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Vice Admiral Michael Gilday '80 Named Chief of US Naval Operations

Vice Admiral Michael Gilday '80 Named Chief of US Naval Operations

Congratulations to Vice Admiral Michael Gilday '80 on his confirmation as the 32nd Chief of Naval Operations. A graduate of the US Naval Academy, he has led a distinguished career in service to our nation.

The Lowell Sun: 'It's deeply humbling and an honor to be here'

He is one of four brothers who grew up on Sutherland Street in Lowell, all of whom are CCHS alumni: Michael Gilday '80, Mark Gilday '82, David Gilday '83, and Brian Gilday '87 (also a graduate of the US Naval Academy).

At Central Catholic, Michael graduated in the top 10% of the Class of 1980. Among his involvements at CCHS: he participated in cross country, indoor and outdoor track under the tutelage of late faculty member and track coach of Peter O'Sullivan '67, he was a member of the National Honor Society, and he was nominated for the Brother Florentius Memorial Award.

Vice Admiral Gilday is a 1985 graduate of the US Naval Academy and later completed master’s degrees at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Naval War College.

His decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, four Defense Superior Service Medals, three Legion of Merit Medals, and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a Combat “V” device for battlefield valor.

Last year, The Emblem and David DeFillippo '66 had the opportunity for a lengthy interview with Vice Admiral Gilday, highlighted below.

Since the story was written, Vice Admiral Gilday has also served as Director of Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and was nominated and confirmed as the Chief of Naval Operations.

Formal military portrait of Vice Admiral Michael Gilday

Vice Admiral Michael '80, USN

Trusted Commander – Sea & Shore       

To this day in an illustrious 34-year U.S. Naval career that has taken him to over 100 countries and entailed serving in command of destroyers and aircraft carrier strike groups, Vice Admiral Michael Gilday '80 asserts clearly about the foremost ingredient in the completion of a successful mission, “No one sits on the bench, each member of the ‘team’ has a role to play in guaranteeing a successful mission or goal.  An effective leader must appreciate, value and teach this tenet.”

The Ballast Years

Working class Lowell parents, Gerald & Frances desired the best education possible for their five children.  Looking for strong academics, a values-laden culture and a strong reputation with colleges, they chose CCHS for their boys, Michael '80, Mark '82, David '83 and Brian '87; their sister, Mary Joy, attended Academy of Notre Dame.  

Tracing the roots of his personal and professional philosophy, leadership and success, Vice Admiral Mike Gilday points to strong influences implanted in his years at Central Catholic High School.  Mike attributes his leadership acumen largely to Peter O’Sullivan '67, his math teacher and cross country and track coach, for whom Mike ran for five seasons.  “Coach was easy to relate to.  He had a practicality about working with kids.  Coach O was genuine about “Do your best for yourself and the team.  He got the best out of all us with his example and his words.  He became a role model for me.  He made me the runner I never saw myself to be.  I value the personal lessons and values I learned from running for Coach O.”

Additionally, Mike speaks sincerely of owing gratitude to CCHS English teachers, Warren Hayes '54 and Bro. Ernest Beland, FMS for giving him the foundation and skill to articulate ideas in written expression so valuable to him in his leadership career, and to David DeFillippo ’66, his guidance counselor, for encouraging him to follow his heart and persist in his goal of attending the U.S. Naval Academy.  

“The ethics and morality class in my junior year at CCHS, strengthened my Faith, enabling me to handle challenging issues at Annapolis and in my command responsibilities.  Central’s overarching message has stayed with me - that we are called to serve a purpose greater than ourselves. This energizes my passion every day.”  Mike’s character and practicality earned him the respect of his superior officers almost immediately as evidenced by being named to the Academy’s Honor Board all four years.

Serving & Leading at Sea

Graduating with his commission from the Naval Academy in 1985, Mike began an eight-year career at sea.  In his service at sea, Michael served on cruisers, destroyers and aircraft carriers with deployments in the Mediterranean and Arabian Seas and in the Western and South Pacific.  Prior to his elevation to a ships’ command, his sea tours as an officer included deployments in 1991 on the USS Chandler during the Iran-Iraq War; the USS Princeton during Operation Desert Storm & Desert Shield in 1992, and also in 1998 on the USS Gettysburg during Operation Desert Fox.

