The USS Midway Museum’s new president and CEO is Terry Kraft. The son of a Navy captain, Terry grew up in San Diego and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1981. He was designated a naval flight officer in 1982.

His leadership experience in the Navy is extensive and diverse, holding command positions at the aviation squadron, ship and carrier strike group, and shore facilities levels, as well as on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations. An aviation tour early in his naval career saw Terry deployed on the USS Midway (CV-41) with Attack Squadron 115 (VA-115). Terry also holds a master’s degree from Auburn University, was a federal executive fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and is a graduate of the U.S. Navy Nuclear Power Program.

The competition for Midway’s president and CEO position was extremely strong. A national search was implemented and the museum received submissions from more than 500 applicants. 

“Terry is the right person to pick up the mantle as we start the museum’s next important chapter,” said Chris Neils, the USS Midway Museum’s board chair. “Not only did he demonstrate the excellent leadership and management acumen for which we were looking, but it became quickly apparent that he was also a perfect fit to guide the museum and its team into the future as well as to oversee the development of Freedom Park on Navy Pier.”

Terry sat down with Currents Magazine for a one-on-one interview. 

Q: Describe what your life was like being raised in the Navy town of San Diego.

A: There was just no better place to be a kid than Coronado. During the time we lived there, I remember riding my bike all over the island or the strand on any given day. Another memory is standing on the pier watching the arrival of my dad’s ship, the USS Bonne Homme Richard (CVA-31). I sold Vietnam POW bracelets for Voices in Vital America and they were certainly in demand back then. Many years later, I was lucky to come back to San Diego and command the aircarft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), that was then based at NAS North Island. My kids enjoyed living in Coronado as much as I did, probably more. They both decided to go to college in California and we are so happy to have lived here in San Diego the past eight years. 

Q: With your dad being a career naval aviator, how did that influence your decision to pursue the Navy and naval aviation as a career?

A: I loved aircraft carriers and that my father was a Navy pilot. I wanted my service to emulate all that he gave me and our country. During my childhood he was gone a lot, especially during Vietnam. I used to forget what he looked like. When he came home, however, he became a very important part of my life again. He was always there when I needed him. He was a big influence on my sister as well who earned her Air Force wings two years after me. My dad was my hero until the day he passed three years ago. He would have loved to be part of this museum.

Q: With both you and your dad serving in air wings assigned to the USS Constellation (CV-64), what was it like knowing that you both lived in the same stateroom, granted decades apart, on the carrier?

A: It was pretty neat to be on “Connie” as a squadron commanding officer like my dad. I got to bring him on a Tiger Cruise and we walked all over the ship. One day, he told the ship’s executive officer that the ship was much cleaner than during Vietnam. At that moment he became the favorite Tiger on the USS Constellation and he was on the ship’s TV broadcast every night. 

Q: Have there been people – family, friends, colleagues – who have been significant influences in your life, if so, who are they and how did they inspire you?

A: Besides my dad, I have been lucky to have so many who have inspired and helped me during my journey in the Navy, at General Atomics and here at the museum. I will be forever grateful to the many outstanding commanding officers I worked for in the Navy. When I got into more senior roles, I appreciated the senior officers who took time to mentor me. The other thing I learned when I entered the command track is how much I depended on our crew. I was always amazed at their trust and loyalty to me and our mission. When I entered the defense sector, I took on a new set of challenges but the same principles applied – know your mission and take care of your people. Here in San Diego, I have come to know so many community leaders it would be impossible to list them here, but I have been able to let them know how much their support has meant to me. Of course, the person who has been at my side for over 34 years now is my wife Mary. She keeps me grounded every day while ensuring I keep sight of what is important for us and our family. Through all this, I have learned that we all need help from time to time, and how important it is to stay in touch with the people that matter in our lives. 

Terry is joined by his father, retired Navy Capt. Roy Kraft, on the flag bridge of the USS Enterprise (CVN-65).
Terry reunites with his wife Mary and children Erin and Brian at NAS Whidbey Island following a deployment on the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) with Attack Squadron 95 (VA-95) in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Q: Describe your approach to leadership that you feel has been successful?

