Southeast Alumnus Heads up Naval National Reconnaissance Intelligence Satellite Program


Southeast Missouri State University alumnus and U.S. Navy Cmdr. Michael Porter has dedicated his life and career to serving. After nearly 27 years with the U.S. Navy, he has been around the world.

Porter, a native of Gipsy, Missouri, comes from a long line of family who have served in the military, including both his grandfathers in World Wars I and II, in addition to his father and brother. Porter too felt that call and joined the U.S. Navy in 1992.

“My family had served, and I always thought I would too,” he said. “I had always looked up to my family that had served in the military, and when I visited the recruiters in Cape Girardeau, I met with the Navy recruiter who told me that they had nuclear power, and I thought that sounds really neat.”

Before launching his military career, Porter earned a Master of Natural Science in mathematics in 1992 and Bachelor of Arts in mathematics and Bachelor of Science in mathematics, both in 1990, all from Southeast. The experiences and knowledge he gained at Southeast provided a foundation for his military career.

“I’ve always enjoyed mathematics. In some ways it is the language of our physical world,” he said.

Porter is currently chief systems engineer, overseeing a more than $4 billion intelligence satellite program at the National Reconnaissance Office in Chantilly, Virginia, where he lives his wife Judi and their five children Sarah, David, Michelle, Kara and Laura.

Porter on a #2 periscope in a submarine control room during his time serving as a U.S. Navy submariner.

On his time as a submariner in the U.S. Navy:

I started out as a submariner and was one for 10 years. I was on a fast-attack submarine, which is built to hunt other submarines and surface ships. The crew has about 120 people and, during times of peace, we do a lot of intelligence gathering. I started as the electrical officer, then I was the main propulsion assistant who is in charge of the submarine’s engine room. My last submarine tour was as weapons officer on the USS Honolulu.

That is a very exciting job, and I recommend it to anyone interested in nuclear power and stealthy missions. It’s kind of a small space, and you feel like you’re living in a silo, but you’re working with a fantastic group of people. There’s a huge amount of comradery. It was a lot of work, and I had a lot of fun.

On his time as an engineering duty officer at Pearl Harbor:

Porter in the sail of the USS Hartford as Officer of the Deck.

During my last sea tour as a submariner, I was gone 75 percent of the time from home and my family.  I met an engineering duty officer. I hadn’t heard about this position before, but it sounded great. I decided to make the switch to engineering duty officer and earned a Master of Science in astronautical engineering at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and became a registered professional mechanical engineer licensed in California.

I worked for over three years at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard repairing submarines, which was very rewarding. It’s really an industrial environment — you have ships and equipment coming into the shipyard, into a dry dock and they can be there for six months or more.

Pearl Harbor is a very historical place. Everybody knows about it being there in 1941 during World War II, but the shipyard opened in 1908. My family and I got to visit the memorial sites, and I got to be there for the centennial event and celebration in 2008.

Porter is currently chief systems engineer at the National Reconnaissance Office in Chantilly, Virginia, where he lives his wife Judi and their five children Sarah, David, Michelle, Kara and Laura.

On his current position as a Chief Systems Engineer:

I earned my Master of Science in engineering management from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, and have been working at the National Reconnaissance Office for about seven years designing, building, launching and maintaining America’s intelligence satellites. As a systems engineer, we’re very involved in the planning, designing and building of these satellites. There are many, many different pieces and parts that we ensure come together to work properly. We have to make sure that everyone is thinking about the overall project and doesn’t get lost in their specific aspect of it. It doesn’t do any good if each part does its own thing without thinking about how it all needs to work together. I help to make sure the final products work as one piece. It’s similar to many other industries, such as automotive factories.

Being a submariner was very rewarding, but participating in a satellite launch is also a lot of fun. It’s pretty cutting-edge material, and I work with a lot of smart and patriotic people. This is a very exciting place to work and of great use to our country.

On his time at Southeast:

I grew up in Missouri and initially started at a different college but decided that Southeast was a better fit for me. I had fantastic professors at Southeast. That, coupled with smaller class sizes was very beneficial. I still keep in touch with some of my professors. Dr. Hamner Hill, now interim dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, taught a symbolic logic course in what was then the Department of Philosophy, and it totally revolutionized my thoughts about abstract mathematics.