Defense Media Network

Battleship Iowa Looks to the Future as Museum of the Surface Navy

An Interview with Jonathan Williams, President & CEO of Battleship Iowa Museum and the Pacific Battleship Center – Los Angeles, Californi

(Courtesy of the Surface Navy Association Surface SITREP (


Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, USN-Ret: What’s the plan for the Pacific Battleship Center and Battleship Iowa here at San Pedro?


Jonathan Williams: Earlier this year, we announced plans to become the National Museum of the Surface Navy at Battleship IOWA. We’re in the final design process of our capital campaign package to raise the necessary funds. This transition will have a tremendous impact locally and regionally, and ultimately, will raise awareness about the relevancy of the Surface Navy today. While history at the museum is important, the relevancy of the Surface Navy to the public is probably the most important component. Surface Warriors understand the importance of their own community and their contribution to the Navy and the nation. A museum’s purpose is to educate the public, and we see our role expanding to educate the public on the importance of the role of the Surface Navy. In my opinion, there’s no better place to do that than right here in the largest port in the United States, because our Navy helps maintain safe and secure sea lanes to ensure the passage of all that wonderful cargo that we enjoy as American consumers, and the exports and humanitarian assistance that we send overseas, and all of those different things that make our country what it is. I think a large percentage of the general public has no idea of the breadth of the Surface Navy’s role and how it affects the average person’s life.   As we develop the National Museum of the Surface Navy concept, our capital campaign package discusses each one of the components of the Surface Navy and why they’re important—not only reflecting on the past in the historical context of “look at this artifact” or “look at this historical story,” but why that component is a relevant aspect of maintaining the future of our country and international relations.


Most people in Iowa probably have no idea how dependent they are on the sea.

We started focusing on the basics. We realized that only ship lovers like us really care to go inside to see the nuts and bolts of a ship. The majority of the general public is more interested in the human connection versus technical facts, which drives a broader level of story-telling. The IOWA crew tends to want to go down the road, “Oh, it’s 58 thousand tons and 887 feet 11 inches…” but the public has no clue what they are looking at. They just walked on the ship – they don’t even know what they’re looking at.


I think it would be too much to ask to have them understand what the different types of ships are, but to have them understand why we need a Navy, that’s pretty important.

Working around the Navy, we get used to talking about DDGs, LPDs or LCS. But when you start talking to civilian counterparts and city officials about emergency exercises like the Navy Emergency Response Exercises Disaster Planning, it becomes important for the population to understand the difference between something smaller and something larger in a platform that could come into Katrina, or Houston, or Puerto Rico, and render medical aid and bring in fresh water and do some of those things that the larger platforms do.

We have worked really hard to change our audience over the past seven years from the natural affinity audience of veterans and history buffs, to more of a public engaging audience

Jonathan Williams

with Jonathan Williams, President & CEO of Battleship Iowa Museum and the Pacific Battleship Center

How’d you do it?

We started focusing on the basics. We realized that only the ship nuts like us really care to go inside to see the nuts and bolts of a ship. We found that telling stories from a higher level, and why that matters—the human connection point is more important than technical facts. We all tend to want to go down the road, “Oh, it’s 58 thousand tons and 887 feet 11 inches…” but the public has no clue. They just walked on the ship – they don’t even know what they’re looking at.


We’re dealing with a long time since this ship was built.

World War II is to our young people today as the Civil War was to the World War II generation. And when you start to look at that time frame, people don’t realize how big of a time distance that is for a 15- or 18-year-old or 20-year-old. We have recruits going into the Navy today that weren’t alive when September 11th occurred. It’s a different world, and we have to understand that to engage with them.


If you don’t understand the differences between generations, you can’t reach them.

That’s the dynamic challenge that we have and that we’re addressing here at the ship. That’s why something like Fleet Week and becoming a more diverse community platform comes into play. The National Museum of the Surface Navy will be more than just a museum. We want to become the place where we can have conversations about international trade, safe and secure commerce at sea, disaster response, and important facets of the Surface Navy’s impact to society. We have our ward room and our CPO mess and our fantail available for meetings, presentations and seminars. The ship itself can serve to stimulate these discussions.


Having them on the ship is both a draw and an advertisement.

Yes. We’re also using the ship’s event spaces for veteran’s reintegration programs, education programs, and public outreach opportunities.

Battleship Iowa

A Sailor aboad USS America (LHA 6) renders a salute as the Battleship Iowa Museum fires its 16-inch/50-caliber guns in salute as the ship arrives for Los Angeles Fleet Week 2016. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Robert R. Sanchez

What does that mean?

One of the things we didn’t realize is the organic nature of the ship and how being part of the crew here today has helped vets and civilians alike bridge that gap and provide a comfortable environment to be part of something greater than themselves. Veterans have always found in service to one’s country something that’s greater than themselves; feeling like they’re part of something bigger. And today the ship and this organization continues that experience by organically helping vets transition into the civilian world—we’re integrating both civilians and vets aboard a ship platform versus walking into a building or a workforce development center. We’re hosting a lot of seminars and programs to build on this unique environment.


Who are your partners in that effort?

Reboot out of San Diego is one of them. LA County Department of Mental Health is another one. We’re starting to work with Wounded Warrior Project, as well. We’ve received some early funding from Philadelphia Gear and the Johnny Carson Foundation.