A: The most important part of leadership to me is empowering the team. We do this by connecting the future to the present through a strong vision and path to get there. That helps people see how they can grow in our organization while being part of what we are trying to build. A good leader inspires performance by strong communication and being accessible to earn the trust of the team. What I enjoy most about leadership is seeing people grow and be successful. I run into former shipmates all over this town and I am so excited to see how well they have done in their lives and careers. On Midway, I really appreciate our amazing and diverse team of volunteers and staff that make this museum come alive every day. They have plenty of choices for employment or leisure activities but they choose to be here. They inspire me and I need to support their service here any way I can.

Q: During your 34 years in the Navy, can you describe some the favorite moments of your career?

A: A few come to mind. My father pinning on my wings was one of the first and favorite ones. Coming back from a combat mission was also a pretty good feeling. During Desert Storm, my A-6 squadron flew late night strikes in Iraq almost every single night of the war. The best memory I have of that time was coming back to Midway as the sun rose. It meant we survived another night over the beach. No ship ever looked better. Coming home from that combat deployment to Japan and my wife was also pretty special. During the carrier command pipeline, graduating from two years of nuclear power training was a relief and honor and led to the eventual command of the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) in 2005. I loved that crew and every minute of my command tour there.

Q: How do you feel your naval career as well as your positions over the last several years at General Atomics have prepared you for your new role as Midway’s president and CEO?

A: I have a strong connection to the USS Midway (CV-41). After two deployments, I came to fully understand Midway Magic. It was the most unique and functional ship and air wing team I have ever seen. I have spent my career on aircraft carriers until I made flag and they made me get a real job after my strike group command. All of those years helped me to understand the kind of experience we need to provide on Midway for our guests. The ship needs to look and feel real and we need to help our guests understand how we served with our shipmates and accomplished our mission. As a carrier guy, I also understand the importance of preserving this 77-year-old ship for the future. As a vice president at General Atomics, I gained a deep understanding of our customers and managed a $300 million dollar portfolio. I loved seeing my team earn and execute new contracts. I enjoyed the people at General Atomics and the capability we were offering – our aircraft save lives every day. We made it a fun place to work and I hope to continue that on Midway.

Q: What qualities do you look for in your team?

A: I hope they enjoy being aboard this ship as much as I do. I want them to be welcoming to all and to be accountable for their area of responsibility. With the right focus, I really believe we can accomplish anything.

Q: What excites you most about taking the helm of the USS Midway Museum?

A: This is absolutely a dream job for me. Coming in behind a legend like Mac McLaughlin is both an honor and a huge challenge. I inherit, not just a fantastic group of volunteers and staff, but a supportive board and Foundation. Every person I have met has been welcoming and supportive. I read the other day that “the journey makes us one.” I believe we are united by our backgrounds and our love of this museum. I have watched how this ship springs to life every morning for our guests and it is really something. Every part of this ship holds a memory for me and I can’t wait to build more.

Terry’s father, retired Navy Capt. Roy Kraft, pins on his Navy wings of gold after completing naval flight school in 1982.
Terry and retired Cmdr. Terry Toms prepare for a combat mission during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 flying from the USS Midway (CV-41) with Attack Squadron 115 (VA-115).

Q: Why do you feel it is important for museums like Midway to not only exist, but flourish?

A: We represent the very best of our nation. While we honor veterans and so many who have served on Midway, we also send a strong message of the value of service and the importance of every person to the success of the mission. I love to read our reviews. Most people plan on spending
two hours aboard but end up spending much more. That says so much about our docents and volunteers. I think another thing we take for granted is that so many people today are not exposed to the military. Their trip on Midway may be the only time they will meet a veteran or hear about life on an aircraft carrier. We need to ensure that we remain a living symbol of freedom and continue to embody San Diego’s proud military heritage. 

Q: Final thoughts about becoming Midway’s new president and CEO?

A: I love the feeling of anticipation. Similar to arriving at a restaurant or theater and knowing what is coming up is going to be great. I feel that way every time I walk aboard our ship. I have already had so much fun getting to know the team and our guests and it remains the highlight of each day. I ask for your help as I get my sea legs again on Midway and continue to operate the finest museum in the world.

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