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Squadron’s change of command has a University of Pittsburgh aura


Cindy Gill

Riehl and Dagnall (photo courtesy Robert Riehl)


The 20-year-old Pitt junior had traveled in an airplane only twice, but he remembered those trips as among the most exciting events of his boyhood. The Philadelphia native had no idea how someone becomes a pilot. He figured it wasn’t an option, so he didn’t give it much thought. At Pitt, he was content studying psychology and planning to attend law school.

But then one Saturday, as he walked across campus, Robert Riehl picked up a copy of The Pitt News. Inside, there was an ad for an aviation aptitude test at the William Pitt Union. Students who aced the test would be eligible to attend flight school. Now he knew how to become a pilot.

As a senior—nearly a year after the aviation test—Riehl was at an Oakland Avenue pub after a Pitt football game. A friend of his older brother strolled over. It was Barry Dagnall, from Greensburg, Pa., who had graduated from Pitt the year before with an economics degree. Riehl noticed Dagnall was wearing a leather flight jacket and was surprised to hear that Dagnall had completed the U.S. Navy’s Aviation Officer Candidate School—where Riehl was headed after graduation. More surprises followed.

Dagnall’s helicopter-flight training was delayed in Texas, and Riehl’s was pushed forward in Virginia. The two Pitt graduates, now both navy captains, found themselves on the same ship and the same tour of duty in the Western Pacific, flying MH53E Sea Dragon helicopters on training missions.

“We spent pretty much three years together, day in and day out,” says Dagnall. “That either makes you a really good friend, or you want to avoid each other. But Bob and I are the best of friends, and we both still love the Panthers.”

Throughout their careers, they specialized in finding and destroying sea mines. The navy uses helicopters, custom-designed mine ships, divers, and even dolphins and seals to eliminate the dangerous mines. Several years ago, Dagnall (CAS ’80) took command of Mine Countermeasures Squadron One at Naval Station Ingleside in Texas, where he led and coordinated all of these initiatives for the Pacific 7th Fleet. Meanwhile Riehl (CAS ’81) was in Stuttgart, Germany, as chief of the Middle East-Africa Division on the staff of the U.S. European Command.

Last spring, the two came full-circle from their unexpected chat on Oakland Avenue in 1981. This time, they met on a pier in Ingleside, Texas, where Dagnall turned over command of his anti-mine squadron to his replacement—his Pitt buddy, Riehl. Afterwards, Riehl wanted his friend to stay in town for a game of golf. But Dagnall was off to the Pentagon, where he now manages a five-year, $6 billion budget as the head of the U.S. Navy’s mine warfare branch.

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