Finding Your Passion

Alumni’s work will help train the next generation of mariners

Richard ‘Dickie’ Balzano

Growing up in Portland’s East End neighborhood, Richard ‘Dickie’ Balzano didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do with his life, but he knew service to his community would be central to it. His parents encouraged him to take an active role in helping others and military service had long been a part of their family history. “They were proud Americans,” he remembers. “They would always ask what I was going to do for my country.”

A cousin recommended pursuing a degree at Maine Maritime Academy and Balzano quickly realized that it would be a good fit, providing him with ample opportunity to explore various career opportunities. “I wanted a challenge,” he says. “I wanted to try as many things as I could to find out what I might really like.”

“[These vessels] will change how we train the next generation of mariners and how we respond to natural and humanitarian crises.”

Balzano excelled at MMA, finding both professional opportunities and personal fulfillment through friendships with his new peers. As he got to know his classmates and their families, he was exposed to the possibilities of what a career in the military offered. “I found folks that were really focused on joining the military. When I arrived as a MUG it was exactly what I wanted to do, but the more I got exposed to its culture – especially the Special Operations community – the more I felt it would fit very well.”

After graduation, Balzano embarked upon what would become a 30 year career, serving the maritime industry in both private and U.S. government sector jobs. After retiring from the U.S. Navy as Captain, he served for three years as the presidentially appointed Deputy Administrator for the U.S. Maritime Administration.

During his time at MARAD, Balzano worked with state and federal partners to help secure approval and funding for new emergency response vessels for each of the state maritime academies (SMAs). As a result of this work, MMA is scheduled to receive a new National Security Multi-Mission Vessel (NSMV) in 2024. “It is a historic accomplishment,” he says. “[These vessels] will change how we train the next generation of mariners and how we respond to natural and humanitarian crises.”

Throughout that process, and indeed throughout his career, Balzano relied on teamwork, collaboration, honesty, and trust to complete his mission. “I’ve learned many things the hard way,” he notes. “But these principles have guided me throughout my career.”

He encourages others, particularly current MMA students, to adopt the same approach. “Find what inspires you and follow it,” he says. “Take the good from every experience and use whatever you learn in future opportunities.”

In 2020, Balzano was named as the Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director for Dredging Contractors of America (DCA), a national trade association whose members provide dredging services for navigation, coastal protection, environmental restoration, and shoreline resilience throughout the United States.

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