Robert Kelley Interview
Interview: Robert Kelley(RK) Medium: Video Camera Date: May 10, 2011 Place: Home of Robert Kelley Collected by: Amanda Kelley(Ak) Ak: Okay please state your name
Bk: Bob Kelley
Bk: Robert Shawn Kelley
Ak: Uh, Do I have, do you, do I have permission to conduct this interview
Bk: Yes you do
Ak: Okay first off where were you born?
Bk: Detroit Michigan
Ak: What year
Bk: 1964 June 1st
Ak: Uh how many siblings do you have?
Bk: I have three sisters, one older and two younger.
Ak: Uh, what wh what were your parent’s occupations?
BK: My dad, uh, he was actually in the navy during the Korean War and then after the Korean War he lived in South Carolina. He, uh, decided to move up to Detroit where all the car factories were and um that thing just turned on where all the car factories were and he got a job with uh Ford Motor Company uh replacing windshields um he later left the car factories and went into retail. He worked for Federals uh Federals which is a large department store chain in Detroit which was com compatible to uh Sears at the time. Uh my mom was a homemaker but then she became a librarian for the local school.
Ak: Uh what kind of neighborhood did you grow up in?
Bk: Well, my neighborhood was umm pretty nice. It was city block after city block it was very umm congested um a lot of people. When I was in like sixth grade we had what was called desegregation and they actually bused me from a school that I was going to less than a block away to one miles away and unfortunately then our neighborhood started to get rough and by the time I was in high school it got pretty bad.
Ak: Uh so what made you pursue a career in the Navy?
Bk: Well I decided that I wasn’t gonna live in Detroit my whole life and my dad was in the Navy and actually I didn’t want to join the Navy. Um at the time in the um early eighties the Army was pushing um that they would help you out with a college degree if you came and joined them and be all you can be. Um so I went down to the Army recruiting station and it happened to be at the recruiter’s lunch hour and all four recruiting stations were side by side and the Navy guy was the only one there and he welcomed me into his office. He name was Brian and the next thing you know I was abroad the USS Ranger an aircraft carrier out in the middle of the ocean.
Ak: Uh so how was boot camp?
Bk: Boot camp, that was pretty rough. I think boot camp was much of a head game for uh individuals um in the early eighties they were pretty rough on you um they’re goal in boot camp was to make you more disciplined learn how to follow the rules and regulations and become part of a team. Um I thought it was one of the roughest times I had in the military.
Ak: Uh so were you a war time or peace time veteran?
Bk: I was both. I joined the military in um August of 1982 and I just retired uh April of 2008 so I was in during um the Gulf War, Persian Gulf, Afghanistan all of it.
Ak: Did you ever have to go over there?
Bk: No, I spent my time in the Persian Gulf um back in the um early eighties when Ronald Reagan sent a um show of force the USS Ranger the aircraft carrier we uh we lead that show of force um we actually launched planes against the ss um Serians when they splashed down a couple of our um jets um on my my job during the recent crisis was to actually to activate reservists and make sure that they were ready to go over and support out troops.
Ak: Anything major happen on the USS Ranger?
Bk: Actually the scariest day of my life November 4, 1985. I say that because I hesitate I think it might have been 1984. I remember the date and the time was nine o’clock in the morning. We were transferring fuel um we were taking on from another ship an uh one of the valves got stuck and the next thing you the fuel um back up and pressurized and became a gigantic big liter which launched into one machine room into another. We were engulfed in smoke. We lost twelve guys instantly and that fire we fought it all day.
Ak: So um it exploded?
Bk: Oh yeah, there was multiple explosions on on board that ship that day. We lost a large machinery room, an auxiliary room, um ten or twenty store rooms attached to that etcetera.
Ak: How how much money did it cost to repair?
Bk: Billions, I that was such a long time ago but I didn’t work in the supply department and uh we just wrote off billions of uh parts. I mean if you think about on a aircraft itself you know that aircraft costs like nine to ten million dollars for an aircraft well a one camera on on a jet could cost and we just lost all kinds of parts. It was in the billions.
Ak: Did you have any support come an aid you?
Bk: Maybe millions pardon.
Ak: Did you have any support come an aid you?
Bk: Oh we had ships all around us umm what they did was they brought us um what we call A triple F because we had a uh machinery room fire it was a class bravo fire which is fuels um we sprayed A triple F on it which is a foam fighting um foam which what it does is puts a coat on top of the flames to spread it from um spreading. So we had all kinds of ships that were bringing A triple F to us and any type of aid.
Ak: Anything else that you witnessed?
Bk: Oh there was all kinds of things in the Navy, a lot of neat things. Um I’ve seen uh the uh I’ve seen all kinds of uh explosions and bomb demonstrations um I’ve seen the Thunderbirds, I’ve seen the Navy Blue Angels. Um I’ve had the Queen of England come aboard our ship uh President Bush actually President Neoga who used to be uh the president down in South America that we actually sought after for drugs. He came aboard our ship. Um many dignitaries, I’ve done a Great Lakes Cruise around Lake Michigan um Indiana, Chicago. It was uh really great time actually.
