He was born in Bangor, was valedictorian of the Bangor High School Class of 1967, served this country in the U.S. Navy and spent 25 years at the Pentagon looking for ways to save the Navy money while maintaining the country’s security.
For his distinguished service, Jonathan D. Kaskin, who retires Friday from his Pentagon post as director of the Strategic Mobility and Combat Logistics Division for the deputy chief of Naval Operations, was awarded the Navy’s Distinguished Civilian Service Award — the highest honorary award the secretary of the Navy can present to a civilian employee of the Department of the Navy.
His job for the last 15 years was to assess and evaluate the Navy’s assets and find ways to cut costs while maintaining services.
His job is all about getting “the biggest bang for the taxpayer’s buck,” Kaskin said Wednesday. “When I was growing up, I worked at Kagan shoe factory and that is how I learned what hard work was all about” and how to stretch a dollar.
He used those skills to save the country a lot of money over the years, mostly by hiring civil service employees and merchant mariners — some from Maine Maritime Academy — to operate auxiliary and support ships that provide supplies to the country’s warships.
“We transferred all the [noncombatant] ships from the Navy operations to the civilian operations,” Kaskin said. ”Sailors could do the jobs and they were good at it, but civilians could do it” for less.
The federal civil servant work force now exceeds 200,000 sailors and every auxiliary naval vessel uses them.
Kaskin has led the charge for change and is “a recognized international leader in field operational logistics,” Lt. Paul Macapagal, a spokesman for the Navy Office of Information, said in a press release.
“He has netted billions in savings, while providing our Navy with ready strategic sealift and sustained combat logistics support around the world, in time of peace and war,” the lieutenant said.
Under Secretary of the Navy Robert Work presented Kaskin with the Distinguished Civilian Service Award and associated medal on Monday at the Pentagon.
The award is given to civilian employees who have shown an exceptional devotion to duty and who have provided extremely significant contributions, Macapagal said Monday.
“He had a significant role here at the Pentagon,” the lieutenant said of Kaskin.
After graduating high school, Kaskin went to the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1971 with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering. He also was enrolled in the Navy ROTC program and at graduation was commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Navy.
He remained on active duty until 1975 and then joined the Navy Reserve, retiring in 2001 as a captain, Macapagal said.
Before joining the civil service, Kaskin was a student and teaching assistant at Harvard University’s Division of Applied Science. He earned a Master of Science degree in engineering in 1977.
He also attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s department of ocean engineering, earning a second master’s degree in shipping and shipbuilding management, as well as a degree in ocean engineering.
Kaskin joined the Navy Civil Service in 1979 and worked for seven years at the Military Sealift Command, where he became director of the Navy’s Sealift Program, Macapagal said.
“Since then, he was responsible for resourcing the $6 billion 20-ship LMSR strategic sealift program, the 14-ship $7.5 billion T-AKE Dry Cargo/Ammo ship program, the $2 billion 10-ship Joint High Speed Vessel program, and a $3 billion per year program to operate a fleet of 100 civilian crewed Naval vessels,” the lieutenant said.
Kaskin was awarded the Department of the Navy Meritorious Civilian Service Award in 1987. In 1999 and 2009, he earned the Presidential Rank Award of meritorious executive service, and in 2007 was awarded the American Society of Naval Engineers’ Gold Medal Award.
Kaskin said he also was surprised on Friday when Department of Transportation Maritime Administrator David Matsuda arrived at his office and presented him with the Merchant Marine Medal for Outstanding Achievement.
“He’ll definitely be missed,” Macapagal said. “Whoever is hired to fill his position will have gigantic shoes to fill.”
Kaskin’s father, Samuel Kaskin, operated a veterinary practice on Mount Hope Avenue in Bangor until 1975, and his mother, Beatrice Kaskin, lived in Bangor until her death in April. Kaskin and his wife, Min Jeung Wu, reside in Alexandria, Va.
He said he will return to the Queen City in August for his 45th high school reunion.
“I’ve only missed one,” he said. “I was in the first class at Fruit Street when they opened that school and when they opened up Bangor High, I was in the sophomore class.”
He reminisced about attending the old Bangor High School, located beside the Bangor Public Library, which is now an apartment complex.
“We had double sessions because we couldn’t fit in that one very well. That is one reason why they built the new school,” Kaskin said. “I remember getting kicked out of the Bangor library a lot,” he said, adding that he was a typical teenager.
What he learned growing up in Bangor and working hard for little pay in a now-defunct shoe factory are skills that he has carried with him throughout his long and distinguished career.
“It’s hard to make money,” and resources should not be wasted, Kaskin said. “That is what has driven me.”