A Noble Calling

Duty. Honor. Country.
For Rear Admiral Frank D. “Trey” Whitworth – Collegiate class of 1985 – there is no greater calling.
Since he graduated from Duke in 1989 with a B.A. in political science, Whitworth has served throughout the world as a United States Navy intelligence officer. Among his myriad assignments, he was deployed three times to Afghanistan as director of intelligence for a Special Operations Task Force. More recently, he was director of intelligence for the U.S. Africa Command. Now, he is deputy chief, tailored access operations, S32, for the National Security Agency in Washington, D.C.
Whitworth, who earned an M.A. in national security studies from Georgetown, has risen steadily through the ranks on the strength of his expertise, experience, seriousness of purpose, and command presence. The medals and ribbons that adorn his uniform are testament not just to his many achievements but to his commitment, his dedication, his example of excellence, and the respect he’s earned.
Today, Whitworth visited North Mooreland Road to renew old friendships and address Middle and Upper School students about his early inspirations, his distinguished career, his global perspective, and the significance of Veterans Day. What follows is a compendium of insights, reflections, and perspectives.
What lessons did you learn during your Collegiate years that prepared you for a life of service to your country?
Outside of my immediate family, Collegiate likely presented the most formative experiences of my childhood – and I am so thankful.
The most important lesson – and one that I strive to uphold daily in service to the United States and my teammates – is to live a worthy life, respectful of others.  To this day, Collegiate ranks in the top-four most respectful environments I've observed or experienced.  Others in the same company include the church, the military, and the Whitworth family, so this is high praise, indeed.
Another important lesson fostered by Collegiate is simple yet so powerful: integrity is everything.  The Honor Code might be Collegiate's greatest gift to its students. The Code develops synapse connections that last for a lifetime, and they are instrumental in so many walks of life.  The Honor Code helps us realize at a young age that true integrity is best demonstrated when we are alone - i.e. by our unobserved decisions. Finally, Collegiate taught us to adopt a disciplined approach to learning and growth and to meet difficult tasks with the confidence that only hard work can bring.  Collegiate is full of smart, talented people, but those who dutifully prepare are the ones who typically succeed. 

What motivated you to join the Navy and then make it a career?
The Navy offered me a four-year ROTC scholarship to attend Duke University. That was an important step.  That first year as a Midshipman presented a favorable impression of both the Navy and my teammates, and I never looked back. Since that first year, I've enjoyed serving the nation and wearing the uniform of our winning team. My resolve to serve has only grown each year of the last thirty, accentuated by our expanding family as well as the violent terrorist attack against America in September 2001.

What, to you, is the significance of Veterans Day?
Veterans Day is particularly meaningful because it is an opportunity for our citizens to acknowledge the service of all other citizens who have served in uniform, and that's a lot of Americans!  Unlike Memorial Day, which focuses our reverence towards a smaller subset of heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving, Veterans Day can be moving by its applicability to so many people.  This year, Veterans Day gains an extra boost of significance due to its previous nomenclature – Armistice Day – as we are recognizing 100 years since the end of World War I.

What's the most important message you can give our kids at Collegiate?
My response here relates directly to the effects of mobile communications and social media on our young people, particularly on their mental focus and concentration skills.  My number one recommendation for multi-tasked generations is this: channel your attention by curbing an insatiable appetite for multiple stimuli.  For example, practice BELIEVING and DEMONSTRATING that the conversation you've entered (perhaps with a parent, a friend, or a teacher) at that moment is the most important conversation in the world.  Our listening and conversational skills take work and can be perishable.  Cherish and prioritize conversations with family members, in particular.  Remember, people on their deathbed typically will not regret sending too few chat messages, but they might regret too few conversations or leaving digital records that disparage other people. Another recommendation is this: seek multiple dimensions of wellness.  In other words, seek balance in your physical, mental, and spiritual health, and be generous in the process.

What are your career plans going forward?
This is a tough question because the Navy does a great job of reminding Flag Officers that we're nearing the end of our military careers! That said, it would be meaningful to earn additional uniformed responsibilities within the Department of Defense as I still care so much about our nation's security and the viability of our joint force and Navy.
Life after Navy remains a mirage as I am solely focused on this current mission.  That said, I'm drawn to professions that improve people, so the mission of an educator might excite the same nerve endings that have been in overdrive these last three decades.

What do you want your legacy as a Navy officer to be?
I don't want this to sound too sappy or contrived, but honestly, it's as simple as this: I'd be happy if my sailors and officers could reflect on my career and say, "That guy cared about people as well as the nation's security, and he made an impact both on our team and our mission."