October 7, 2009 — Capt. Timothy L. Watkins, the newly-arrived commander of the University of Virginia's Naval ROTC program, is trading diplomacy in Islamabad for naval science in the classroom.
Watkins, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1982, spent the past year as U.S. naval attaché to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, working with his counterparts in the Pakistani military.
"In Pakistan, I represented the U.S. Navy to the Pakistani navy," he said. "I was the liaison, so I visited ships, was very active in coordinating the student exchange program, advised the ambassador and engaged as a diplomat with diplomats of every stripe. I wanted to continue to strengthen the relationship between Pakistan and the U.S."
The embassy was very busy, he said, and there was a lot of interagency coordination to work with the Pakistanis in a variety of areas. "With the economy and the terrorism and the social and medical problems, there is an array of challenges," he said.
Watkins, 51, is pleased with his transition to ROTC, especially at U.Va.
"This is a wonderful program," he said. "The students are bright, energetic, dedicated and they have a vision of what they want to do. It is such a fine thing for someone of that age to know what they want to do and go after it."
He is impressed with the students' drive and their range of interests. He said many are pursuing majors and minors or double majors while satisfying their requirements for the ROTC program (including summer training), and also are engaged in sports and/or social societies.
Watkins' history with U.Va. dates back to in 1981, the first time he saw the Grounds. He attended a football game matching the Cavaliers against the Naval Academy.
"U.Va. defeated us handily," he said. After the game, he was walking away from the stadium when he fell in with a group of U.Va. students and spent the rest of the day in their company.
He is also fascinated by the University's past.
"I like history, and you have to go a long way to find a university as historic as this," he said.
When he was stationed in Virginia, he said he and his family used to camp along the Blue Ridge.
"We fell in love with the area and decided we would come here after the Navy," he said, noting that his family is settling into the community. "We are right exactly where we want to be."
And Watkins has been many duty stations against which to compare Charlottesville, including San Diego; Tampa, Fla.; Newport, R.I.; Somalia; the Arabian Gulf; Norfolk; Suffolk; and Ingleside, Texas.
Coming from a Navy family, he had an early interest in aviation. After he graduated from Annapolis in 1982, Watkins underwent flight training in Pensacola, Fla., where he was designated a naval aviator in January 1984. While training, he decided to specialize in helicopters.
"When I was going through flight training, we saw the helos every day," Watkins said. "I talked to some of the instructing pilots and thought 'This looks cool.'"
Watkins stayed with helicopters the rest of his career, flying them in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. In 2002, he served as air boss aboard the amphibious assault ship Nassau for operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
He has served on a variety of ships, flying several different types of helicopters. Along the way, he attained a master of science degree in systems management from the University of Southern California, a master of arts degree in National Security Affairs and Strategic Studies.
Watkins, who plans on closing out his naval career at U.Va., wants to broaden the Naval ROTC program.
"I want to continue to strengthen the unit and its people through community involvement, ensuring our midshipmen are taking full advantage of the many opportunities they have at U.Va., but also contributing their time and talents on Grounds and in the local area," he said.
Currently, 56 midshipmen are enrolled in the program, of whom 17 are first-year students. Watkins has faith that they will go far.
"Their brothers and sisters in Annapolis are steeped in the military culture," he said. "But our people will be able to walk out on that ship and rise to the occasion."