BMC Phil Toth U.S. Navy (Ret) (1975-1997)
BMC Phil Toth
U.S. Navy (Ret)
(Veterans – read more stories like the following when you join www.togetherweserved.com)
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
I had been in the Army and was told by a recruiter that to come back in I’d have to go through basic training again. This later turned out to be false info. There was no recruiter of any kind in my hometown since the Army guy had left. They did however, still have posters in the Post Office.
I went in the PO lobby and looked at the posters. The Air Force had a picture of a jet flying and the Navy had a destroyer out on the open ocean. I thought the Navy had a better poster. It’s as simple as that.
WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
I joined in October 1978 through the Other Service Veterans (OSVET) program. This required an indoctrination program at Great Lakes. I spent several weeks prior to the classes doing various working parties around the base. My favorites were working stores at the commissary and barracks cleaning for MSC Asio. After the OSVET training I went through Seaman Apprenticeship Training.
I went to my first ship in San Diego. I spent two years aboard USS Jouett (CG-29) in 1st Division, Operations Dept. I painted sides, worked on our motor whaleboat, was on the chain stopper for anchor detail, after refueling station and midships cargo for UnRep, chock and chain for helo ops and worked the paint locker for about 6 months until the headaches wouldn’t go away (no kidding). I stood bridge watches in rotation for helm, lee helm, lookouts and CIC phone talker. My GQ was first loader on Mount 32, 3″ 50 gun.
My next ship was a replenishment oiler, USS Kalamazoo (AOR-6). I learned to run large deck winches, rig all forms gear associated with deck equipment. run cargo booms, drive boats, operate forklifts and manage several work crews at the same time. I got my first taste of the paper side of the Navy by having to set up and maintain our 3-M, write evaluations for the deck seamen and run a duty section. I stood watch on the Quarterdeck, Shore Patrol and ran liberty boats.
I then went to the Navy Cargo Handling & Port Group (NAVCHAPGRU) at Cheatham Annex, Williamsburg, VA. It was sea duty for rotation. We deployed to load and offload civilian ships that contracted to the Navy (USNS, MarAd, MPS). We worked with heavy lift cranes, standard merchant fleet securing and handling gear. I was in on the early days of the Maritime Prepositioning Ships (MPS) program. We did the initial load outs at Cheatham, Jacksonville, Fl. and Lynnhaven anchorage. We also made an annual trip to McMurdo Station, Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze.
I transferred to the Naval Amphibious School (NavPhibScol) in Little Creek, VA. I taught a basic Deck Seamanship, Cargo Handling & Rigging and part of an Officer Amphibious Operations course. I was Course Supervisor for our two courses and qualified as Master Training Specialist. I was also initiated as a Chief Petty Officer.
I stayed at Little Creek and qualified as Craftmaster on a Landing Craft Utility (LCU). It was large enough to carry three M1 tanks or 400 combat loaded troops. I had a 10 man crew and other than making fresh water, we were a self-contained asset in an Amphibious Ready Group (ARG).
My “twilight” tour was at Naval Station Norfolk in the Port Operations Department. I drove a YTB tugboat and spent as much time on the water as a sea billet. It was hectic, demanding and exhausting. We pushed a lot of steel around the harbor and there was always more to do.
Then I transferred to Fleet Reserve and eventually retired.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
No, there were a couple of times where I thought it may turn out that way.
My first ship, USS Jouett (CG-29), was on West Pac 1979 with the USS kitty Hawk (CV-63). We were within days of completion and preparing to return to San Diego. But a few weeks before our Embassy in Tehran had been seized and our personnel were being held as prisoners. The Kitty Hawk and us were the only two ships available for immediate tasking and transited to the Arabian Sea for contingency ops.
We were later joined by other escort ships from 7th Fleet. Our reliefs would be the Nimitz battle group from Norfolk and Midway from Yokosuka. Nimitz was too large for the Suez and had to go around Cape of Good Hope to reach the area. We ended up being on station for 78 days before turning over duties. Not long after our departure, the Nimitz launched the ill-fated Desert One rescue attempt.
I was in the shipyard for Grenada and the Beirut bombing. I was on instructor duty for Desert Shield and Storm and reported to ACU-2 just as the boats were returning from that. I did have a one minute opportunity to start an international incident in Haiti.
