Wright, Lewin 1962–
Lewin Wright 1962–
Occasionally a child knows exactly what he will do with his life even while still very young. Perhaps some childhood experience or the goals of a parent will inform a young man’s choice and he will create a life plan in fulfillment of some youthful dream. Such was not the case for the first African-American commander of the naval ship, the USS Constitution, also known as “Old Ironsides.” Commander Lewin Wright never set out to command the most historically significant vessel in the U.S. Navy; indeed he never set out to join the navy, and no doubt, never dreamed of such a future when he was a child growing up in London, England.
Lewin C. Wright was born in London in April of 1962. He was one of four children born to Lenworth and Melvina Wright, who had immigrated to England from Jamaica during the 1950’s, bringing with them one son from an earlier marriage. In a December 2003 statement provided to Contemporary Black Biography (CBB), Wright stated that his family was part of the post World War II influx of West Indians into England. During World War II, his father had served in the British Royal Air Force, and after the war ended, London was a destination for many of the Caribbeans who had fought on behalf of the British during the war years. After they moved to London the family settled in North London, where earlier West Indian emigrants had already established a community. Wright’s father worked as a bus driver and his mother found employment as a nurse’s aid. Wright attended public schools and was in every way what he called an “average young boy.”
In 1975 the Wright family immigrated to the United States and settled into the PLatbush section of Brooklyn, New York. Wright was 12 years old when the family moved, and while he did notice significant differences between his old West Indian neighborhood in London and his new neighborhood in Brooklyn, he easily settled into the family’s new American life. When he was old enough, Wright attended the prestigious Brooklyn Technical High School, which required that entering students pass a rigorous entrance exam before they could be accepted. While at Brooklyn Technical, Wright focused on chemistry and prepared for college.
At a Glance…
Born in April of 1962 in London, England; married Sharon Greene, 1989. Education: Brandeis University, BS, 1984; Surface Warfare Officers Department Head Course, 1993; Officer’s Candidate School, Newport, RI, 1995; Army Command and General Staff College, Leavenworth, KS, completed Joint Professional Military Education, phase one, 1999; Benedictine College, MBA, 1999. Military Service: U.S. Navy, 1986–.
Career: U.S. Navy, electrical officer and electronic warfare officer onboard the USS Vancouver, 1986-1989, navigator onboard the USS Buchanan, 1989-1991, recruiter, 1991-1992, operations officer onboard the USS Lewis B., 1993-1995, pre-commissioning unit for the USS Robin, 1995-1996, executive officer onboard the USS Robin, 1996-1998, executive officer onboard the USS Samuel Eliot Morison, 1999-2000, Chief of Naval Operations, Washington DC, assistant for strategy, 2001-2003, USS Constitution, commander, 2003-.
Awards: Navy Commendation Medal, 1995, 1998, 2001; Meritorious Service Medal, 2003.
Addresses: Office —USS Constitution, Charlestown Navy Yard, Charlestown, MA 02129-1797.
There was never any question that Wright would attend college once he had completed high school. In his interview with CBB, Wright mentioned that “Going to college was not a decision—it was a fact. By this I mean that in my family, there was never a question as to whether you would go to college. The question was what profession would you pursue.” Wright discovered Brandeis University at a college fair that he attended while still in high school, and so after his graduation from Brooklyn Technical in 1980, he headed to Waltham, Massachusetts, to begin his college studies. In August of 2003 Wright told interviewer Dennis Nealon of the Brandeis University News that it was Wright’s mother who liked the idea of his attending the university. But Wright noted that he agreed with his mother that attending was “one of the best things I’ve done with my life.” For Wright, attending Brandeis was only one of many careful decisions to be made, each time with conscientious thought. Although he had not conceived of a specific plan, he gave each decision about schooling very careful thought before proceeding.