Ak: Um so where was your favorite place that you were transferred to?
Bk: Montana um because I, I joined the regular Navy back in 1982 to 86 and then I transferred still in the regular Navy but it was the Tar community and my job was to train reserves to get them ready to go if any um war time and so I got to do a lot of different unique shore activities in the United States uh .Missoula, Montana had to be the best duty station I ever had. It was just full of mountains and wildlife. It was pretty extraordinary and unique.
Ak: How has the military changed you?
Bk: Oh it’s made me a very well organized individual um very focused very detailed um attention to details a major thing in the Navy or in the military itself. Um I get right to the point of getting something done and I don’t hesitate to take action.
Ak: So how long were in you in the military?
Bk: 25 years.
Ak: And what did you um retire as?
Bk: A senior chief store keeper, An EA.
Bk: What is your current ocu oc occupation?
Ak: Right now I am a veteran’s service officer. I actually serve veterans um and dependents, and spouses on any type of benefits that they might have um resulting from military service or maybe the lost of a loved one.
Ak: So how were there any initiation or ceremonies or that much in the Navy?
Bk: Gosh, the Navy is loaded with tradition and unfortunately the Navy also got a bad rap over the years with tail hook incidents and other things and theres been a lot of um initiations that I have actually gone through that don’t exist anymore um when we cross the equator um they had what they would call wog day. They would take fire houses and they would beat you like your dad did in the 1970’s and stuff that they considered child abuse that they don’t anymore. Um the chief’s initiation is a very secretive initiation, I can’t talk about that but it’s to bring uh senior enlisted into the ranks of chief petty officer to where they can lead younger enlisted that’s all top secret. But there are a lot of traditions in the Navy, they’re all there for good reason. Um unfortunately some people take initiation too far and so just like any other tradition um they were off but the reason for them is still there and there time value things that we look at and that we keep um because the Navy believes in honor, courage , and commitment and tradition is definitely one of the top ones.
Ak: Um so what was it like living on an aircraft carrier?
Bk: I loved it. I actually dream about it still and it’s been like over 25 years uh I looked up one of my best friends on that aircraft carrier and I flew out to his house. It’s a mini city, all by itself, you have your own post office. You have your own laundry, you have um galleys forward and back. You can eat food almost twenty four hours a day, around twenty two hours a day. Um it’s huge, it’s um you know it’s a city block long a few football fields. I’ve actually ran up on the flight deck a few ten Ks. You can get lost if you don’t know where you’re going. Um what I really like about it was the uniqueness of um the massive size ship that you were on. If you got into any type of heavy storms or approaching hurricanes the different ships that were surrounding you would bob up and down in the water and everybody on board would get sick and you would just cruise right on through um I really enjoyed my time on board a aircraft carrier. It was awesome sights um seeing the jets fly off. Um meeting the pilots, watching them drop bombs for displays for dignitaries etcetera. Just being forward deployed was also a very neat thing in the Persian Gulf.
Ak: Did you ever see any plane accidents occur on the ship?
Bk: Actually yes, um you know we had our incidiences. I remember one night it was probably two o’clock in the morning one of the jets lost one of their tires and they have to rig a bunch of bungee cords on top of the aircraft carrier and line them up and just imagine a bunch of rubber bands going up and down stretching across a deck that’s probably a hundred feet wide and don’t quote me on the measurements catching an airplane as it flies in an springs back. It was a very intense time because a lot of aircraft that land on aircraft carrier that are missing wheels they actually end up smashing into something and um exploding but uh the aircraft crew up on the flight deck did a great job recovered that. There was numerous other incidences you know people would accidently hit the back of the ship and bounce off um we had a Hilo splash down because of hydraulic problems. Um there were some individuals who actually passed away on the flight deck. It’s a very dangerous place in the Navy especially the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. Um if you step in the wrong direction you gonna get blown off the ship or sucked into an engine. (slam door) OOH
Ak: Um So did you have anyone fall off the ship?
Bk: Oh yeah , yeah we actually had um um people fall off ships all the time whether it’s from accidents or just horse play um we practice um man over board maneuvers um probably on a monthly basis. Actually in my last ship the USS Defender I was officer of the deck and I I was in charge of the ship when the captain wasn’t on board or he was asleep. And I used to practice all time pop what we call a smoke float, I’d throw it in the water, I’d ring the bell and call man over board just to see if the guy that was driving the ship could do a S back to the smoke that I popped and recover the man.
Ak: So how long were the work days?
