Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 30, 2011

By Hugh Fisher
SALISBURY — Capt. James Loeblein’s career in the U.S. Navy has taken him to faraway countries, including some where history is being made.
In recent months, he’s traveled to Libya, Tunisia and Egypt — all nations where the popular uprisings some have called the “Arab Spring” are changing the balance of power.
But at the base of his international relations and career of military service are the relationships he built in Salisbury.
Loeblein will be the featured speaker Thursday at the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce’s annual membership meeting.
He will speak on how his experience in the Navy and working in Washington, D.C., can offer insight into the current business environment.
Loeblein, a 1981 graduate of Salisbury High School, received his commission as a naval officer through the United States Naval Academy in 1985.
During nearly three decades of service, Loeblein has served as commander of a guided missile frigate, a destroyer squadron commander and the chief of staff for Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. Fifth Fleet, based in Manama, Bahrain.
Today, Loeblein is assigned to the U.S. Navy’s Office of Legislative Affairs.
“My job is to be the Navy’s liaison to the Senate, to all 100 senators and their staffs,” Loeblein said Saturday in a phone interview from his Washington, D.C., home.
He works to keep the lines of communication open between lawmakers and the Pentagon. “Besides answering everything from constituent questions to programmatic matters, we also support Senate travel, mostly international travel,” he said.
Although he declined to name specific lawmakers he’s accompanied, Loeblein said he has traveled with senators to numerous countries.
“I spend probably 30 to 40 percent of my time overseas,” he said.
“People ask me, ‘What is it that prepared you to serve in the Navy?’” Loeblein said.
“The best preparation I had was learning leadership in Scouting, learning leadership in team sports and developing those leadership skills in junior high and high school.”
It’s an exciting and challenging time to be involved in international relations, especially in the wake of uprisings that led to the ouster of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi.
“There’s a lot of hope,” Loeblein said, “because there’s one thing we’ve found going over to all of these countries. They despise corruption and they despise tyranny.”
But the years ahead won’t be easy for citizens of those nations, he said.
The struggling global economy means that rebuilding those nations and literally feeding the people may prove difficult.
When he visits Salisbury this week, Loeblein will represent a branch of the U.S. military which is constantly deployed.
“We’ve built a flexible and adaptable force that can meet different mission sets as they come,” he said.
“We’re America’s away team. We’re deployed 24/7, 365.”
The Navy’s ability to react quickly to threats, he said, allows the commander-in-chief and military leaders to assess situations and respond appropriately — not just to military threats, but to humanitarian crises and disaster relief efforts.
And, Loeblein said, “We’re having to do all of those changes in a budget-constrained environment.”
With continuing talks in Congress about ways to reduce federal spending, Loeblein said the budget will determine in part how the military can respond to future mission sets.
“One thing the Navy does very well, we’re trained for different missions, but it all goes back to adaptability,” Loeblein said.
For example, the Navy’s shift from nuclear deterrence against a superpower, the Soviet Union, to quick response to overseas threats.
Today, Loeblein said, there are thousands of U.S. sailors executing missions on the ground.
“In the days of the Cold War, we never had sailors doing missions in landlocked countries such as Afghanistan,” he said.
What makes the U.S. military special, Loeblein said, and what business leaders can most learn from, is an emphasis on caring for personnel.
“What has been the bedrock in the military that has made it successful, what countries try to emulate, is that you have got to take care of your most important resource, your people.”
And, Loeblein said, America’s most successful and well-led companies are those that reach the top of their industry by focusing on people.
As he travels around the world, he still maintains a focus on the people who are important in his life, his family and friends.
Although the Loeblein family relocated to Washington, D.C., “we’ve gotten back home a couple of times.”
He said that the visit home this week, however brief, will be a great opportunity to reconnect.
“It’s great to go back and see the people who helped make you successful,” Loeblein said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.