As he neared the completion of his degree at Brandeis, Wright had no plans to enter the military. His degree was in computer science, and there were many job opportunities for careers in this growing field. But during his final year in college, Wright decided that he did not want to spend the rest of his life working in the computer field. Wright told CBB that during a job fair in Boston he was waiting for the line at one of the computer company kiosks to shorten when he began to speak with the Navy recruiter. Wright said it was nothing specific that the recruiter said that convinced him to join, and in fact, they just discussed the navy in general, but the more he thought of it the more he thought that becoming a Surface Warfare officer, someone who drives the ship, was “something I could do for a few years.” After he spoke with the recruiter, Wright made the decision to enter the navy as an officer. Even then he did not intend to make the navy a career. He signed up for four years but would stay much longer. Just as they had previously done when he had made other important life decisions, Wright’s family supported his decision to join the navy. In his statement to CBB, Wright noted that his parents “approached this the way they approached most of my decisions. By this I mean that as long as my decision was well thought out and what I was doing was meaningful then they supported me.” And so just as he had earlier when choosing to attend Brooklyn Technical or Brandeis University, Wright chose a path that presented the best opportunities but that also recognized his own talents and the likelihood for a significant contribution to the navy.
After his graduation from Brandeis in 1984, Wright was sent to Officer’s Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, from which he graduated in September of 1985. At that time Wright was commissioned into the United States Navy as an ensign. Wright’s first navy assignment was as an electrical and electronic warfare officer onboard the USS Vancouver, an amphibious transport dock ship, which was homeported in San Diego, California. Wright was assigned to the USS Vancouver from June of 1986 until May of 1989. During his time on the USS Vancouver, he was also promoted to lieutenant junior grade. His next assignment was as a navigator on board the USS Buchanan, a guided missile destroyer that was also homeported in San Diego, California. While assigned to the USS Buchanan, Wright married Sharon Greene in late 1989. This second assignment lasted from July of 1989 to March of 1991, during which time Wright was promoted to lieutenant. Wright’s third assignment took him to the Navy Recruiting District in San Francisco, California, where he functioned as a navy recruiter from May of 1991 until October of 1992.
After his tenure as a navy recruiter, Wright’s next assignment was to complete the Surface Warfare Officers Department Head Course, which he did in 1993. With this additional training out of the way, Wright was assigned as the Operations Officer onboard the USS Lewis B. Puller, a frigate that was homeported in Long Beach, California, from June of 1993 until January of 1995. Wright received the first of three Navy Commendation Medals for his service aboard the USS Lewis B. Puller. With his duty onboard this vessel completed, Wright spent the next year attached to the pre-commissioning unit for the USS Robin, a coastal minehunter that was nearing completion in New Orleans, Louisiana. After the USS Robin was completed and commissioned, Wright became the Executive Officer, a position that he held from January of 1996 until May of 1998. Shortly after assuming the position of executive office, Wright was promoted to lieutenant commander. He was also rewarded with the second of his three Navy Commendation Medals, earned during his service on the USS Robin.
When Wright headed off to Army Command and General Staff College, in Leavenworth, Kansas, in June of 1998, he had already spent 14 years in the navy. In a December 2003 statement Wright told CBB that he had “no master plan” for what he had done with his life. He had never planned to make the navy a career; instead he said, “I have simply been doing what I think most people do which is trying to find myself. Whenever I have come to a ’fork in the road’ in my life I have examined my choices and based on my experiences, thoughts, and recommendations from friends and family and trusting my gut, made what I thought would be the best decision at that point in time.”
As they had in the past, Wright’s thoughtful choices had served him well during his early career in the navy. He completed the Joint Professional Military Education, phase one in June of 1999. At the same time, he also completed the coursework for a master’s degree in business administration from Benedictine College. With this phase of his education completed, Wright was assigned to the USS Samuel Eliot Morison, a frigate that was homeported in Mayport, Florida. Wright reported to his new assignment in September of 1999 and assumed the duties of the executive officer until December of 2000, when he was once again reassigned.
