Well, here it is. The day we all wait for. Retirement. My official work counter shows me at 37 years and 8 months and retiring as a GS-13 Step 9.
We’re quite a ways from 1982 when I went through the gates at Great Lakes Naval Training Command. Imagine being 19 years old and departing boot camp and reporting to an aircraft carrier in dry dock. I’m not scared of heights but when I looked down that dry dock at the USS Carl Vinson in its entirety I got a little bit of vertigo. Not to mention the whole ship is a gigantic maze with no cheese at the end.
After a few months of that I was finally sent to A school and following that I went to VA-174 in Cecil Field Florida. If you look though my friends list on Facebook you’ll find several individuals I did time with being an A-7 Plane Captain in the Line Shack. God bless the ones who are no longer with us. There was something about that time that was magical. It was fun, and it was also a HUGE responsibility. A successful aircraft launch was quite literally in your hands. You and the pilot (mostly the pilot) decided whether it was safe or not. I loved it! I’d do it again in a minute. I know I could still run through the launch sequence for an A-7. Doing it on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier is also one heck of an experience and memory.
I learned one of my biggest lessons in life there as well. As Plane Captains we inspected ejection seats. And I was taught as others were by word of mouth. Check this, check that. One day a 1st Class Petty Officer from the AME shop (ejection seat shop, among other things) comes in and gives us training on the seats. None of us, and I mean none of us could identify the proper terminology of the components of the seat. We were all a bunch of foul ups who didn’t really know what we were doing and we damn sure weren’t doing it by the books, that’s for sure. That sunk in. It sunk in deep. And it impressed me. I wished I could remember his name. I carried that with me the rest of my career. Do it right, John. Know what you are doing. Really know what you are supposed to do and do it.
I left the Navy for a couple of years after being discharged and came back again as a NAVET (Navy Veteran) in a 2 year enlistment program. My first 4 years the Navy kind of used me and the next 2 years I kind of used the Navy. I strived to be the best I could be and instituted the famous Hagensieker “5 Hour Rule”. Work 5 hours a day at least doing what you are supposed to be doing. You will be the shining star compared to most in the military. I had a great immediate supervisor as well named Mario (hi Mario) who really had a positive impact on me.
I got out for good in 1990 and got a job at the Naval Air Rework Facility (NARF) in Norfolk and then they changed the name to Naval Aviation Depot (NADEP). It was hard not to laugh at the “Go NAD” signs they used to hang around the place. Funny what you remember. I was an F-14 Structural Mechanic and I started as a Wage Grade 7. One of my favorite sayings to young civil servants is “I could still be a WG-7 if I wanted to be”.
I did move to the Fleet Training Division and taught Aircraft Corrosion Control and Aircraft painting which were mandatory classes for people in aircraft squadrons. During Base Realignment and Closure hearings in the mid 90’s the government closed NADEP Norfolk and somehow or another I managed to get a job in Virginia Beach at NAS Oceana with NAESU which later became NATEC. I was in the Materials Science Program. Spent a year or so there and then moved to Iwakuni Japan and did almost 7 years there. What I wouldn’t give to have never left Iwakuni ever. It was a community just like when you were a little kid. Everyone looked out for everyone else and we had fun doing it.
In around 2003 the CO of NATEC came to Japan and had a list of programs he was cutting due to budget cuts. Materials Science was one of them. So once again I jumped ship to a place called NAWC Lakehurst NJ which changed its named to NAVAIR and then back to NAWC a year or two ago. God, the government loves to change names of stuff. For the last 16 years or so I have been an Electronics Equipment Specialist in the Visual Landing Aids and EAF programs. I have been stationed at 29 Palms CA (it’s really not as bad as it sounds. I liked it), and then back to Japan only this time in Okinawa. Spent 5 years there then another 4 years in Iwakuni, and then finally to MCAS Cherry Point NC where I am now.
I have spent 30 years with the government in direct support and sometimes embedded support of active duty military personnel. Been to Iraq and Afghanistan more times than I wish and was proud to do it each and every time.
I have a million funny stories and sad stories. Stories of making a difference and stories of making mistakes. I once stopped a gigantic aircraft paint contract and was given the max bonus you can get. $1500. Save the gov a million or two and hey pal, here’s your $1500. Jokes on them. I’d have done it for free.
I got lots of bonuses and awards over the years but that one made me the proudest.
And the people. I worked with a slew of people who hated dirty civilians, and I worked with a slew of people who loved them some dirty civilians. Some were outwardly hostile and I just did the armadillo thing with them. When they asked for help I’d just roll up in a ball. For the guys that treated me with a modicum of respect I gave my best. Say what you will about me, but I can fix some shit. If your stuff was broken, and I showed up you were in good shape.
While I never wanted recognition there is a metric shit ton of pilots who owe me a beer. My visual landing aids THAT WORKED got you qualified to fly to the real ship or my landing aids brought you down to safe arrestment somewhere. Or maybe the aid just brought you down to a safe touchdown on an unusually hazy day or unusually dark night. But while you were warming up the engine I was elbow deep in your broken landing aid with sometimes a LT COL or a COL and even a General once standing next to me saying “Can you get it fixed in time?”
Forget the beer. All I wanted was for you to get home safe. That was always enough.
Once a COL asked me if I could “just make the lights come on”. “Oh hell yeah, I can do that.” “Do it” he said. I said I gotta bypass every safety device in the system and if it fails it’s gonna take out about 2 million dollars worth of stuff. Gonna need you to sign something on letterhead for that and get it approved by my engineers. He looked at me and I imagine he had a flash of his career going down the toilet and told me “Do the best you can safely, Sir”. 🤣
I hope the guys behind me care enough that you get home safe still. That’s really what it is all about.
To the guys still working……..Don’t get tunnel vision. My career was so varied and diversified. It’s easy for people to think that you are just a certain type of Tech Rep or technician. Most didn’t know I have run the gamut on jobs and geographical locations.. Don’t lock yourself into one role. Don’t allow anyone to lock you into one role. Escape if you have to. Move on. During the last catastrophe a couple years ago I just laughed. It was the 3rd or 4th time it had happened to me. It’s not personal, it’s just what the government does. They attempt to improve by screwing the pooch as it were. Save money by spending more of it. Just find Plan B and implement.
If there is anybody out there that thinks they got over on me I have one thing to say…………..thanks for the last year and 4 months of teleworking and the $40,000 separation bonus. 🤣. May I have another, Sir! 🤣
Sayonara Uncle Sam. You were good to me. It was hell of a ride. Thank you.