Director of Naval Intelligence Reflects on Heritage, Career at ODNI

Director of Naval Intelligence Reflects on Heritage, Career at ODNI


Story by Adelia Henderson, ODNI Office of Strategic Communications


Director of Naval Intelligence Vice Adm. Jeffrey Trussler spoke during a special event at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence about his Native American heritage and service in the Navy, Nov. 10.


This event was sponsored by ODNI’s American Indian/Alaska Native and American Veterans Employee Resource Groups and aimed to honor both Native American Heritage Month and Veterans Day.


Trussler is a member of the Cherokee Nation and grew up in Oklahoma before joining the Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion Officer Candidate Program. A career submariner, he served a variety of tours in differing roles, including on the fast attack submarines USS Honolulu (SSN 718) and USS Columbus (SSN 771), and the ballistic missile submarines USS Tennessee (SSBN 734), and USS Maryland (SSBN 738).


During the event, Trussler discussed how despite growing up in former Indian Territory, he initially didn’t pay attention to his Native American heritage.


“I didn’t know much about my Native American background then,” said Trussler. “I was around Native American history and culture. I was surrounded by it, but I certainly didn’t appreciate it. It just didn’t dawn on me.”


About 15 years ago, Trussler began researching his heritage and family history. He discovered that his fourth-great grandmother was full Cherokee and was forced to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears during the late 1830s.


Trussler’s research led him to a new appreciation for his ancestry and Native American heritage, he said.


During his remarks at ODNI titled “My Story…Probably Similar to Your Story,” he emphasized that his Native American roots are just one of many components of his identity.


“My Native American heritage is a small part of a lot of things that make me up, just like everyone else,” said Trussler. “That helped me realize that Native American history is frankly American history, just like many other cultural and ethnic backgrounds that we have put together to make this great nation.”


Last June, Trussler assumed duties as deputy chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare and became the 68th Director of Naval Intelligence.


Trussler represents the Navy as an element of the national Intelligence Community, reporting in that role to the Director of National Intelligence. The Navy’s Intelligence enterprise is the nation’s source for maritime intelligence, focusing on collecting, analyzing and distributing information that drives America’s defense against maritime threats.


Even though Trussler is a self-proclaimed “submariner by trade,” he has enjoyed working with the Intelligence Community and sees the dedication to mission firsthand.


“I’m just blown away by the talent and professionalism we have, not only in naval intelligence, but in the Intelligence Community as a whole,” he said.


As he reflected on his career of service, Trussler noted that he’s witnessed a wide variety of national security challenges that have evolved over the years, from the Cold War to China.


“We’re in the 21st century where information is easily accessible, people can move around easily,” he said. “The simmering undertones of everything that has caused conflict and dissatisfaction between cultures, societies, and countries, it just comes out now. Now, people are acting on it. That makes it harder than ever.”


Even though Trussler has a unique background and blend of experiences, he thinks that ultimately there are more things that unite us than separate us.


“My story is probably some of your story, whether you know it or not,” said Trussler. “I think the more we learn about and accept that we’re not perfect, that no group was perfect, and we all melded together to continue this experiment we call democracy - that just makes us better individuals.”


As the event concluded, it was clear that Trussler’s remarks resonated with the officers who attended as they expressed appreciation for his visit.