He served on various vessels, including USS Charleston in Commodore George Dewey’s fleet at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War, and by 1905 had risen to the rank of Lieutenant Commander.
He was promoted to Commander in 1911 and took command of the USS Chester in late 1913. He was aboard it, in Admiral Henry T. Mayo’s Division, when the Tampico Incident occurred on 9 April 1914. He also took part in the occupation of Vera Cruz, Mexico that followed on 21–22 April and was awarded the Medal of Honor for a daring and unguided night entry into the inner harbor to land a force of Marines and Seamen.
In 1914–18, he commanded Great Lakes Naval Training Center and the 9th, 10th and 11th Naval Districts, receiving promotion to Captain in August 1916. During 1918–21, he commanded the USS Mississippi and in March 1921 was appointed Director of Naval Aviation with the temporary rank of Rear Admiral (made permanent in 1923).
Too old for flight training, he had qualified in June 1921 as an aerial observer and the creation of the Navy’s Aviation Bureau owes much to his influence. He organized the Navy’s aviation program, exterted influence for the expansion and experimentation, oversaw the selection of sites and building of Naval air stations and accomplished the installation of aircraft landing catapults on all battleships and cruisers of the Fleet.
He was particularly enthusiastic about the use of dirigibles, both in Naval operations and generally, secured for the Navy the airships Los Angeles, Akron and Macon. He was reappointed to head the Bureau in 1925 and again in 1929.
He died on April 4, 1933 in the crash of the Akron in a storm off the New Jersey coast. He was subsequently buried in Section 3 of Arlington National Cemetery.