2024 Distinguished Alumnus


Jon Schaffner

Jon Schaffner has been selected to receive the Casper College Alumni Association’s 2024 Distinguished Alumni Award.

Casper College Psychology Instructor Emeritus Rob Wilkes wrote in his nomination letter: “Military command necessitates a combination of unique personal characteristics and skills. Critical to command are intelligence, sharp decision-making abilities, and firm control in the face of extreme pressures.”

Wilkes continued, “A commanding officer must also hold to the forefront the well-being of those under his command. This creates the support, backing, and trust of one’s crew, without which a ship does not sail. Collectively, these characteristics translate as ‘leadership’ and are an absolute necessity in a nuclear ballistic submarine commander.

The outstanding naval officer described in Wilkes’ earnest letter is Capt. Jon Schaffner, at United States Space Command in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Schaffner graduated from Casper College in 1998 with two Associate of Science degrees, one in engineering and the other in physics. But Schaffner’s road to Casper College and eventually the Navy might have turned out differently if he hadn’t spent his summer following his junior year in high school working on a drilling rig for True Drilling. “I had just turned 18, and working that job gave me the opportunity to reflect on my life goals, and this set me on the course of my adult life,” Schaffner said.

Looking over Schaffner’s many accomplishments and honors he received during his naval career, it’s hard to imagine that he was not always a serious student in school. As he tells it, his high school academics took a backseat to “rodeoing, working, hunting, fishing, and shenanigans.” He admits that he even graduated high school in the bottom half of his class.

When the Casper native began his senior year at Kelly Walsh High School, he was now focused on his new goals. “I applied myself to education and benefited from the Board of Cooperative Educational Services program. BOCES allowed me to take a full course load at Casper College and receive both high school and college credit,” he shared.

With BOCES, Schaffner was able to “catch up” on his studies, receive two degrees at Casper College, and have his bachelor’s in engineering four years after graduating from Kelly Walsh High School in 1996. “My high school teachers and counselor were VERY surprised to see the disparity in my high school and CC academic performance,” he said with a laugh.

While in high school, Schaffner looked into the possibility of joining one of the military branches of the United States but decided to attend CC instead. During the summer of 1997, Schaffner and his girlfriend, Danelle Doepke, became engaged. Her father, Rod “Dean” Doepke, had been an enlisted torpedo man on a submarine for 15 years. “Dean’s stories of serving on submarines were interesting to me. Unknowingly, he had planted the ‘seed’ of my interest in becoming a submariner,” said Schaffner.

Then, as it had happened to him in the summer of 1995 working on that oil rig, Schaffner had another life-changing experience during the summer of 1997 when the “seed” germinated thanks to meeting his second cousins, Rocky Boggs and Gary Arnold. Schaffner “begrudgingly” cut his trip to Alcova short to have dinner with his parents and second cousins. He didn’t know that Rocky had recently retired from the Navy as a naval flight officer, like Goose from the “Top Gun” movies, and that his last tour was as a Navy officer recruiter.

“Rocky explained options for me to apply to become a pilot, civil engineer, or nuclear power officer on either an aircraft carrier or submarine. Armed with this knowledge, Danelle and I set up appointments with officer recruiters from all of the services in Denver, and we made a road trip,” Schaffner said. After exploring all the options open to him, he and Danelle decided that the submarine program was his best option. Because of Navy regulations, Schaffner was not eligible to apply for the program until he had completed his sophomore year of school.

Back at Casper College, two of Schaffner’s mentors, his academic adviser, Don Dobby, and Wilkes, who also happened to be a former naval aerospace experimental psychologist with medical services corps wings, helped him complete the Nuclear Power Officer Candidate Program application requirements. In the summer of 1998, Schaffner, a newly minted Casper College graduate, was in Washington D.C., where “I went through two technical interviews and a final interview with the four-star admiral in charge of the United States Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, and was accepted into the program,” said Schaffner. It should be noted that the Navy only recruits from the top 10% of the country’s engineering students for the program. Upon returning to Wyoming, Schaffner married Danelle, his high school sweetheart, in Casper on July 24, 1998.

Schaffner fondly remembers his time at Casper College and the other instructors who provided him with guidance, including Jim Best, Jim Howard, Jon Blesi, Paul Marquard, and his father, Joe. While working on his two degrees, Schaffner maintained a high GPA and was an active member of the college’s chapter of the national honor society Phi Theta Kappa, served as a math tutor for CC, and worked part-time during the school year and full-time during the summer at Automation Electronics fabricating electronic instrumentation and control systems.

