Today’s veteran: Jerre Brumbelow, 73
Residence: St. Marys
Service: Navy, 6 years, four months
Duties: Nuclear electrician
Rank: Petty officer 1st class
Recognitions: National Defense Service Medal; Good Conduct Medal
Duty stations: Orlando; Great Lakes Naval Station; Jacksonville, Fla.; Maryland; New York
His story: Jerre Brumbelow was a senior in college when his draft lottery number made it a certainty he’d be drafted after graduation.
He decided to put his biology degree on hold after he met with a Navy recruiter who talked him into enlisting for six years, with the first two guaranteed to be shore duty because of the intense training involved to be a nuclear electrician.
The academic rigors cause a high dropout rate in the program, where those sailors are reassigned to other duties. The ones who passed the academic portion of training were sent to Sarasota Springs, N.Y., where they had hands-on training on nuclear reactor prototypes.
After learning the basics, the trainees were tested by some intentionally set malfunctions they had to quickly troubleshoot.
One of the challenges of the prototype school was the rotating duty shifts that changed once a month. Brumbelow said the Navy would give trainees several days between shift changes, and there was still lots of studying when he wasn’t on the job.
Brumbelow excelled in the training, graduating at the top of his class. Rather than being assigned to a ship, he was given a job as an instructor working side-by-side with the people who were his teachers during his training.
Brumbelow said more than three years of college helped him excel in his Navy training. He said it was an easy transition to be a teacher, though it was initially uncomfortable giving orders to trainees, many of them officers who outranked him.
He was promoted to petty officer 1st class a short time after he was assigned as an instructor, and was sent to different locations to train sailors.
After more than three years as an instructor, Brumbelow was assigned to the commissioning crew of the USS Eisenhower, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
The ship was still under construction when he arrived at the shipyard.
“When I got to the Eisenhower, there were only 15 people there,” he said. “The ship was built, but they were still putting systems in.”
Brumbelow’s job was to test ship systems after they were installed by a contractor.
He said it was nerve-wracking the first time the ship’s nuclear reactors were started for the first time.
“Everyone was on pins and
needles,” he said.
Brumbelow’s tour of duty ended before the Eisenhower went to sea for its first full patrol, though he did participate in sea trials. His one regret is never going to sea for a full tour of duty.
Brumbelow worked in the nuclear field after he left the Navy until he realized he wanted to finish his last semester of college and earn his biology degree.
After he graduated, Brumbelow applied for a job with the National Park Service, where he had a long career, with his last tour of duty at Cumberland Island National Seashore.
Brumbelow said he has no regrets enlisting in the Navy, which helped him grow as a person.
“The best thing I did was join the Navy,” he said. “After a year in the military, you’re a different person. It builds character.”