Mike’s exemplary service led him to be promoted to command of the destroyer, USS Higgins, during the 2003 combat operations of Iraqi Freedom, the 2nd Gulf War, and later commanded the USS Benfold. Michael’s successful commands once again merited promotion.  In 2013-14 as Commander of Destroyer Squadron 7, Michael was sea combat commander for the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group.  In 2015, Michael assumed command of Carrier Strike Group 8, his aircraft carrier flagship, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. 

Serving & Leading on Shore

Michael’ naval and leadership acumen garnered him subsequent shore assignments which include, earning a Master’s Degree from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, appointment to the Bureau of Naval Personnel, later to the Executive Staff of Chief of Naval Operations and later as Executive Assistant to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.   

His notable expertise in naval operations and governmental policy made him a natural for advisory positions at the highest level of the U.S. government.  His joint Navy and government assignments include serving the White House as naval aide to Presidents Clinton and George W, Bush from 1998-2003.  Gilday traveled with the Presidents day and night on Air Force One and Marine One with the responsibility of securely carrying the thermonuclear launch codes known as “nuclear football.”  After his service in the 2nd Gulf War, Mike served as Director of Operations at NATO’s Joint Force Command in Lisbon, Portugal and as Chief of Staff for Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO.

Leading the Newest Fleet

In 2016, he was promoted to Vice Admiral (three stars) in command of the U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/U.S. 10th Fleet located at Fort Meade, MD.  Its joint mission with the National Security Administration is to collect signals and intelligence in cyberspace to protect ships in foreign environments, manage the Navy’s global telecommunications, defend the Nay’s networks from interference, and when authorized by the President to take deterrent or retaliatory offensive actions in cyberspace.  Vice Admiral Gilday was recently called to testify before Congress on the nation’s cyber security and the activities of the Navy’s Cyber Command.

Echoing his Central Catholic experiences, Michael humbly states, “The sailors, men and women, now serving under my command are young, bright, creative and extremely innovative.  They have taught me a great deal about how to defend our nation’s networks.  My role, learned all those years ago from Coach O’Sullivan, is to get the best from each one of them for the benefit of the team, the Navy and the Nation.”

Through Michael’s distinguished service through the years, he has earned various personal, unit and command awards including three Defense Superior Service Medals, three Legion of Merit Medals, the Bronze Star, and Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat “V” and the Combat Action Ribbon.

Michael and his wife, Linda, are blessed with two high school age sons, who run track.  They make their home outside Washington, DC.

Congratulations, Vice Admiral Gilday, and thank you for your service!

Vice Admiral Michael Gilday sitting in a room at a desk, hand on chin.

Call of Faith and Duty

Many members of the Central Catholic community have served and are serving our nation through the US Armed Forces.

To honor their sacrifices, we have established Call of Faith & Duty: A Tribute to Veterans.

Our goal is to recognize the many alumni who have served or are serving our nation. We are working to identify those graduates who are veterans, who are currently serving in the military, or who are attending military schools and academies.

Please take a look at the list to recognize their service and to let us know if anyone is missing from the current listing.

Call of Faith & Duty

Central Catholic High School
A College Preparatory High School of Excellence in the Marist Tradition

Founded by the Marist Brothers in the heart of Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1935, Central Catholic High School enrolls 1,200 students from over 60 cities and towns and several countries. Students come from diverse backgrounds to form a caring community of faith, learning, and service. They advance to college in overwhelming numbers (nearly 100%) and move on to successful careers and positions of leadership in government, business, industry, academia, and professions.

Central Catholic High School is fully accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

For more information, please visit, call 978-682-0260, or email

Mission: Central Catholic High School makes Jesus known and loved.
We educate the whole person for college and for life, with particular care for the least favored and those in need.