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Alumnus Takes Helm of "America's Big Stick"

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

[Capt. C. Ladd Wheeler]

A University of Kansas chemical engineering alumnus has assumed command of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier.

U.S. Navy Capt. C. Ladd Wheeler, a 1982 chemical engineering graduate, took charge during a change-of-command ceremony held Jan. 11 aboard the Norfolk, Va.-based ship. He is the 11th person to captain the 97,000-ton, nuclear-powered craft.

“It’s great to see another Jayhawk at the helm of such an important component in America’s defense structure,” said Chancellor Robert Hemenway.

Wheeler also joins a growing list of KU engineering alumni who’ve risen to high levels in the U.S. military. That list includes:

• Rear Adm. Wayne Meyer, a 1946 electrical engineering alumnus commonly called “the Father of the AEGIS System,”

• Rear Adm. J.T. Hood, a 1962 chemical engineering alumnus, who was program executive officer in Theater Air Defense of the U.S. Navy

• Rear Adm. Gene Kendall, a 1971 engineering physics alumnus and the 12th African American to achieve the rank of rear admiral, and

• Vice Adm. Michael K. Loose, a 1975 civil engineering alumnus, who is deputy chief of Naval Operations for Fleet Readiness and Logistics.

“Our alumni have a history of achievement, and we couldn’t be more proud to add Capt. Wheeler’s accomplishment to our register of successes,” said Stuart R. Bell, dean of the KU School of Engineering.

Wheeler’s new command is affectionately called “America’s Big Stick” by its crew of more than 5,500. The ship is home to Carrier Air Wing Eight and its crewmembers hail from every state in the union and many allied countries.

Wheeler received his commission via the KU’s Navy ROTC program in May 1982. Upon completion of flight training in Pensacola, Fla., Wheeler was designated a naval flight officer in June 1983 and subsequently completed training in the A-6 Intruder for the “Fighting Phoenix” of Attack Squadron 128 in Whidbey Island, Wash. He has more than 3,300 flight hours and more than 750 arrested landings.

Wheeler has served on several ships and more recently was commander of U.S.S. Mount Whitney. Immediately before joining U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, Wheeler served as chief of staff for Commander Naval Air Forces Atlantic.

He has received numerous awards and honors throughout his career including the 2003 Commander, Fleet Forces Command Battenberg Cup, the Legion of Merit, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Strike/Flight Air Medal, Aerial Achievement Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and other campaign and unit awards.

Faculty in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering also expressed pride in Wheeler’s accomplishment.

“The grounding in science and engineering fundamentals undoubtedly provides an excellent basis for highly successful careers in a wide range of technological areas,” said Laurence Weatherley, chair of the department. “Capt. Wheeler’s career achievements and this most recent appointment are clear evidence of this. The systems thinking skills, time management, team work, communication and problem solving skills are all assets, which alumni like Capt. Wheeler have gained in our program and used for high achievement.”

Wheeler and his wife, Diane, have two school-age children and make their home in Norfolk. He is Central High School in Grand Forks, N.D., graduate. He is the son of Mrs. C. E. Wheeler, Palm City, Fla.

He and his sister, Britton Wheeler Robinson of Overland Park, a 1986 KU graduate, are fourth generation Jayhawks. Their maternal aunt, Nancy (Ladd) Knoff of Cokato, Minn., is a 1964 KU alumna. Their maternal grandparents were KU graduates: the late Bass and Virginia Evans Ladd who were cattle ranchers from Eureka. Their maternal great-grandfather attended KU law school.

Wheeler noted he keeps contact with KU through ESPN, his fraternity brothers, the former Alpha Theta Omega chapter at KU and through nieces and nephews who are recent KU graduates. Seven pledge brothers from throughout the country were among the guests attending the Jan. 11 ceremonies in Norfolk.

Learn more about:

The U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt.

KU's Department of Chemical & Petroleum Engineering.

The KU School of Engineering.

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