December 20, 2014
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The man the crew calls 'Captain'
Cranston native Andy Loiselle named commander of USS Gunston Hall
U.S. Navy photo
As seen from USS Iwo Jima, Gunston Hall (right) breaking away from USNS Big Horn.

If there is one thing that has impressed itself on the public consciousness in the last 10 years, it is the way American soldiers, sailors and airmen have done their jobs. With few exceptions, they have performed efficiently, professionally and with few complaints.

One reason they have done so well is that the American military establishment recognized long ago that the logistics of delivering what warriors need to do the job is just as important as anything they do on the front lines.

That’s one of the reasons the Loiselle family, longtime residents of Cranston, are so proud of Andy Loiselle, the man the crew of the USS Gunston Hall calls “Captain.”

“I’m thrilled,” said Lt. Alan Loiselle of the Cranston Police, Andy’s younger brother. “This had been an eight-year career track for him. He’s wanted to do this and I expect his next command could be an aircraft carrier.”

Andy Loiselle has gone from fighter pilot to ship commander in his career and Alan thinks it only makes sense for a pilot to be in charge of the ships that carry their planes. But Andy has learned that you take your commands as they come, and taking command of one of the largest supply carriers in the Navy is not too shabby. But Alan would like to see his older brother at the helm of an aircraft carrier, if only to enhance a family legend.

“The story goes that we were out on the bay in my father’s boat when an F-14 Tomcat flew overhead,” said Alan. “My brother Andy looked up at it and said, ‘I’m gonna fly one of those someday.’ I was there but I don’t remember him saying that. But my father said it’s true.”

Andy Loiselle corroborates his father but says the “legend” that seems to suggest he was a sort of flying prodigy is flawed.

“Yes, this is a true story,” said Andy. “The only caveat is that I was already in Holy Cross NROTC at the time, but had not yet selected whether I was going to fly airplanes or drive ships or drive submarines. That event went a long way towards me asking for aviation as a career pipeline. It isn’t like I was a little kid who had never heard of the Navy.”

For people who obsess about naval history and terms, Andy’s new command, the USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44), can be found on the Navy’s website and the ship itself has a Facebook page. The ship is named after the country residence of founding father George Mason, who, along with James Madison, is considered the author of the Bill of Rights.

“LSD” stands for “Landing Ship, Dock,” and the ship’s mission is to transport Marines and their combat equipment to designated areas around the world, and then to launch and support assault craft and helicopters during amphibious operations against hostile shores.

The ship carries a Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC). The LCAC is an assault hovercraft with the ability to exceed 40 knots while carrying a 60-ton payload. Using this new craft, the ship is able to carry out an amphibious assault against a wide range of beaches.

The ship can on-load or off-load floating cargo. It accomplishes her mission through the use of a well deck, which is flooded to embark or launch assault craft. After leaving the ship, the assault craft are directed toward the shore by the ship's Combat Information Center.

To provide continuing support to the assault force, Gunston Hall is equipped with the Navy's latest advanced technology including updated communication and combat systems, 20- and 60-ton cranes, expanded repair facilities, two helicopter landing areas, complete medical and dental facilities, and an automated computer-based supply system. The ship itself displaces 11,332 tons light and 16,581 tons full. Its length is 610 feet overall, with a beam of 84 feet. It can float in 21-foot deep water.

That’s a lot of responsibility for a kid from Cranston to take on but Andy Loiselle is up to the task, inspired, no doubt, by his all-time military hero.

“Admiral James Stockdale, an air-wing commander who was shot down over Vietnam and spent many years as a POW. His is an absolutely awe-inspiring personal profile of courage, commitment and most of all, leadership,” said Loiselle.

Loiselle goes back even further for his favorite historical figure.

“George Washington did an incredible job as a general during the Revolutionary War with very limited resources,” Loiselle explained. “I am most impressed by his willingness to continue serving as president for a second term when by all accounts, he just wanted to go home and retire. His country needed him and he responded.”

Loiselle, who has a large family, expects to respond for a while longer himself.

“I have six kids: Courtney, 19; Drew, 15; Hayley, 14; Jack, 11; Will, 4; Charlie, 2; and my beautiful wife, Alexis,” boasted Loiselle. “I’ll stay in the Navy as long as my career continues to progress and it is the right thing to do for my family. I have been eligible for retirement for a few years but still enjoy it very much. Navy captains are allowed to serve for 30 years, so I have about six more years to go at this rank.”

Loiselle has already envisioned what the Navy will look like when he retires. In addition to some growing “green” programs, like using biofuel in a jet fighter, the Navy has an ongoing commitment to do its job with a minimal amount of environmental consequences.

“The military has had cyclical changes in size and budget throughout my career,” he said. “We will go through a down cycle for a while and the Navy will get slightly smaller, but we have already downsized significantly over the last decade. With the president’s stated goals of re-engagement in the Pacific and his commitment to keeping 11 aircraft carriers, I don’t see us getting dramatically smaller. I do see difficulty maintaining our ship-building and overall procurement program at desired levels in a tightly constrained budget environment.”

Loiselle should be too busy to get homesick, but he does get a nostalgic longing from time to time.

“I get back to Rhode Island as often as I can,” he said. “My brothers, sisters, parents and all of my best friends still live there and I miss them all very much. I miss being out on a boat on the bay in the summer; I miss my favorite restaurants and the fabulous pizza … Home is where my wife and kids are, but I’ll always miss Rhode Island, no matter where we live.”


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