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WM: Navigating the Next Generation

Cruising through the Aegean Sea on a midnight to 4 a.m. shift as the leader of a watch team aboard the USS Porter, Tyler Buresh ’12 stepped outside on the bridge wing. His crew was responsible for the ship’s safe passage from the shores of Spain and through the Suez Canal and Straits of Turkey, but that particular night the sight of the stars hit him a little harder than usual. 

“Looking up at the night sky and seeing the same stars that the ancient Greeks and Romans had seen was absolutely amazing,” Buresh says. “It was a very quiet evening. We weren’t going anywhere very quickly. Hearing the ship move through the water, the water lapping against the hull, the stillness made it hit home.” 

Buresh’s thoughts went to a history class at Wabash that focused on first-person narratives. 

“I was thinking about Odysseus and his travels, and the people who might have listened to Homer’s stories looking up and seeing the same stars,” he says. “Sailing through those same waters there was a kinship, a sharing of that experience with them.” 

The Navy wasn’t part of his plan when he made the choice to attend Wabash, but physics, which captivated Buresh in high school and was his major, served as the thread that connects a wealth of experiences both home and abroad. 

The former defensive lineman on the Little Giant football team thought back to kinematic equations in high school and remembered a final exam where he needed to describe how a ball would fly through the air and predict where it would land. Even for a mild-mannered Naval officer there was tangible excitement in his voice. 

“I love testing things and working to understand them,” Buresh says. “Being able to work it out through math, using calculus to determine where it’s going to land, and seeing it happen right in front of me was very rewarding. I view physics as solving puzzles, really. I’ve carried that into the nuclear power program. I know if we do a certain function, this is how the reactor is going to respond. 

“I love the way physics is real and tangible.” 

Now an assistant professor of naval science in the U.S. Navy’s ROTC program at the University of Notre Dame, Buresh teaches naval operations and navigation to the next generation of officers, thanks to a chance meeting on the Wabash campus one day during his junior year. 

On his way to football practice at the Allen Center, Buresh bumped into former trustee Rear Admiral Alex Miller ’71, a career Navy man who specialized in cryptology and signals intelligence. 

Miller, who also played football for the Little Giants, discovered in conversation that Buresh was a physics major. Miller suggested taking a look at the Navy nuclear power program. 

“We hit it off,” Buresh says, “and that was the first time I was exposed to the idea.” 

“You want to help people find their niche,” says Miller, now retired in Sarasota, Florida. “Part of guiding is to give advice. When they take it, and they’re successful, it’s the greatest reward you can get.” 

Miller helped Buresh get an internship at his company in northern Virginia, and their paths crossed again when Buresh landed full-time work in the Washington, D.C., area in the contracts division of a small company doing work with the federal government. 

A year-and-a-half later, Buresh decided to apply to the Navy. 

“I am not where I am today without Alex’s impact, both as a mentor and friend,” Buresh says. “To think he would be so vested for no reason other than the bond that we share through Wabash. That’s been so, so meaningful. Alex has been there for me every time, to answer questions, to help me out. He is always so supportive.” 

After gaining navigational experience on the USS Porter, Buresh switched gears and went to nuclear power school to learn how a reactor works. 

“These guys get the equivalent of a master’s degree in nuclear physics and become a qualified nuclear reactor operator,” says Miller. “This is a tough program, maybe the toughest in military academics.” 

That included an intense six months of classwork and six months on a nuclear submarine before being assigned to the USS Gerald R. Ford. There, he was a part of a crew operating two A1B nuclear reactors, providing propulsion to the ship, making the steam that allows fighter planes to be launched from the deck, and generating the electricity the Ford needs to operate. 

Buresh, who has risen to the rank of lieutenant and is a nuclear trained propulsion plant watch officer, marvels at the pressurized water reactors and the questions that come with operating them. 

“The physics of nuclear power are absolutely beautiful,” he says. “It provides a unique inquisitiveness, an appreciation of the world around us. I’m still amazed that we have the ability to use elements of the earth to heat up some water, take steam through turbines, and propel a 100,000-ton warship through the water.” 

The Navy utilizes officers from operational ships with knowledge and expertise, like Buresh, as teachers at ROTC or the Naval Academy. Much of his teaching relies on experience he’s gained out in the fleet. 

“In nearly every class period, there’s an experience I’ve had where I’m able to say, ‘Hey, this is what we’re talking about here,’” says the surface warfare officer. “That is invaluable. It’s not about teaching which equations to use, but how to best think through the information you have available.” 

“The big lesson from wabash was to always pursue your passion,” he says. “Students make a purposeful decision to go to Wabash. That’s what leads me through life— continuing to make purposeful decisions.” 

That passion has taken Buresh to the coast of the United Kingdom, where he imagined Vikings leaving to explore the new world. While traveling through the Turkish Straits, he marveled at the sight of Istanbul, the major metropolis where eastern and western cultures meet. And as he used the Blue Mosque as a navigational aid, he thought back to key battles fought there. 

“You can’t help but think of Gallipoli or Xerxes and the history,” he explains. “There are quite a few places I went that I never would have imagined going. There are times where I’m marking position, and I just think, ‘Wow.’”