served in Norfolk as the Commander, Naval Air Force U.S. Atlantic Fleet.
He most recently served as the Assistant Chief of Naval Operation, Next Generation Enterprise Network in Washington, D.C.
“With the military you get responsibility over time, the responsibility is ever increasing, they don’t just plop you in and say, ‘OK you’re going to be the captain of an aircraft carrier.’ It doesn’t happen that way,” Bill said of his transition from air to sea. “For continued service after flying jets for the better part of 20 years the Navy says, ‘Well, we’re going to make a real naval officer out of you now and we’re going to teach you all about driving ships.’”
Bill said one of the highlights of his career was the christening of the USS Ronald Reagan, which was attended by the former president Ronald Reagan’s wife, Nancy Reagan, and then current President George W. Bush.
“Mrs. Reagan christened the ship by breaking a bottle of champagne over the bow of the ship about two years before we actually went to sea,” he said. “The ship actually went into service in July of 2003 and was commissioned. That is when it became the USS Ronald Reagan.
It took two and a half years to finish construction and put the crew together. We started out with about 20, then 200, 500, 1,000 and finally about 3,000 sailors formed the crew.
“Vice President (Dick) Cheney and Mrs. Reagan were present at the commissioning ceremony. One memorable moment occurred when Mrs. Reagan said the line ‘Bring our ship to life’ and standing on the pier are probably 500 sailors who respond with a resounding ‘Aye, aye, ma’am,’ and then literally run up the gang plank and onto the ship and man the rails all the way around. The horns start blaring and whistles start sounding, planes are flying over. It was a wonderful day, that and taking the ship out to sea for the first time.”
Bill said that if he could connect the dots to all the places he traveled with the Navy, he would probably discover that he’s been around the world “two or three times at least.” And, Harriett got to travel some too.
“In 1979, on Bill’s first cruise, we didn’t have any children, just one cat, we didn’t own a home, so we rented a storage unit in Jacksonville, Fla. for $50 a month and put everything we owned in it and I followed Bill to the Mediterranean,” Harriett said. “I got an open-ended airline ticket, which wasn’t that expensive back then, and I followed the USS Eisenhower for four months. Every port he pulled into, I would be there waiting.”
After that first cruise, the couple was blessed with their two children, Jonathan, now 26, and Lauren, now 21, and it would be another 20 years before Harriett would have the opportunity to meet Bill at another port.
Over the years, the couple wasn’t always able to live in the same place – but they always found a way to make it work. When Jonathan was halfway through his sophomore year of high school, Bill moved from Seattle to Norfolk, Va., but Harriett and the kids stayed behind so Jonathan could finish high school with his buddies.
For about the next two years they lived cross country from one another, but they made a pact to see each other at least once every three months.
Throughout the 35 years, they never kept count of moves, deployments or important dates missed. Rather, they kept a positive outlook and tried to pass that down to their children and others they influenced.
“A lot of people say ‘We’ve done five or six cruises or my husband missed this many birthdays or anniversaries,’” Harriett said. “We never went down that road. We chose to look at the positive. I always taught the kids, we’re going to be happy if Daddy is home or not. We’ll be happier when he is home but we’re not going to sit here and mope because Daddy’s not home. Some people put their life on hold because the active duty member wasn’t there. We didn’t. That wasn’t fair to our children.”
Bill and Harriett also mentored Navy families, spouses and young people over the years. Bill of course worked with the men and women in uniform while Harriett said she felt it was her responsibility as a spouse to be the cheerleader for the families at home and help keep them going.
“At my retirement ceremony I acknowledged Harriett, Jonathan and Lauren and I did the math – my family has served the Navy for almost 80 years, but they never wore uniforms,” Bill said.
Their hearts are still with the service people, especially the young people and the sacrifices they are making for our great country.
“You become a father figure to them,” Bill said. “Now, 35 years later, through Facebook, I’ll get a name of someone wanting to be friends that I don’t recognize. When I ask them, ‘Can you tell me a little more about yourself?’ they respond with ‘Well, we had served together on USS Constellation back in 1987,’ or whatever. Then they say something like ‘You really woke me up’ or ‘I appreciate your leadership style.’ That’s the reward of being part of the Navy.”
Bill’s retirement ceremony was held May 14, 2010 aboard USS George H.W. Bush, pier side at Naval Station Norfolk.
He said that while most people pick the job they want when they leave active duty, he and Harriett picked where they wanted to live, which was Lake Martin. Long after his Boy Scout days, Bill rediscovered the area through visits to his cousin’s lake home during trips to Auburn University, where Jonathan earned a degree in 2007 and Lauren is a rising senior.
“Over time we fell in love with the lake,” Bill said. “We truly picked our location because we loved Lake Martin so much: the recreational opportunities, the beauty of it, the house and especially, our wonderful neighbors. The house suited us. It’s not too big, not too small. In Windermere West, the majority of the people live here full-time. The people in the neighborhood welcomed us with genuine southern hospitality and we have lived all over the country and Germany and there is nothing like it.”
Bill is now working part-time as a consultant and the couple is active at First United Methodist Church in Alexander City. As for the future, the admiral said he plans to get back into his golf game and, eventually, pursue a second career in the local area.
But as for now, he’s just enjoying spending time with Harriett.
“We laugh a lot,” Bill said. “It’s been a very easy transition. It’s nice being around each other all the time. We’re settling into the house and we’re taking our time, making some modifications. I work outside and Harriett digs in the dirt with the flowers and works on the inside of the house. It’s great, and we love the water.
“The fresh water is much better than sea water.”