Sarkis Tatigian has served the U.S. Navy, both in uniform and as a civilian, for 70 years, which is nearly one-third of the Navy’s 237-year existence. To put that in context, when Tatigian enlisted the modern aircraft carrier didn’t exist.
Rear Adm. (Ret.) Sean F. Crean called this achievement “unprecedented” in the history of the Navy and the Department of Defense.
“From a junior radio inspector in Philadelphia to the associate director for small business in the nation’s capital, where he helps steer billions of dollars that generate thousands of jobs across our country,” Crean said, “he has been part of the greatest Navy the world has ever seen, in the course of time that would easily be two or three careers for anyone else.”
Crean joined other senior executives, active duty and retired Navy officers, and members of the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) Wednesday for a 70th anniversary celebration at the Washington Navy Yard, honoring Tatigian for his long service.
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After reading a letter of congratulations from Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, Crean presented Tatigian with a director’s coin. He also presented him with a small business acquisition award and added the award would be renamed in Tatigian’s honor.
“It is indeed a great honor to be recognized in this memorable ceremony for my lifetime career in the civil service dedicated to the Navy Department entirely,” Tatigian said, during the ceremony.
(Watch clips from the ceremony. Article continues after video.)
Tatigian enlisted as a sailor in 1942, training in aviation electronics. He went on to work as a junior inspector of radios at the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia. After that, he was transferred to a plant in Linden, N.J., where he inspected aviation parts coming off the assembly line.
Following World War II, Tatigian joined the Guided Missile Branch of the Bureau of Ordinance (BuOrd), where he worked on the development of the Navy’s first guided missile — BAT — which he called one of the highlights of his long career.
He left active duty in 1946 but stayed in the Navy working for BuOrd. In 1951, he became the first small business specialist for BuOrd, an office that later became the Bureau of Naval Weapons.
Tatigian, 89, is currently the associate director of small business at NAVSEA, a position he’s held since 1979. In that role, “Tat” or “Mr. T” as he is called by his coworkers, ensures that small businesses have sufficient procurement opportunities in prime contracting and subcontracting.
At the ceremony, Brian J. Persons, NAVSEA’s executive director, called Tatigian the agency’s “icon of small business.”
“When we look back at the life, the career and the legacy of Mr. Tatigian,” Persons said, “we are reminded that what we do, indeed, is service to our country.”
This sentiment was echoed by the other speakers and members of the audience.
“During my 50 years in the defense business, I’ve seen a lot of small business representatives,” said Bart Bartholomew, a consultant with VSE Corporation. “‘Tat’ represents the most active and has the most interest in promoting small businesses, advancing small businesses and making them successful.”
Bartholomew said he didn’t know anyone who had more federal service than Tatigian.
“The reason he’s stayed at it so long is that he really enjoys it,” Bartholomew said. “He feels like he’s accomplishing a whole lot in advancing the small business program at NAVSEA and in general.”
(‘Mr. T’ describes his 70 years of service. Article continues after video.)
Tatigian credited the daily challenges of the job as inspiration for staying in civil service so long with one agency.
“There’s a personal sense of accomplishment and rewards at what you’re doing that gives you the initiative to stay at what you’re doing,” he said. “It’s something different every time and you have a sense of personal satisfaction in what you do.”
While he has no plans to retire any time soon, Tatigian acknowledged at some point he will have to think about what’s next.
“We’re getting closer and closer to it,” he said. “The ruler is still 12 inches long and if we’re 11 1/2, we have to start planning on that.”