Bk: That depend on what kind of command you were at. When I was on the aircraft carrier uh it was 12 hours a day, you worked 12 on and 12 off. Um if you were in um in port though you worked just 8 hour work days unless you had duty which you had every four days. If you had duty you worked 24 hours other than when you slept or you had watch. When you’re underway your on deployment on a ship you’re out for six to nine months, your working that six to nine months. The only thing you’re doing is sleeping when you’re not working. (hey baby, hey baby)
Ak: Were there any jokes or anything you guys played on each other?
Bk: Oh all the time. You gotta do things to keep the moral going. Uh people in the military do that just for fun just like somebody in the civilian world. Um whether you’re like sending a young sailor and telling him to go look for the mail buoy watch and have him stand there all day look for a buoy that suppose to have our mail when you know hes not gonna get it that way or sending him after a can of steam from the engineers down in the boiler room . Um it’s just all fun and games. (Sound powered phone batteries.)
Bk: or sound powered phone batteries because actually sound powered phones operate via sound and theres no battery. But there is tons of traditions that we like to pull on the new guys.
Ak: Um so so you did re-enlist for multiples of times?
Bk: Oh I re-enlisted multiple times because I was in the military for 25 years normal enlistment was about four years so once every four years up I re-enlisted. Sometimes for six or more.
Ak: Where were all the places you were places you were stationed at?
Bk: Uh the first place I was stationed was in Sunny San Diego. Well I went to boot camp in Orlando, Florida. It was very hot. It was in August and then I got stationed at Merian, Mississippi where I learned my raid of storekeeper a financial kind of guy you could say an accountant. And then I went to the USS Ranger which is an aircraft carrier, I spent four years there um mainly in San Diego but we spent one year in Burmington, Washington in the yards where we took our aircraft carrier completely out of the water then put it in a dry dock. And I got stationed in at the supply center there in Burmington . From uh Washington I actually joined the reserves for about six months in Detroit, Michigan. And then I joined the tar community which I talked about earlier. And my first duty station was Fort Wayne, Indiana where I got to transfer reserves there for a few years and from Fort Wayne, Indiana I went to Missoula, Montana which was an outstanding duty station. From Missoula, Montana I went on board one of the tiniest ships in the Navy an MSO which is a mine sweeper open ocean. I got sick daily whenever it went underway and um I stood engineering watch and that was actually stationed in uh Tacoma, Washington very beautiful mountain areas um my daughter was born there in Madigan Army Hospital right near Mt Rainier. It was a very beautiful place from uh Madigan uh from USS Implicit I went to Indianapolis um readiness command reserve center huge reserve center. We had thousands of reservists actually drilled three weekends a month and we actually went down to a very large reserve center. I made chief petty officer while I was there. Then I went up to the uh Naval reserve readiness command in Detroit, Michigan at suffrage air national guard base and I was stationed on an air base. Um near my home town of Detroit, probably about 25 miles north of that. From there I went down to Ingleside, Texas where I’d vowed I would never go again because of how hot it was there. It so hot out during the summertime you have to treat it like winter, you have to hide in doors. I got stationed on board the USS Defender which was another mine sweeper but this one was more um modern. When I was one the MSO we cranked things by hand um on the USS Defender we did everything by machines and that’s where I excelled and became officer of the deck, combat information officer etcetera. Uh from the USS Defender I went to the second largest reserve center in the country uh a naval reserve center Chicago. Um that was an outstanding reserve center um again what I did mostly in my time in the Navy wh when I wasn’t on ships was to train reserves and get them ready for forward deployments and I really enjoyed doing that. Um from um from um the reserve center in Chicago my last duty station with uh the South West maintenance center um they were called Semas at one time and they changed them to maintenance centers back in Ingleside, Texas. Somewhere I vowed I never go before but my wife at the time got stationed um in a Hielo Squadron in the Navy HM15 which was really close so we got co-located and I was at a command to where we uh fixed ships uh that were import or maybe dry docked.
Ak: So what was your job specifically in the military as a storekeeper?
Bk: As a storekeeper my job varied. When I first started off It was uh the simple counting things that were in the store room, making issues, kicking boxes. Um when I left the military I was in charge of a 20 million dollar opt tar to where I was in charge of different repairs. Me and my supply officer would divvy out the different pots of money to whoever would need them and we would make allocations. Budget was a big thing for me in the military um, accounting, budget, finance. Purchasing and contracting was another thing I was heavily involved with. I bought a lot of parts for the navy both at the Navy supply center in Burmington, Washington and on different vessels in short commands that I was at. I was a contracting officer at various commands that I was at and also in charge of the credit card program.
Ak: Okay, okay so is there anything you would change about your military career?
Bk: No, not a thing. I really enjoyed my military career um if I would change anything I probably would change um my personal life and I’ve really I loved everybody I met. Um the thing I I didn’t like and I still don’t like about the Navy is I know friends in fifteen different states and they’re all far away and I have a huge Christmas list and what I’ve been trying to do lately is just to fly out and visit different friends that I made throughout my career. But I wouldn’t change one thing about my career. I excelled well and I really enjoyed it.
Ak: Okay well thank for your time and that’s all.