Do you have any relationships with local active or reserve military organizations?

or reserve?

We have them here often, and we’d like to see more. We have CPO selects come here from Port Hueneme and San Diego each year. And we do a lot of enlistments, retirements and promotion ceremonies. We also have Army, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard coming here. It’s not just Navy.


I understand you have a STEM program with the schools nearby.

We have two STEM programs. One is called “Day of Discovery” with LAUSD – the second largest school district in the country. The other is called “STEAM at Sea” for any other school district in Los Angeles or Orange county. We have trained volunteer tour guides that help us deliver the program. We currently focus on 4th through 6th grades. Students learn about math through calculating trajectories; lifting objects with block and tackle; they make aluminum foil boats and see how many pennies they can get inside and keep floating; how to measure the depth of the water; and they do leadership training. Some of the kids have never been on a ship, or even seen one before. And here at the Port of Los Angeles, the kids will see all kinds of ships, including very large ones, very close up. Their eyes get big, and they say, “Wow! Look at that!”   It’s interesting the number of people that will go into the Navy just because of their early exposure to an historic ship. I think of some of the kids that come through here as a Scout or Sea Cadet will enter Marine Corps or Navy or one of the services because of having that positive experience here. We want to track and articulate it. And I don’t think that’s ever been articulated at the level it should.


How would you measure that?

I’d like to create a video of each person that says, “I went into the Navy because I was exposed to it here on Battleship IOWA,” and create a 10-minute video of one person after another saying that.

Los Angeles Fleet Week

Interior Communications Specialist 1st Class Budd Brown, left, from Anchorage, Alaska, and Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Eldy Fields, from Los Angeles, both assigned to Center for Surface Combat Systems (CSCS) West and selected for the rank of chief petty officer, clean the barrel of a 5 inch gun mount on the battleship USS Iowa during the fourth annual Los Angeles Fleet Week (LAFW). LAFW is an opportunity for the American public to meet their Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard teams and experience America’s sea services. During fleet week, service members participate in various community service events, showcase capabilities and equipment to the community and enjoy the hospitality of Los Angeles and its surrounding areas. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Gavin Shields

How big of an impact does Fleet Week here in Los Angeles have on the community?

LA Fleet Week holds the high-water mark for public engagement of all Fleet Weeks across the country. We have data proving this including a Navy commissioned Gallup poll stating that 93 percent of attendees would recommend the Navy to a child or grandchild and 92% of attendees would support greater funding for the Navy. Annually, we survey to find out what the awareness is from the public, and how many would encourage a son or daughter to join the sea services. We know what Fleet Week does. I’m not sure we quite know what an historic ship does to create awareness, because haven’t quite measured that. That data will be helpful. But sometimes it’s a lot more impactful when you hear it directly from a person that did it versus the data that’s sitting there on a spreadsheet.


Basically, what you’re trying to do, I think, is show that this matters. Not about what this ship did in the past; but what it represents, and what the Navy means for the future of the nation. That’s what makes the business case to sustain this ship.

That’s why the whole national museum concept has to be about the future.

When we first talked about the National Museum of the Surface Navy people said it belongs in Norfolk or San Diego. But this museum is not being built for the Surface Navy community. It’s being built to educate the general public on the importance of the Surface Navy. It’s the general public that’s our audience, and that’s 95 percent of our visitation. And here in Los Angeles we may get more exposure for the Surface Navy than you would in Norfolk or San Diego.


To your point, Norfolk and San Diego know about the Navy. Here we have a huge metropolitan area that doesn’t know about the Navy. It’s a ripe opportunity.

We have 2,100 racks on board here. The public doesn’t need to see all of them. They would like to see a representative berthing compartment – 40, 50 or 100 racks – that’s is more than enough for anybody visiting a ship to see. But we can convert that space into productive space. We have to do it strategically, because we don’t want to rip out things that are unique in their own right. We have space forward on the third deck where we can put a big movie theater. We’re also looking at having different tours through the ship. When you tour the National Museum, and you want to learn more about navigation, or communications, or a specific are relating to something you just learned, we can have spurs that go off to experience those in their own right, not just stare at them but have an immersive experience where visitors have to work through a scenario. It’s fun, stresses teamwork, and builds leadership. And it creates an appreciation for what Navy men and women have to do every day.


Now the objective is to raise money and awareness.

We’re almost done with our capital campaign package. We’ve refined the budget. We’ve created the donor levels. We’re starting to partner with a few entities to build that out. There’s already a large donor list of about thirty-six thousand people who have supported the IOWA, many of which have already shown interest in the National Museum of the Surface Navy transition.

Battleship Iowa

Mineman 2nd Class Justin Ormsby, left, and Mineman 3rd Class William Brush render honors to the battleship USS Iowa while the Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship USS Scout (MCM 8) pulls into the Port of Los Angeles to begin Los Angeles Fleet Week. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eric Zeak

You just can’t keep sticking your hand out asking them to donate.

You might think that, but I tend to find that you will actually turn-off a donor if you don’t ask them to support your programs or maintain the ship condition. Donors like to make an impact and involving them in your organization allows them to become a part of something greater than themselves.


What do you need from SNA?

We need the community’s support. We need to build the Surface Navy support through SNA to help spread the word and make people aware, across the country, and build a human foundation as we press forward and become the National Museum of the Surface Navy.


Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...