James Downs, associate professor of history and American studies, will spend the 2015-16 academic year studying medical anthropology at Harvard University.
A team from the USS Kidd boards a fishing board held by Somali pirates in the Arabian Sea Jan. 5. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy.
When the USS Kidd rescued 13 Iranian fishermen from Somali pirates in January, a philosophy and economics major who graduated from Connecticut College in 2009 was part of the action.
It was all in a day's work for Ensign John B. Rode, the Kidd's main propulsion officer.
You might think that job is a far cry from his student days in New London, but to hear Rode tell it, it's not all that different. “One of the great aspects of the Navy is being exposed to so many different things that I wouldn't otherwise be able to be a part of,” he says. “In that way, my time onboard the destroyer the USS Kidd is much like my time at the College.”
The rescue in January drew international headlines. Officers aboard the Kidd received a distress call from the Iranian fishing boat's captain saying pirates were holding the ship hostage in the North Arabian Sea. A crew from the Kidd boarded the vessel and took 15 pirates into custody. The fishermen, who had been held against their will for nearly six weeks, were given food and medical attention and returned safely to their vessels.
Rode is scheduled to remain at sea through the winter. The Kidd is assigned to a larger task force that is working to provide security and humanitarian aid across the globe. Though life at sea can be challenging, Rode revels in the excitement.
“I wish I could summarize in one sentence all the things a junior officer in the Navy is responsible for, but you are always running from one task to the next, 24 hours a day,” he says. “I'll put it this way: Sleep and time to relax are in short supply.
“The second half of our deployment has been focused on counter-piracy,” he continues. “Along with other coalition forces in the Middle East, we provide security and aid to merchant vessels in one of the highest-trafficked sea lanes in the world.”
Rode, whose family has a long history of military service, visited a variety of schools, including the Naval Academy, before choosing Connecticut College. The former competitive swimmer was drawn to the challenge of a liberal arts education after sitting in on a philosophy class taught by Professor Andrew Pessin.
“I was completely blown away by the lesson material, as well as the depth of critical thinking and level of engagement the students displayed,” Rode says.
Today Rode, who graduated from Navy Officer Candidate School in 2010, draws on his liberal arts background in all aspects of his career. He credits the unwavering support of the faculty and staff as a true inspiration.
“I received a lot of help, especially from (Associate Professor of Philosophy Kristin) Pfefferkorn, regarding what I could do beyond college that would enable me to accomplish my goals,” he says. “The more we talked, the more I knew that I wanted to get out of the classroom and start making a difference in whatever way I could.”
For Rode, that meant giving his time and knowledge to serve his country.
“Even though it's a lot of responsibility, it's extremely rewarding. I can truly say I'm proud to be part of the best navy in the world,” he says.