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Joseph Sestak was Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, overseeing the Navy's warfare budget. He became the highest-ranking officer ever elected to Congress.
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Politician. Born Joseph Sestak, Jr. on December 12, 1951. Sestak grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs of Delaware County as one of eight siblings in a close-knit Catholic family. His mother, Kathleen Sestak, was a high school math teacher. His father, Joseph Sestak, Sr., was an engineering officer at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.
Sestak drew great inspiration from his father. A first-generation American born in Czechoslovakia, Joseph Sestak, Sr. graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and served on destroyers during World War II. After the war, he earned graduate degrees from George Washington University and MIT, and continued his U.S. Navy career as an engineering officer. When Sestak speaks about his father's character, he recalls the time Joseph Sr. spent five hours fixing the family car in the freezing cold of a Philadelphia winter: "I remember going to the window and watching him. And the admiration that I had—just that strong determination of his. Never give in."
Sestak inherited his parents' penchant for academics. A high school valedictorian, Sestak followed in his father's footsteps to the United States Naval Academy, where he graduated second in a class of more than 900 midshipmen. After graduating from the Naval Academy, Sestak entered the Navy as a surface warfare officer and deployed seven times in Europe, the Persian Gulf and the Pacific. Between tours of duty, Sestak earned a master's degree in public affairs and a PhD in political economy from Harvard University. In 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed Sestak to serve as the Director of Defense Policy for the National Security Council. Sestak then became the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, overseeing the Navy's $70 billion warfare budget. In the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the Navy selected Sestak to head Deep Blue, the service's think tank for developing a new counterterrorism strategy. Sestak also commanded the USS George Washington Aircraft Carrier Battle Group (comprising 30 ships, 100 aircraft and 15,000 sailors, Marines, and SEALs) during combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sestak rose to the rank of three-star admiral, but he did not remain in that position long enough to retire as such. Instead, Sestak retired from the Navy in 2005 as a two-star rear admiral.
Sestak's retirement from the service came amidst controversy over his leadership style. Before Sestak retired, a naval report claimed that he had created "a poor command climate." The report was fueled by numerous complaints from Sestak's staff that he demanded an unreasonable workload.
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