It was our first contact with that country in 1993. We were in company of USS Harlan County along with LCU 1649 and 1662. While anchored off the coast of Port au Prince we saw patrol boats approaching very fast from an opposite shoreline. The CO of Harlan County gave radio orders to fire on the boats if we deemed it necessary. After determining that their .50 cal guns were not loaded, I knew that probably wasn’t going to happen. But a minute later via radio, I was told not to fire unless told by the ship.
We were set up by the US news media to look foolish during this trip. There were about 100-150 protesters on the beach, visible through our Big Eyes. When we got back to Gitmo I saw the news stories on TV and they filmed, and reported it as though there were thousands.
The closest I got to an actual combat operation other than Haiti was support for the recovery of the hijacked TWA Flight 847, in the eastern Mediterranean. USS Kalamazoo and USS South Carolina were the only two assets in that area when it was first reported. We were about to make a run to the beach with our boats to recover personnel from a rescue effort that was called off.
WHICH, OF THE VESSELS OR DUTY STATIONS YOU WERE ASSIGNED TO, DO YOU HAVE THE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY?
Two easily stand out from the others. USS Kalamazoo (AOR-6) and Landing Craft Utility (LCU) 1653.
I worked for some great Bos’n Mates on the KZoo. There was always something yet to learn and everything that I became as a Bos’n Mate, Petty Officer and eventually Chief I owe to the people that trained me on that ship. Our schedule was always on the go. It seemed like a h*ll hole at times, but I learned that when the fecal matter encounters the rotary wind device, the best thing to do is duck and keep on moving.
The LCU was the realization of one of my earliest goals as a young deck seaman. I wanted to become a Craftmaster. Learning to drive the boat was what I thought would be the hardest part. But this was the first command where I had people from different rates working for me. I was a new CPO and I had to learn their jobs enough to be able to evaluate them. In many ways it was like being on the KZoo in that we were always on the go and learning was what made it worth the challenge.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
The biggest thrill I got was flying from McMurdo Station, Antarctica to the South Pole and back. I got to spend about an hour down there on a logistic flight. The XO of VXE-6 was our pilot and he gave us a great tour.
If I answered what duty station was the most memorable, it was my tour aboard USS Kalamazoo (AOR-6). I worked for many old time Bos’n Mates that took great pride in their work and in passing that along. I learned more about being a good BM and leader on that ship than in any other. If not for my time aboard the KZoo I doubt I’d have made the Navy a career.
OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
The one award I wanted to achieve was to become a Craftmaster. In my opinion it is the top of the line for a Bos’n Mate. There is no other job with as much responsibility in so many areas as having your own craft and crew. It’s as close as an enlisted man can get to being the Captain of a “ship.”
I qualified the first time on a Landing Craft Utility (LCU) at Assault Craft Unit Two, in Little Creek, Virginia. With the exception of making fresh water, we were a self contained asset that deployed with an Amphibious Ready Group. We had our own messing, berthing, supply, armory, magazine, paint locker, two main engine rooms with two SSDGs, and an auxiliary anchor engine. We could carry 400 combat loaded troops, 3 M1A1 tanks and just about any configuration of other vehicles imaginable.
The 2nd time I qualified was on a Harbor Tugboat (YTB) at Port Operations, Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia. I was there for my last two years of active duty and spent more time on the water than some sea duty billets. I rarely had the same crew for any length of time, due to needs of the command. We kept the busiest Naval Station in the world running on time.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
Without hesitation it was BMC Joe Lang, my LCPO on USS Kalamazoo (AOR-6). I worked for him for 3 and a half years.
We got off to a very rocky start when I was totally screwing up the boat boom on our first port visit. I’d never done it before and the gear we had was not what was supposed to be there, and it showed. He came around to chew me out by asking, “Have you ever done this before?” I hollered back, “He** no, Chief! Does it look like it?” Luckily for me he thought the situation was hilarious. He told me to calm down and he showed me where I was messing up.
We made 3 major deployments together and numerous short ones. We went through Reftra at Gitmo twice and an extended shipyard overhaul. Neither of us had ever set up a 3-M schedule from scratch before. Before we left the yards we had gone through the manual and done it right the first time around. What a royal pain that was, but it had to be done.
He gave me more responsibility than I thought I could handle all the time and expected me to step up to the next level. The biggest lesson I learned from him was dealing with people. Here are several of his lessons:
– Never change personnel around because they don’t get along. If you do it once you’ll be doing it all the time.
– Never screw up and not tell him. Woe unto him that causes Chief to get an azz chewing by surprise.
– Never assign work and say “do it because Chief, or LT says so.” Tell them, “Do it because I said so.”
