LUMBERTON — After spending 32 years in the United States Navy, a Lumberton native has turned in his sea legs — but he’s not ready to sit down just yet.
“I’m way too young for that,” Rear Admiral Cliff Sharpe said with a laugh. “At my age, I consider it a transition, not really a retirement.”
Sharpe, a father of three, celebrated his retirement during a ceremony in Norfolk, Va., on Oct. 29. He and his wife, Brenda, own a home in Southern Pines, to which the avid golfer said he is looking forward to moving back to.
“I will probably transition to something in the education and training environment,” he said. “…I have a lot of experience in that area and will be looking to parlay off that into the civilian sector.”
Sharpe received the rank of rear admiral in 2008 and was named commander of the Naval Service Training Command in Great Lakes, Ill. In 2010, he was given command of Carrier Strike Group Eight, comprised of an aircraft carrier, a guided missile cruiser, two guided missile destroyers, an attack submarine, and a logistics support ship. Sharpe’s last assignment was chief operating officer of Naval Education and Training Command in Norfolk, Va.
Sharpe was responsible for all accession training for the Navy, with the exception of the Naval Academy, and also served assignments ashore, including Naval Personnel Command, Joint Chiefs of Staff and Surface Warfare Officer manager. He taught at the Surface Warfare Officer School and the Naval Academy Preparatory School.
“It was extraordinarily rewarding,” Sharpe said of his time in the Navy. “It was somewhat of an unexpected career. … I went in for what I thought would be four years, but I enjoyed the challenge, I enjoyed the camaraderie, I enjoyed the sense of having a mission, and it seems like 30 years went by in the blink of an eye.”
Sharpe holds a master of Marine Science from the University of Rhode Island, and attended the Naval War College, from which he graduated with distinction. Sharpe graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and received a commission in the Navy upon completion of Officer Candidate School, Newport, R.I..
Sharpe joined the Navy in 1982 following the sale of The Robesonian newspaper, which had been owned by the Sharpe family since the early 1900s. His initial sea assignment was on the USS Josephus Daniels.
Sharpe called the newspaper business “one of the true joys” of his “former life.” He said the level of activity in a newsroom is what unconsciously led him to a Navy career.
“I love the energy and activity that comes with a daily paper,” he said. “You know you’re going to be busy, you know every day is going to bring a new challenge. … It’s that human dynamic that changes everything.
“As I go for my third career, I think the question now is how do I keep up that level of energy?”
Previous sea duty includes a tour as commanding officer of MCN Rotational Crew Echo. He commanded both the USS Chief and USS Dextrous, completing a six-month Arabian Gulf deployment on the USS Dextrous. While operations officer in Comdesron Twenty-two and the USS Thomas C Hart, he made multiple deployments to the Red Sea in support of Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Sharpe commanded a destroyer squadron of some seven ships, completing a seven-month deployment with the Enterprise aircraft carrier strike group. He commanded the USS Stout destroyer from September 2000 to March 2002 and was deployed to the Mediterranean and Arabian Gulf at the time of the 9/11 attacks.
Ashore, Sharpe served on the Joint Staff in Washington, D.C., in the Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate as assistant deputy director for International Negotiations and Arms Control. Before the Joint Staff, he was assigned to the Bureau of Naval Personnel as the Surface Warfare officer community manager. He served as an instructor in the Command Department at the Surface Warfare Officer School.
“I’ve been everything from an instructor of college and college prep courses to an environment of philosophical teaching where I was training people to be in command, take ultimate responsibility and to really know yourself before command others,” he said.
Earlier shore assignments include the Bureau of Naval Personnel as assistant surface captain detailer and the Naval Academy Preparatory School as an English instructor and assistant track coach.
“The real lure for me to stay in the Navy was the opportunity to command at sea,” Sharpe said. “… It was just that opportunity to work with people and see them achieve their goals and missions.”