TM2 PO2 Terrence Rioux US Navy (1970-1983)
TM2 PO2 Terrence Rioux
(Veterans – record your own Military Service Story at www.togetherweserved.com at no charge)
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
My college deferment ended when I graduated with a BS in Marine Biology in 1970. I received my notice to report for my physical examination in the spring. The draft was still in effect, although by this time it had been set up as a number-weighted system. The lower number you were assigned, the more likely of being called up for military service. My number, it turned out, was several digits higher than were called that year.
The Vietnam war was becoming very unpopular, and many of my peers did what they could to avoid service. My family, however, had a history of serving in the military.
My Mother’s Father was a soldier in WWI and suffered from mustard gas exposure (that’s him in the accompanying photograph). My Father and several of my Uncles served in WWII. Unfortunately, none of that generation were open about their experiences, although I did find a chest in the attic containing my father’s ribbons and things he brought home, such as German military patches.
My Father was a commercial fisherman, so I was drawn to one of the maritime services. I graduated with a major in marine biology. One of my high school buddies had already enlisted in the Navy and another in the Coast Guard. I decided to enlist in the Navy, planning to serve one 4-year hitch and get out.
BRIEFLY, WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
I have to say that my service career path was unusual, to say the least! I never worked in my assigned rate. My first choice of rate in Boot Camp was Ocean Systems Technician (OT) and second was Sonar Technician (ST), but I was somehow assigned the Torpeodoman’s Mate school. I was able to volunteer to be a marine mammal handler in Vietnam while still in ‘A’ school. I also was able to get into Dive School, and I eventually qualified as a diver first class, but unfortunately diving is a specialty, not a rate. I made E5 as soon as I qualified, but I became trapped as a TM. Because the TM rate was a ‘critical’ rate, I was unsuccessful in being able to transfer to another one. To be honest, I never intended to make a career in the Navy, although I ended up serving 4 years 8 months on active duty (extended for Diver First Class School) and another 6 years as a Reservist.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
I did not participate in combat operations. I volunteered to serve with an operation in Cam Ranh Bay, RVN. As a member of the Military Detachment of the Naval Undersea Research & Development Center out of Kaneohe, Hawaii, I became a Dolphin Trainer in the Marine Mammal Program. The unit tested a Swimmer Defense System using dolphins to defend the supply piers at Cam Ranh Bay. Although the area was mostly pacified, the pier where ammunition ships offloaded was certainly a tempting target for swimmers to deploy limpet mines to a ship’s hull. The enemy never challenged the marine mammal system, however, during the year that it was deployed.
WHICH, OF THE VESSELS OR DUTY STATIONS YOU WERE ASSIGNED TO, DO YOU HAVE THE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY?
My time attached to the Naval Undersea Center was fulfilling and adventurous, and I would have stayed there forever if I could. Working with dolphins as a member of a small team in the field was a truly awe-inspiring experience which I will never forget.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
There are a lot of competing memories, so its hard to pick one out. One aspect of military service is that you acquire a lifetime of ‘sea stories’ from all of your adventures. One visual memory that stands out for me came from a dive in the old Mark V helmet while I served aboard the USS Coucal. Once a quarter, the ship steamed from it’s home port at Pearl Harbor to the island of MAUI to practice laying a 4-point moor and conduct diving and submarine rescue bell training operations. A WWII submarine, the USS Bluegill, had been sunk off Lahaina for our practice. I can still vividly remember standing on the deck of the sub at 130 feet of depth facing my buddy in full hard hat dress in crystal blue water, and turning to view a school of eagle rays slowly ‘fly’ by.
WERE ANY OF THE MEDALS OR AWARDS YOU RECEIVED FOR VALOR? IF YES, COULD YOU DESCRIBE HOW THIS WAS EARNED?
No, I never had to face a situation in which an act of valor would have been required. The swimmer defense system was never challenged by the enemy while we were in Cam Ranh Bay, and when I served aboard the Coucal, no stricken submarines needed to be rescued. It is interesting to note that the very few Medals of Honor awarded during peacetime were earned by Navy divers involved in submarine rescue. I hope that I would have been able to do my duty with honor if it were my fate to be tested.
OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
The Navy Achievement medal reminds me of the great times I had while attached to the Naval Undersea Center training porpoises.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
I would have to say it was the CO of the Torpeodomans Mate ‘A’ school in Orlando, Florida in 1971. I don’t remember his name, and I couldn’t find it in my copy of my service records.
It’s funny how small events can lead to a life-changing path.
As I’ve stated earlier, I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic when I got orders to the TM school. I don’t have anything against the rate, but I simply didn’t have any interest in it. The only silver lining was that the school was in sunny Florida, and I was definitely ready to leave the frozen wasteland of Great Lakes after spending a winter going through boot camp and Basic Electricity & Electronics School.
I admit that I didn’t push myself too hard, but I stayed out of trouble and passed all the written and practical tests. Apparently, too many of my classmates did worse. One day we were all summoned to an All-Hands meeting. The CO of the school was there, as well as a civilian mucky-muck from DC. They told us that the fail rate at the school was unacceptably high and wanted to know from the students why this was so. We could speak freely, they said. Total silence. Then, a hand from the back of the room was raised, and the speaker — I’m not admitting anything! — said, “Well, maybe it’s because some of us got stuck with this school and don’t want to be here.” Total silence. All eyes were on the miscreant, including the laser eyes of the CO. Uh-oh, the big mouth did it again!