At the conclusion of his tenure onboard the USS Samuel Eliot Morison, Wright received his third Navy Commendation Medal, and then in February of 2001, he was assigned to the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, D.C. While in Washington Wright served as the section head for strategy for the director of the Surface Warfare Division. Four months after his arrival in Washington, Wright was promoted to Commander. As he neared the completion of his Washington assignment, Wright was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for his contributions to the navy during the previous two years. Then just over two years after he was promoted to commander, Wright received what he considered to be the most significant achievement of his career—command of the USS Constitution, homeported in Boston. According to the USS Constitution ’s website, Commander Wright’s own comments at the ceremony relayed the importance of this assignment. As he prepared for the change of command ceremony, Wright thought about the ship’s history and of those who had captained it in the past. Wright said that it was hard to believe that he was “taking over this historical ship, with all its tradition, and great captains.” Although he would join an illustrious list of naval officers as commander of the USS Constitution, Wright would also achieve much more, since he also became the first African American commander of this historical vessel. And so it is of little surprise that he felt “a little awe struck” at receiving the honor he so clearly had earned.
Wright’s duties on the USS Constitution were very different than they would be on any other Naval vessel. The oldest warship in the navy does not sail of its own accord, and Wright’s office is not onboard but is located in a building overlooking the ship. As Commander Wright told CBB, the USS Constitution ’s most important function is to “keep the flame of our nation’s rich naval heritage burning brightly in the hearts and minds of Americans.” As commander, Wright took charge of some 50-60 navy men and women who worked to preserve the ship’s history as well as educate the public. And as commander, Wright also made many public speeches and appearances in connection with the ship’s history. One of the very special duties that Wright undertook in connection with his new command occurred in October of 2003 when a replica of the La Amistad made a historic visit to Boston. Wright was asked to take part in the official welcoming of the schooner. He told CBB that the captain of the Amistad, Bill Pinkney, had an early naval career and that he had been denied entry into the Navy officer program, although he would have been qualified. Even though the Navy had been officially desegregated in 1948, discrimination still existed in some areas. Wright said that because it was very difficult for blacks to make it into the officer ranks, his attendance, “as commander of the Navy’s most historical ship,” meant a lot to Pinkney, since Wright’s command made clear how much the navy had changed. The Amistad’s arrival and the subsequent honors accorded to Pinkney also meant a great deal to Wright, who told CBB that he “was touched and extremely gratified to participate in such a significant event that meant so much to a man who means so much to our maritime heritage.” As the commander of the USS Constitution, Wright had many opportunities to welcome dignitaries, but welcoming the Amistad to Boston was one event that had great personal meaning to Wright.
When Wright was interviewed by CBB in December of 2003, he had only been commander of the USS Constitution for six months. When asked about how his life experiences would influence his command decisions, Wright replied that to be a successful commander he would have to call upon all of his experiences, good and bad, and draw from those the necessary lessons to command. Wright noted that he is “a combination of all the commanding officers for whom I have worked on the five ships on which I have been stationed.” His tenure onboard the USS Constitution will last into 2005, when he will again be reassigned to other duties. As had been the case throughout his naval career, Wright was prepared for the inevitable move. Wright explained to CBB that the navy life was hard on marriages. The frequent moves and the time at sea, with the long separations from loved ones can make a marriage difficult to sustain. Yet of his 14 year marriage to Sharon Greene-Wright, Wright said that he “felt blessed to have such a wonderful partner with whom to share his life.” It is hard to imagine what sort of command might follow that of the USS Constitution, but certainly Commander Lewin Wright will be prepared for whatever follows “Old Ironsides.”
“In the Lap of History: Brandeis alum becomes 68th commander of ’Old Ironsides,’” Brandeis University, www.mybrandeis.edu/item?news_item_id=101873 (November 14, 2003).
“USS Constitution Change of Command 2003,” USS Constitution Official Website, www.ussconstitution.navy.mil/COC2003.htm (November 14, 2003).
Additional information for this profile was obtained from a telephone interview with Contemporary Black Biography, on December 22, 2003, as well as from a personal statement and Curriculum Vitae provided by Lewin Wright on December 19, 2003.
—Dr. Sheri Elaine Metzger
"Wright, Lewin 1962–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 20, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/wright-lewin-1962
"Wright, Lewin 1962–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved April 20, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/wright-lewin-1962