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A Sea Story
by Kent Fletcher



In 1975, I reenlisted in the Navy Reserve at Millington, Tennessee, not for drilling purposes but to sign on for the TAR Program (Training and Administration of Reserves). The title was retired/deleted from Reserve nomenclature a couple of years ago, but the personnel who served under it before, still do, just under another title. Something like FTS (Full Time Support).

One night several weeks later I got a call from the Recruiter, saying he had my orders in hand, but to a place he could not pronounce. So he started spelling, "P-U-E...", and I finished it for him, "B-L-O, Colorado! Yes, I'll take those orders! I accept!" I was yelling and jumping for joy. When I finally came down, he asked me how I knew how to spell it. I told him I had kinfolk there and had tried unsuccessfully to get work there in 1974 when I got off active duty. So in a matter of a couple of weeks, I was driving down the road, heading west to begin another chapter in my life.

When I reported onboard, I found out just exactly what I was going to be doing - handling personnel records across the board. But I was a Yeoman (YN) not a Personnelman (PN). Didn't matter, I was an admin type and that's what the job called for. So I had a very tense learning curve for a year or so, even got to go to a two-week school in New Orleans to learn the tricks of the position. Of course, there is always the school way, the Navy way to accomplish a mission, but mostly there is simply the way that gets the job done, school and/or Navy be damned. I had gotten enough under my belt before I attended the school to run circles around most everyone else in the class. Heck, I was even promoted to PN2 for my efforts, ceremoniously, of course.

I had charge of four units' records, two surface types (gaining commands were ship commands, but I don't remember which ones), one SeaBee unit, and one Volunteer Training Unit (VTU) for those reservists who could not get a pay billet, or who just wanted to drill for retirement points, nothing else.

One of the surface units' Commanding Officer was LT David Leroy out of Colorado Springs, Colorado. He would drive to Pueblo one weekend a month to "play Navy" for two days. He would also be the leader of the pack when the unit performed a yearly Active Duty for Training (ACDUTRA) exercise, usually in San Diego. Of course, a Navy plane could be had for transportation to and from San Diego, or even commercial tickets could be had upon request. But Mr. Leroy had other things in mind when the yearly trip was planned. So he would convince some of his unit personnel to drive out, and to take passengers with them, effectively saving the Navy lotsa money in travel expenses over the long haul. He would also be at the helm in procuring various and sundry tools and equipment to bring back to Pueblo so that his unit could have bonafide Navy training in the year that followed. Being a surface-type unit, there were Enginemen (EN), Electricians Mates (EM), coxswains, Boatswains Mates (BM), Firemen (FN), ordinary sailors (SN), and the nominal YN or PN to keep the unit records straight. Yeah, right.

I guess it was the first summer I was onboard, 1976, a short period of time after this unit completed its training duty and returned home, that a big old flatbed truck driven by two SeaBees from San Diego showed up with an ancient Captain's Gig on it. Mr. Leroy was contacted, as was ENC Ernie Tafoya, the unit Chief, and BMC Bob Borgstedt to supervise the off-loading of this "thing" onto a trailer the unit had built over the previous year.

The SeaBees were paid their final fee, and soon this boat was becoming an eye-sore of sorts on the back property of the Naval Reserve Center, Pueblo, Colorado. LT Leroy wasn't overly concerned, however, since the members in his unit were getting hands-on, ground-up training on a real boat, not exactly a ship, but a floating boat, nonetheless. As I believe I remember being told, it was floating somewhere in San Diego when it was spotted. It was deemed seaworthy from the get-go, with a little touching up being required.

The diesel engine was pulled and overhauled on drill weekends for the next year or so, the hull was scraped and repainted the old standard Navy Gray, all the cables and joints and hooks and crooks were checked, repaired and replaced, mostly being funded by Mr. Leroy, and possibly a few other ranking personnel in the unit. You see, this boat was not officially graced by the Headquarters, Naval Reserve Force in New Orleans, but was a "personal" endeavor for Mr. Leroy. As he stated, and even I know, only so much book learning can be had at a reserve center some 1,500 miles from any real blue water. And Mr. Leroy had tried on numerous occasions, to the best of my knowledge, to convince Headquarters that their training was hurting their individual career advancements by not being able to have hands-on training and experience. Thus, with no backing from HQ, Mr. Leroy and company took it upon themselves to support the unit members, and all unit members participated somehow.

The day finally came when the unit was ready to launch the boat. The event was quite the "to-do" for the drill weekend, and All Hands showed up early. There were necessary things to be done, like getting a suitable truck to haul the monstrosity, like a whale out of water on a home-made trailer, stowing all the life-jackets onboard, fueling ahead of time, and finally making a convoy-type run to the reservoir. It was also the day the US Coast Guard Auxiliary Unit was to authenticate the boat and license it.

Once the unit was gone, the Reserve Center was pretty quiet. Until about 1500. Then all hell broke loose.

First of all, BMC Borgstedt came in the office, swearing up and down, stomping around, daring someone to get in his way. A couple of us station-keepers tried to talk to him, but he definitely was not in a talking mood, only a dark mood, full of frustration, full of anger at the world at large. The rest of the unit finally appeared, and everyone was somewhat "down." They held the afternoon muster, all were accounted for, and most everyone went home for the day. BMC Borgstedt was still onboard, however, still venting. Even ENC Tafoya had departed, as had LT Leroy.

Once everyone was gone, a couple of us began calming the BMC down, asking him if anyone had been hurt, or had someone fallen in the water, a lot of trivial questions. The BMC finally settled down, and actually started smiling, laughing about something.

As it turned out, all the labor that had been done on refitting this boat was perfect, with only one, itsy-bitsy glitch. The running lights on the boat had been reversed. Green on the starboard side, red on the port side is correct, but not in this case. Then to top off the day, whoever had been in charge of the lines failed to un-tether the boat from the dock when the coxswain hit the gas. Kinda tore up the dock. At least the transom wasn't ripped out, which is a good sign of a well-made boat. Could have been even more embarrassing.

In 1977, Reserve Readiness Command 18 out of Olathe, Kansas, came to Pueblo for a command inspection. I won't go into that fiasco other than to write that the boat was put in permanent drydock at Naval Reserve Center, Pueblo, Colorado, as it was not authorized from New Orleans. I thought sure the senior inspector was going to have a heart attack.

But for the year prior, each drill weekend from early spring to late fall, the unit was on the water, training coxswains, improving boating skills, being taught the intricacies of rope tying and general boatswain training. When the unit returned to its gaining command in San Diego, said gaining command was completely impressed with the unit for knowing their Blue Jackets' Manuals, something obviously quite rare from a land-locked bunch of sailors. Several Letters of Commendation were issued to the unit.

And let it be known there never were any recorded confrontations on Pueblo Reservoir, either from foreign submarines, or from Special Operations teams from the Fort Carson Army Base in Colorado Springs.

__________________________________________



Kent Fletcher, native Mississippian and retired military, now lives in Texas.
Contact Kent at this e-mail address.



Read more of Kent’s “meanderings”:

Speaking of Tunica
Hotrods and high school
Raisin’ Delta cain
Roguing beans and a ‘39 Plymouth
Ghosts of Christmas Past
Psssssst!


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