When I was 17 I made the decision to join the United States Navy, needless to say my mother’s reaction was that of a typical mother who doesn’t want her child to leave home. For several months, she refused to even talk about it but I wouldn’t let it go. Eventually she came around and we took that drive to the recruiting station where I enlisted. I’m not sure what changed her mind, if it was my persistence that it was going to happen with or without her approval or if she finally realized that what I was searching for wasn’t anything that could be found where we lived. And on June 6th, 2001 just 2 weeks after graduation I left for Basic Recruit Training in Great Lakes, Illinois and followed that up with a short 6-week stint in Pensacola, Florida learning my chosen craft as an Aviation Boatswains Mate and finally checked onboard the USS Wasp (LHD-1) V-1 Division in October of that same year. Along the way the course of history changed as 9/11 occurred and by February, we were on our way across the pond for 6 ½ months in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Looking back, I don’t have a solid reason on why I joined the United States Navy. I thought I did at the time but 15 years later that reason isn’t as clear. Maybe it was because I didn’t have any idea about life or the world and this was a chance to correct that. Maybe it was because we weren’t the most financially sound family and my options for college and other opportunities just wasn’t there. Well, I say we but I wasn’t poor, my family was poor. They just dragged me along with them. Maybe I just had to find my own way and I couldn’t do that where I grew up due to various reasons. Whatever the reasons, joining the Unites States Navy was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
The lessons and experiences learned during those 4 ½ short years are lessons that I didn’t even realize I was learning until years later. I look back now at the that time and see how it has made me into who I am today. I think we all have those times and moments in our lives where we learn and have life changing experiences and we are unable to realize it in the moment but weeks, months, and sometimes years later we reflect on those times and realize the impact that they had on us.
However, it wasn’t the United States Navy that taught me those ever-important life lessons, the Navy was just the vehicle. It was the people, the drivers of that vehicle, that I encountered that gave me those lessons. I had dedicated Chiefs and Petty Officers in basic training to taught me the importance of attention to detail, of following orders and discipline. And most important of all, the meaning of core values. Especially those of honor, courage, and commitment. The backbone of the United States Navy.
From the first time that I walked onboard the ship to the last time I walked off I had mentors and peers that I looked up to. ABH1 Chris Ross, Air Bos’n Tom Hoctor, ABH1 Tony Horton, ABHCS Leeroy Ybarra, ABHCS Mike Knowles, and so many more. These fine sailors spent every minute instilling values and morals into each of us that followed them. They provided insight, they ensured that we knew our job, they stood up for us, but most importantly they prepared us to be leaders. The military has a way of making sure that people don’t stay in one spot for too long and these leaders knew and understood that and one of the most important lessons that they passed on to me was that of understanding the importance of passing on knowledge and preparing the future. They didn’t keep secrets and they didn’t withhold knowledge. They willingly gave it to us and they did it knowing that we would one day take their jobs and they embraced that.
The importance of passing on knowledge so that those under you can one day be prepared to pick up where you leave off when you are no longer there. We must understand that all our careers have an expiration date and if we fail to prepare the next generation then we are failing our organization and failing ourselves. That is what the United States Navy taught me.
My time in the United States Navy was short and rates as an extremely small sacrifice compared to those who dedicate an entire career or their lives to serving our country. I have no regrets about my time served and have no regrets about my decision to leave the service to pursue a career in the fire service and if I had the opportunity to do it over again I would. The lessons learned, the friendships and memories made, the experiences and the pride of wearing those dress whites are things that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. It provided and continues to provide opportunities and open doors that I would have never gotten if I had stayed home. Most importantly it prepared me. It prepared me in a way that nothing else could have. And I am thankful for that.
My time serving is filled with stories and lessons and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able to share a small portion of those stories and lessons. I only wish I could share the experience with those who never got to experience it as there is something about standing on the flight deck at sunset, when there is a breeze coming across the deck and when looking across the water the only thing you can see is water meeting the horizon. No deadlines to meet, no traffic to fight through, no stressing over what to do for dinner. Just peace and solace in that one moment. You can’t explain the feeling and only a few can understand it and there is no replication for it.
President John F. Kennedy once said “I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: ‘I served in the United States Navy’”
Sidney Lucas, ABH2 (AW) USN
About the Author
SIDNEY LUCAS began his fire service career as a volunteer with the Belle and Cedar Grove Volunteer Fire Departments (WV) in 1999 and currently serves as a Lieutenant with the Newport News Fire Department (VA) and is assigned as the Department Safety Officer. He has been with the department for over 11 years where he has served in various capacities. He is a former Chief of Quinton Volunteer Fire and EMS (VA) and a veteran of the United States Navy, serving onboard the USS Wasp (LHD-1) as part of the Crash and Salvage Team supporting the Global War on Terrorism. Sidney is a graduate of the Virginia Fire Officer’s Academy and currently serves on staff. He holds an AAS in Fire Science and a BS in Occupational Safety and Health and is currently pursuing a MA in Management and Organizational Leadership. He is certified at the Instructor II and Fire Officer III level through the Virginia Department of Fire Programs along with being an instructor and a Virginia State Advocate for the National Fallen Firefighter’s Foundation. He also co-owns Colonial Training Solutions, a training and consultation company that specializes in leadership and safety.