From Casper College, Schaffner attended the University of Wyoming, earning his Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering with honors. During his two years in Laramie, he was active in the Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society, earned his Engineer in Training certification, and represented the UW College of Engineering as a senator to the student senate for the 1999-2000 school year.

After graduating from UW, Schaffner headed to Pensacola, Florida, where he reported to Officer Candidate School, earning a commission as an ensign in the United States Navy. For 12 months, he participated in intensive graduate-level training and certification in naval nuclear-powered propulsion theory, design, and operations. Schaffner was now ready for submarine duty.

In late 2001, Schaffner and Danelle moved to Groton, Connecticut, where he began his first sea tour aboard the submarine USS Augusta. “On board the Augusta, I completed a deployment to the Mediterranean, Red Sea, and North Atlantic that included launching Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles in Operation Iraqi Freedom,” said Schaffner.

Schaffner was recognized as the top-performing junior officer in 2005. He was awarded four Navy Achievement Medals and a Navy Accommodation Medal for his leadership and his teams’ excellent results during his initial three-year sea tour.

In 2005, the couple, now with son Jacob in tow, moved to Colorado, where Schaffner reported to the Navy Operational Support Center in Aurora, Colorado, for duty as the training and mobilization officer for Navy Reserve personnel in the Wyoming and Colorado area. “This was one of the most difficult assignments of my career, as I notified families in the Mountain West that their sailors had been killed,” said Schaffner. Schaffner supported each family he contacted  “… as I would want my family to be treated in a similar circumstance … ” resulting in many lifelong friendships.

In 2006, while in Colorado, his daughter Waverly was born, and Schaffner completed his master’s in engineering management at Old Dominion University. With one year at Casper College to her credit, Danelle completed her Bachelor of Arts in criminal justice at Columbia College.

In 2007, Schaffner was promoted to lieutenant commander and served as the engineer officer on the USS Pennsylvania submarine. During this time, Schaffner was recognized as the #1 engineer officer from a competitive group of seven. His crew was recognized for superior performance, earning a Meritorious Unit Commendation and the Battle Efficiency’ E’ Award.

In addition to the Augusta and Pennsylvania submarines, Schaffner served as executive officer on the USS Santa Fe and commanding officer on both the USS Tennessee and the USS Maryland. The Augusta and Santa Fe are Los Angeles Class fast attack submarines, while the Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Maryland are ballistic missile submarines. According to Schaffner, he has over 10 years of submarine sea duty, the time assigned to a submarine, and over five years of that time spent submerged. “The balance of time was spent in port performing maintenance and training on the submarines,” he said.

During his storied career, Schaffner has also been personally recognized with the Legion of Merit, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, three Meritorious Service medals, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation medals — three awards — Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal — five awards — and various other unit and personal awards. “The award I am the proudest of is the 2019 Arleigh Burke Fleet Trophy award for the Atlantic Fleet,” said Schaffner. “The Tennessee Gold crew received this award for having achieved superior performance and the greatest improvement in battle efficiency, the Navy term for warfighting capability,” Schaffner added.

In 2021, Schaffner was selected to serve as the executive officer to the four-star commanding general of United States Space Command in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “I worked directly for an Army four-star general. Space Command is a joint combatant command that reports directly to the Secretary of Defense,” Schaffner said.

In the fall of 2023, Schaffner completed his tour as executive officer. He is now the security cooperation division chief within Space Command’s Strategy, Plans, and Policy Directorate, developing strategy and plans to expand and integrate allies’ and partners’ space capabilities into the United States’ space operations.

Schaffner has successfully climbed the ranks from ensign to captain. In just a few years, he will be eligible to become a one-star rear admiral based on his time in service. “Becoming an admiral has never been a significant aspiration, partially because I don’t want to live in Washington, D.C., where a lot of those assignments are,” Schaffner admitted. According to Schaffer, it is rare for someone to make it as far as he has while avoiding assignments in the District of Columbia. “Instead of pursuing another Navy promotion, Danelle and I have made the decision to retire from the Navy next year and return to Wyoming to start the next chapter of our lives,” he said.

“When Danelle and I were deciding to join the Navy,” Schaffner recalled, “Danelle said she would follow me wherever the Navy sent us as long as we returned back to Wyoming. Nearly 27 years later, Danelle and I look forward to returning to the great state of Wyoming,” he said.

Previous Honorees

The Casper College Distinguished Alumni are outstanding individuals who have made extensive contributions to their professions or have participated in humanitarian and philanthropic work. They display integrity of character that makes all alumni proud to be associated with such persons.

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