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Alumni Stories: Protecting the World and Information Systems

By John Robert Morton, Student and Affairs Liaison, and Albert Gibbs, AMU Graduate

As the son of an Army soldier and a Navy sailor, Albert Gibbs is used to being around people of different cultures. He grew up in a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood in Frederiksted in the U.S. Virgin Islands and went to school with students whose parents worked for Hess Oil in St. Croix, the world’s largest oil refinery.

Attending school exposed Gibbs to individuals from across the globe. He found their stories interesting and wanted to experience living in different locations for himself. 

Entering the Navy

After graduating high school at age 17, Gibbs chose to enlist in the U.S. Navy in 1978, attracted by the prospect of travel. He was also drawn to the Navy due to its education benefits that would allow him to continue learning with very little student debt.

Due to his background, Gibbs knew about Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and various African and European countries before he enlisted. He says, “St. Croix used to be a liberty port, so I also met sailors who shared their travel experiences.”

Even with all his experience, Gibbs was not sure where he wanted to begin his Navy career. Gibbs observes, “I was undecided when I first enlisted, so I entered as an undesignated striker. My first duty station was the Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I was assigned to the Ship Repair Department from November 1978 through November 1979.”

Gibbs’s primary duties were ship duties and small boat handling and preservation. After working with small boats, Gibbs later transferred to the larger Yard Ferry Boat (YFB) Division. 

Guantanamo Bay is divided into two locations: Naval Station on the windward side and Naval Air Station on the leeward side. The YFB Division transports vehicles, mail and personnel via ferry boats between the two stations.

Gibbs served as a loadmaster for these ferry boats, ensuring the equitable weight distribution of shipboard cargo and policing the deck to ensure ferry passengers complied with safety regulations. He was also responsible for raising and lowering each ferry’s 7.5-ton bow ramp during loading and offloading. 

Developing an Interest in Information Systems

In June 1979, Gibbs visited Kingston and Ocho Rios, Jamaica, where he became interested in computers. At that time, mainframe computers were behemoths with a limited amount of memory and no ability to multi-task.

Gibbs started a six-month on the job training program to learn more about computers and later attended a data processing school in San Diego, California. After completing his data processing education, he was accepted for an information systems role with the Atlantic Command in Norfolk, Virginia. He operated information systems in support of the Worldwide Military Command and Control System.

Gibbs said that the technology he used was “a precursor to the internet because we communicated with commands around the world by text. For instance, European and Asian commands would remotely submit requests for us in Norfolk to mount certain resources to access and exchange data.”

Gibbs later became a Floor and Watch Supervisor and was assigned to the Technical Assistance Group (TAG). TAG was responsible for writing standard operating procedures, implementing security policies, making hardware and software upgrades, and performing any other tasks to keep various databases online.

Gibbs notes, “I attended an advanced two-week Worldwide Military Command and Control System course at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, where I started to earn college credit through the Community College of the Air Force [CCAF]. I also passed College Level Examination Program [CLEP] exams that enabled me to bypass certain freshman-level courses.”

In June 1983, Gibbs attended the Antisubmarine Warfare Operations Center (ASWOC) course at Dam Neck, Virginia, and was assigned to Lajes, Azores (a chain of Portuguese islands off the coast of Spain). During this tour, Gibbs also received his first Top Secret clearance and subsequent commands have always required him to maintain it.

Finishing a Navy Career and Continuing His Education

From August 1990 through October 1992, Gibbs was assigned to the USS Proteus (AS-19), which was homeported in Apra Harbor, Guam. This ship was a submarine tender that was present in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese signed their World War II unconditional surrender.

He became a Chief Petty Officer and took over as the Command Drug and Alcohol Programs Advisor (DAPA). As a DAPA, he managed the aftercare for individuals dealing with substance abuse/recovery.

Between 2001 and 2004, Gibbs worked on completing his education, attending Southern Illinois University (SIU). At SIU, Gibbs spent his time as an ITT teaching assistant. During the one-year program, each student was required to complete 300 hours related to education to help fulfill program requirements.

During his military service, Gibbs took general education math and science courses at Florida Community College and St. John’s River Community College. He retired from the Navy in June 2004 and graduated from SIU in October of the same year.

In 2011, Gibbs showed his self-starter qualities by choosing to enroll at American Military University (AMU) to earn a master’s degree in homeland security and a graduate certificate in cybercrime. Of his education at AMU, Gibbs observes, “The University’s curriculum is akin to military styling training and education programs; the course of studies the University offers immediately puts what you learned into practice. For instance, it only took me two months to work through the University’s curriculum to learn how to operate complex and multi-million-dollar computer systems.”

Gibbs particularly enjoyed two of his classes: Quarantine (PBHE605) with Dr. Shelby Bohl and International Terrorism (SCMT529) with Dr. Steve Greer. He said, “Both professors were very knowledgeable and very open-minded.”

He adds, “The University is for self-starting individuals. You need to enjoy doing research, assimilate copious amounts of data, and have good time management skills.”

Related link: Inflation and Mitigating Your Expenses as a College Student

Life After the Navy

After his military retirement, Gibbs worked as a contractor and executive assistant at the Office of Naval Research for three years, providing support to the Foreign Military Sales section of the ONR. Later, he became the Deputy Chief of Staff with the Office of Policy, Office of International Affairs (OIA) for the Department of Homeland Security. In this role, Gibbs oversaw operations for individuals in the General Schedule (GS) to the Senior Executive Services (SES) grades.

Gibbs also interacted with representatives from various federal agencies, Congress, and the Senate. When the OIA’s Assistant Secretary was selected as the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), he invited Gibbs to work for him.

Gibbs was assigned to oversee tactical communications for the Office of Field Operations (OFO). This position is normally held by a uniformed CBP employee who is a peer with the representatives from the Office of Border Protection (OBP) and the Office of Air and Marine Operations (OAM). Gibbs was often asked for his input or to sit at the same table with high-ranking GS and SES personnel who made decisions regarding multi-million and billion-dollar projects during meetings.

As the only non-uniformed person at these meetings, it was difficult for some people to grasp why Gibbs was present until they understood his level of expertise in information systems. He held that position for six years and served as an OFO representative at conferences regarding the Southern and Northern borders.

Over time, Gibbs has earned a reputation with his counterparts from field offices in Maine to California. He has visited ports of entry and had an inside view of what most travelers will never know. Additionally, Gibbs has written responses to Congressional requests for information to help with events occurring all over the world.

Related link: Four-Star General Shares Life-Changing Moments That Drove His Success

Writing for Newspapers

Gibbs has had the opportunity to write for newspapers. He wrote an article about the 2000 custody case involving six-year-old Cuban immigrant Elián González. The story was published in several widely read newspapers, including the Navy Times.

The Pacific Daily News also asked Gibbs to be a guest writer for a 12-part series, comparing a wide range of local issues to the same issues in the U.S. Virgin Islands. For Gibbs, this position was the opportunity of a lifetime.

Leisure Time

Gibbs enjoys reading anything by Clive Cussler, listening to financial podcasts, reading financial articles, and watching classic black-and-white TV shows and movies. He is an avid basketball and baseball fan, loving to officiate and record scores for local teams.

John Robert Morton is a Student & Alumni Affairs Liaison and has been with the University for 12 years. His bachelor’s degree in European history is from Troy University in Troy, Alabama. He also completed master’s degrees in political science and sports management from American Military University. As a liaison, John Robert enjoys helping students and alumni to achieve their personal and professional goals.

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