By MC1 Scott Wichmann, U.S. 6th Fleet Public Affairs
As a boy, young Thomas Ralston often took a small sailboat out to traverse the tranquil blue waters of the bay of Cadiz.
Today, as a commander in the U.S. Navy, Ralston finds himself once again navigating familiar waterways as commanding officer of USS Porter (DDG 78), currently forward-deployed to Rota, Spain.
As he assumed command on Aug. 7 during a ceremony, Ralston reflected on his unique journey, one that started in Rota so many years ago.
“My father was an Electrician’s Technician and served on active duty for 25 years,” said Ralston. “While he was stationed here, he met my mom, who was a native of El Puerto de Santa Maria.”
Born at U.S. Naval Hospital Rota, Ralston said his father’s naval service eventually inspired his own decision to join the world’s preeminent maritime military service.
“My dad loved the Navy,” said Ralston. “He dedicated 45 years of service combined between active duty and civil service. I’m a Navy brat, and I am thankful for that. I always wanted to join the Navy.”
Growing up in El Puerto de Santa Maria, Ralston attended the Jesuits Colegio San Luis Gonzaga and graduated with a law degree from the University of Seville. Soon thereafter, he attended the U.S. Navy’s Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida, and was commissioned as an Ensign.
Since becoming a surface warfare officer, Ralston has served in many roles including auxiliaries officer onboard USS Chosin (CG 65), navigator onboard USS Reuben James (FFG 57), chief engineer onboard USS Barry (DDG 52) and as flag secretary to Commander, Carrier Strike Group Nine, embarked onboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) in San Diego, CA.
Before assuming command of Porter, Ralston served as the ship’s executive officer, a role he credits with preparing him for increased responsibility at sea.
“The roles of the executive officer and commanding officer are very different, but they need to complement each other,” said Ralston, who relieved Cmdr. Craig Trent. “That is why the Navy has built in time between the two tours before you ‘fleet up,’ to help with the transition. You need to attend a prospective commanding officer course in Newport, Rhode Island, led by former commanding officers who help you with the transition.”
Porter, which recently completed its third Black Sea regional patrol in five months during exercise Sea Breeze 2020, has taken part in three naval exercises with naval forces from the Bulgarian, Georgian, Romanian, and Turkish navies, as well as the Harpers Ferry-class dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51). Porter also conducted two visits to Batumi, Georgia, while maintaining COVID-19 precautions.
The U.S. Navy routinely operates in the Black Sea consistent with international law, including the Montreux Convention.
Ralston, who assumes command of the Porter during a time of heightened vigilance, accelerated operational tempo and global challenges, such as the great power competition and the global COVID-19 pandemic, expressed great confidence in his team’s ability to overcome any challenges and bring flexibility to the fight.
“The crew of Porter is an incredibly talented team with an outstanding reputation and great resiliency,” said Ralston. “Dealing with COVID uncertainty is a challenge, but I am confident we will overcome it.”
Ralston expressed enthusiasm and humility at the opening of a new chapter of his naval career.
“This is a dream come true,” said Ralston. “Command at sea is the pinnacle of any surface warfare officer’s career.”
Porter, forward-deployed to Rota, Spain, is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe and Africa.
U.S. 6th Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners, in order to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa.