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Meet Professor Eric Schuck

From Commander to Captain

“Being a professor makes me a better Naval officer; being a Naval officer makes me a better professor.”

Professor Schuck saluting his captain, both wearing their Navy attire.

Posted on 09.08.23 by Kelly Williams Brown in College of Arts & Science

Economics Professor Eric Schuck on his promotion from commander to captain in the Navy Reserve

Eric Schuck's promotion ceremony held on Linfield's campus.Economics professor Eric Schuck’s expertise in operations and logistics doesn’t just benefit Linfield students. On July 31, he was promoted from commander to captain in the U.S. Navy Reserve, where he serves as a Supply Corps officer. A captain (O6) is equivalent to a colonel in the other armed forces, and one rank below rear admiral lower half. 

While he has been an acting captain since February, the ceremony makes it official. His was what’s known as a “below zone” promotion, meaning it would normally be one to two years before he would be eligible. But, as Capt. Jonathan Puskas said during the ceremony, Eric is an extraordinary officer — in fact, he is the first Navy Reserve Supply Corps captain selected this far below-zone since 1986.

“Eric Schuck is unique — he combines tremendous intelligence with a deep personal grounding in the needs of our young sailors,” he said. “I remember when we were serving together in Kuwait, Eric was teaching Econ 101 classes to sailors. That is not typical behavior. Usually, we give them some DVDs and tell them to stay out of trouble.” 

Eric Schuck looking at documents with his captain and another officer.Read the Q&A below to learn more about his life beyond the classroom, things most people don’t understand about the Navy — and even his favorite “sea story.”

How and why did you come to join the Navy Reserve?  

Oh boy, where to begin? The short version is both my parents and my grandfather were all naval officers. Their service definitely inspired me. As for choosing the Reserves, it offered me a path where I could serve in the Navy, continue teaching and offer a stable life to my family.  

During your ceremony, you said that you’ve always thought being a professor makes you a better Naval officer, and being a Naval officer makes you a better professor. Can you expound on that? 

A Navy reservist has one main job: be ready when the country calls. Preparing sailors for that call starts with identifying what skills and resources are necessary, and then ensuring sailors receive opportunities to build the knowledge essential for future success.

Educators do this every day, so training sailors comes very naturally to me.

Conversely, naval officers lead, and effective leadership means discerning the difference between what does and does not matter very quickly. That’s an extraordinarily useful trait in a classroom. Plus the sea stories tend to be really good examples!

You work as a Supply Corps officer — what does your unit do? In your role, what does the day-in, day-out of that job look like?

On a day-to-day basis, most Navy units are not staffed at the levels required in a contingency environment, so they have what are referred to as “Navy Reserve Augment Units” (NRAU) to plus them up when necessary. I command the NRAU for the Fleet Logistics Center Pearl Harbor. Our main mission is to provide strategic depth to FLC Pearl Harbor in providing the “3 Bs” – “beans, bullets and black oil” (food, ammunition and fuel) – to the ships, submarines and aircraft of the Pacific Fleet.

As for me personally, my job is to ensure the sailors in my command are ready to provide logistics services to ships operating in, from, and through Pearl Harbor when called upon. In practice, that means I write a lot of reports!

How has your expertise in economics informed the work you do in the Navy Reserve? 

People always think economics is about money. It’s not. To economists, economics is how to best allocate resources in the face of scarcity. In military logistics, something is always scarce, whether it be budget, time, space, people or resources, so the trick is how to complete a mission while juggling the effects of scarcity. That’s pretty comfortable for an economist.

Can you give us a little bit of context about what this promotion means, and its significance? 

Professionally, the promotion is a huge honor. Only about 1% of all naval officers ever reach this milestone so selecting for captain period, let alone selecting early, is a huge compliment and indicates the confidence the Navy has in an officer’s ability to lead.

Personally, that is deeply humbling. No one, and especially not me, achieves this alone. The Navy graced me with amazing teams for 20 years. I wouldn’t be here without them, and my main goal going forward is to ensure the Navy chooses people who know how to work well with their teams.

Among other things, you write about economics for military professional journals. How is that scholarship similar and/or different to what you’d find in more traditional academic avenues?

Honestly? Researching and writing follows a similar process, regardless of the outlet. Even the review process is similar, although the military reviewers tend to be much blunter. Where it differs is in the speed and the objective. Military writing focuses very heavily on solving current problems.

As an academic, the best analog I’ve got is writing extension bulletins for a land grant university: the research needs to be precise, actionable and above all, timely.

What’s one thing people don’t necessarily appreciate about the Navy Reserve? 

The Navy as a whole is unbelievably diverse; the members of my unit speak at least eight different languages. The Navy’s ability to create an environment that simultaneously creates effective teams while effectively preserving and leveraging this diversity is amazing. I’m really proud of it.

A lot of this success flows from how well the Navy’s enlisted personnel system works. We’re good at identifying potential no matter how scarce a sailor’s opportunities may have been prior to entering the Navy. Our sailors are really inspiring.

You talked about ‘sea stories.’ What’s your favorite?

About ten years ago, I participated in a fleet exercise off the coast of Australia. We spent a month basically doing laps around the Coral Sea. At the end, we headed back into port by transiting through the Great Barrier Reef at midnight. The ship was fully darkened, with all of the Milky Way spread out around us in every direction. My watch team lay out on the helo deck, taking it all in, while one of our Australian colleagues identified the Southern Hemisphere constellations for us.

It’s easily one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I treasure this memory, and no photograph could ever do the experience justice.