SRU alumna and retired Navy rear admiral reflects on military career


Linnea Sommer-Weddington

Rear Admiral Sommer-Weddington, U.S. Navy (Retired), returned to her alma mater, Slippery Rock University. Sommer-Weddington, ’81, reflected on her 38-year career in the Navy, a journey that started at The Rock.

May 21, 2024

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Forty-three years ago, Linnea Sommer-Weddington had a decision to make. Months before she was set to graduate from Slippery Rock University, Sommer-Weddington was home in New Jersey finishing an internship required for her degree in therapeutic recreation. She spent the previous summer earning credits in a study abroad program in Sweden. Like many other soon-to-be-graduates, she had to decide what to do with her life.

"I had this interest in languages and traveling and I thought, 'OK, what do I do about this?'" said Sommer-Weddington, whose brother, Bobby, and father, Robert, both served in the U.S. Navy. "I knew I had college loans to pay back so I started looking at the military. It worked well for my brother and then I found out that the Navy would pay me to learn another language."

In March of 1981, she raised her right hand and swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. That decision, which led to a rewarding 38-year career in the Navy, is one she will never regret.

"I was going to serve my four years, learn a language and pay off my 'whopping' $4,300 college debt," Sommer-Weddington said. "(It was a rewarding career for) the opportunities, the people, the missions -- and then I laughed a few times along the way when the Navy would keep promoting me."

Sommer-Weddington completed her required enlisted service in 1986 while stationed in Japan. Three years later, she accepted a direct commission as a reserve cryptologic officer and would go on to serve occasionally on active duty with several reserve command tours over the next three decades. Her active-duty assignments included stateside posts in Louisiana, Nebraska, and at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Reserve commands included California, Texas and Georgia. She was also mobilized and deployed for nearly a year to support Operation Enduring Freedom in 2012 as U.S. Forces-Afghanistan director of information operations out of Kabul.

Her husband, Andy Weddington, now a retired Marine colonel, was with her "every step of the way." But the foundation of her career was created right here at the Rock. Without a college degree, she would not have been commissioned as a naval officer.

"When somebody has a degree, you know they started and finished something," Sommer-Weddington said. Slippery Rock helped shape me and made me who I am. A large part of that was the Alpha Sigma Tau sisterhood I had here and the other organizations and activities I was a part of."

Her linguistic aptitude helped too. As a high school exchange student in Sweden, she learned Swedish and upon entering the Navy, Sommer-Weddington was trained in Russian. This gave her a particular set of skills that benefitted her when she became a cryptologic technician in the Navy.

"Without getting too specific, we would collect, analyze, report and disseminate information," Sommer-Weddington said.

She was commissioned as an ensign in 1989 and recalled to active duty in 2002 for assignment as deputy chief of staff-cryptology for commander, Naval Air Reserve Force. After other assignments and promotions, her final billet was as the J6 Deputy and J6 Director, U.S. Strategic Command, from 2017-19. In addition to her primary duties, she flew 39 missions as the Airborne Emergency Action Officer for Strategic Command. She's earned several awards, including the Defense Superior Service Medal, and retired with the rank of rear admiral.

This final assignment was the highlight of her career because her duties required all her training, experiences, knowledge, executive decision-making and leadership skills. The Strategic Command J6 supports the Commander with command, control, communications and computers/cyber information. Sommer-Weddington reported to General John Hyten, an Air Force four-star general who commanded U.S. Strategic Command and went on to serve as the Deputy Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before retiring.

"General Hyten was responsible for the U.S. nuclear arsenal -- bombers, land-based missiles and submarines capable of launching nuclear weapons," Sommer-Weddington said. "Needless to say, uninterrupted communications between my boss, the President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, a whole bunch of other people was paramount. As the J6 Deputy and J6 Director, I was responsible for all communication, 24/7. Sometimes I had no trouble sleeping and other times, well, not so much sleep."

Sommer-Weddington also faced challenges outside of work. In 2008, she was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. She considered retiring from the military at the time, but with the support of her leadership and husband, she persevered and a year later was cancer-free.

The couple also forged an unlikely business together. Andy is an artist who thas created more than 4,600 paintings to date while Sommer-Weddington is the business manager for the gallery they run out of their home in Apex, North Carolina.

"It's a passion of his and we don't rely on it for income, but he does commissioned work, including portraits, landscapes and still-lifes in all kinds of mediums," Sommer-Weddington said. "My goal now is to be a better business manager."

In 2021, Rear Admiral Sommer-Weddington, U.S. Navy (Retired), was formally recognized as one of SRU's Distinguished Alumni.

Earlier this year, Sommer-Weddington returned to SRU to share her experience with the campus community as part of the Alumni Speaker Series.

"Though the campus and student population has grown and there's been a name change since I graduated, the Rock spirit endures. You can still feel it when you arrive on campus and interact with the students."

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