– Never send someone to Mast unless it’s the last resort. Every time you send a case to the CO, it says to him that you can’t handle your people. There IS justice other than the UCMJ that is not illegal.
– Never turn down a school that’s offered, even if it’s as boring as COSAL Maintenance. If you turn down a school then you might not get the offer for one you want.
– Lastly, never say that I can’t do something. If I can’t do it then Chief will have to get it done. But if he has to do it, I no longer have a job.
I worked for BMCM Lang several years later at the Naval Amphibious School in Little Creek. He had called me when I was up for orders to tell me a billet was going to be open there. If I hadn’t had that opportunity I’d have had to go recruiting, which I did not want. He told me if I did good there I’d make Chief. I did.
I was honored to pipe him over the side when he retired in 1996.
While looking for a picture I realized that in all our time together, this is the only picture of us and I have no idea who took it. This is on liberty in St Thomas, VI.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE THAT WAS FUNNY AT THE TIME AND STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
Most of the funny stuff I either can’t remember or can’t repeat. But there was this one time in Toulon, France.
We were entering port ahead of USS Shreveport (LPD-12), the “mother” ship for my LCU. It was early morning and we were going in with minimal instructions. I contacted local port operations and got permission to enter the Naval Base area. The ship was directing me with their radar and charts.
After asking several times which pier we were to make, I was given a final directive. It appeared to me to be a small boat basin, which was where we most usually moored overseas. As I was entering the break water wall I realized that I had just driven the boat into their submarine basin and morning Colors was sounding.
BM2 J.E. Dupee, my Deck PO (and NTWS member) alertly brought all hands on deck to attention. I brought the boat to All Stop and we observed Colors while the French national anthem played. I doubt that any of the French were looking at their flag because they appeared to be staring at us.
As soon as Carry On was sounded, I gave the command for All Ahead at idle speed and exited the Sub Basin. Once clear and into the channel again I could see our advance party several piers down. I took the boat to that area until the ship was moored.
This picture was taken right after leaving the Sub Basin, from one of the Phib Seabee boats that were with us on Shreveport.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER THE SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT JOB?
I haven’t followed any profession. I started out driving a flatbed tractor trailer. It didn’t take me long to realize I was paying for a house that I was only living in 4 days a month.
I “fell into” my next job which lasted for almost 10 years. I sub contracted to a company that serviced distressed mortgage properties. I secured the vacant properties and maintained them until they had a clear title and were assumed by a bank or realty company. I also represented the lender when a mortgagee was evicted.
As the housing crisis approached I saw changes in the way my job was happening. I stopped securing the properties and did mostly visual inspections and assessments for future securing.
Currently I do odd jobs when I’m not being Grandpa to the cutest Granddaughter on earth.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
I don’t currently belong to any military associations, with the exception of Navy Together We Served.
HOW HAS MILITARY SERVICE INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?
When I was on active duty the Navy was my life. I worked hard and played hard. I made some bad decisions along the way, but rather than be cast out, the Navy gave me a way to redeem myself and contribute further. I’d like to think that I gave back as much help as I got along the way.
I am much more reflective and patient than when I was younger. However, sometimes when the situation warrants it, the inner Chief Toth comes out.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THOSE THAT ARE STILL SERVING?
I don’t have a lot for them because they are going to take the Navy to places we never thought about. Ship design and mission configurations are going to be so different that it will seem like the switch from wooden hulls to steel. But if I had to say one thing to the Navy of the future it would be the dying words of Captain James Lawrence, which became the battle cry of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry:
“Don’t Give Up The Ship!”
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU MAINTAIN A BOND WITH YOUR SERVICE AND THOSE YOU SERVED WITH?
I was completely cut off from the Navy for 10 years after I retired. The first months I was a member of NTWS were like being a kid in grade school again. I ran into a few folks from the old days, but mainly met new people that had been nearby during all the stages of my career. Even though we’d never been stationed together, we had the same memories of the Navy of that era.
I was honored to attend the retirement of one of our members. While there I was presented with a shadow box, something I never had as I left the Navy without a retirement ceremony. One of my fellow Chiefs, CTC Robyn Strayer, had read my comment about that in a post and organized a stealth committee to get me a shadow box and present it at the retirement party for CSC(SS) Mike Slattery. The people in attendance can testify that it was the one time in my life that I was speechless.
What I also value about the TWS websites is the archive of living history that it will become for future generations. I have another profile on the Army TWS and a remembrance page for my late father on the AF TWS. I have been to other military related websites but none as rewarding as NTWS.