A week later, a messenger interrupted class and told the instructor that I was to report to the CO’s office. “Oh man, you’re in trouble now,” everyone said almost as one. I was expecting to get thrown out of the school and sent to the fleet as an I.B.M (“instant boatswain’s mate”).
The CO was looking at my records and said, “I see you studied marine biology in college.”
“Well, there is a unit requesting volunteers to train marine mammals. Of course, it is in a certain hot country that has hostile action. Are you interested?”
“Of course, you will need to satisfactorily complete this course…”
So, I got three sets of orders. One, to a 4-week Scuba Class at the 2nd Class Dive School at San Diego. From there, a 10-day Vietnamese Orientation school at Coronado, CA. Then, a flight to Oahu to the Naval Undersea Center for several weeks of Marine Mammal Training and then to Cam Rahh Bay as a member of Project Short Time.
My military diving experience and contacts eventually resulted in my successful career at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution as Diving Safety Officer. I met my wife while I was going through NAUI scuba instructor training course the summer I began work at WHOI. So, you could say that my entire life changed because of this single incident.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE THAT WAS FUNNY AT THE TIME AND STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
Oh, my, there were so many! How to choose…
The late, great Skin Diver Magazine used to feature a column called “I Learned About Diving From That,” in which people would relate tales of survival of and lessons learned from botched dives. This next story could have been one of those, coming under the heading of “The Seven Ps” (Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance).
One day aboard the Coucal (ASR-8), several of us were selected to perform a pier inspection dive at Pearl Harbor using scuba equipment. Before we left the ship, we were told to hurry it up. It must have been a big deal, because there were quite a few officers in tropical white uniforms milling about the dive site, some with ‘scrambled eggs’ on their hats. Trying to look professional, we received our dive briefing, broke into teams, and entered the water as expeditiously as possible from the pier deck using the ‘giant stride’ technique.
SPLASH! The next thing I know, I’m standing on the bottom in ankle-deep mud, with black silt billowing up around my head. Before total blackness enveloped me, I could see the silt trail of my buddies trailing off into the gloom. Not only had I over-weighted myself, I also had jumped in without my fins! I groped around until I found a piling, shimmied myself up to the surface, and looked around, hoping that I could surreptitiously locate my fins and sleaze back down without anyone noticing. Murphy was still with me, as the only person looking back at me was a frowning senior officer.
“Umm, Sir, would you please hand me my fins?”
Wordlessly, he picked them up and handed them to me. As soon as I grasped them, I let go of the piling and shot back down to the bottom. After pulling them on, I swam out of the silt cloud and soon rejoined my buddies, who hadn’t even noticed that I was missing. They never knew, because I wasn’t going to endure their merciless ribbing if they found out about my rookie mistakes. I never did figure out who the officer was, either.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER THE SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT JOB?
When I got my discharge from Active service in 1975, the economy was in one of its low ebbs. I was a Lifeguard at a state beach for a few summers, and then I worked as a Marine Specimen Collector and Field Guide for a small environmental/educational company. I never intended to return to the life of inspections, spit-shined shoes and Navy chow, but I after being out for a year, I happened to talk to a fellow who said that there was a new Reserve Diving Detachment that was forming and asked if I was interested. Since I could use a little extra money, I signed up, re-certified my diving qualifications, and was appointed as Unit Dive Supervisor. A few years later, one of my buddies told me that there was an opening for Diving Safety Officer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
I applied, got the job, and I retired in 2010 after spending 30 years running the Institution’s Dive Program, training scientist divers, and participating in research projects.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
Although my Father, a veteran of WWII, was a member of the VFW and American Legion, I never joined any of the veteran or military associations. At the time, these organizations were dominated by veterans of my parents’ generation, and Vietnam-era vets were looked down upon. Maybe I felt a little ashamed that I had been spared from experiencing combat, realizing all that they went through. Maybe that I just didn’t see any benefit in joining any of them. Maybe I just wanted to move on with my life, and let the past go. Well, whatever the reason, it just didn’t have any appeal to me.
HOW HAS MILITARY SERVICE INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?
Military service forces you to ‘grow up.’ You learn that every job in a team is important, and that people depend upon you doing your job, and it is vital to approach every assigned task with this in mind. People can be hurt or worse if you are indifferent or incompetent. This insight has proven to be invaluable to my career as Diving Safety Officer.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THOSE THAT ARE STILL SERVING?
Even if you don’t intend to make the military a career, there are many opportunities to learn and to participate which could prove to be valuable in your future. Don’t be afraid to volunteer.
On the other hand, you need to be aware that the Navy is a vast bureaucratic organization that isn’t tasked specifically with satisfying your interests. Remember: “The needs of the Navy come first” …. always has, always will. So, be vigilant and have a plan.
One gift your younger self can give to your older self is to document your journey by taking photographs. It is so easy nowadays. Don’t forget to write down the who, what, when, and where for each picture, because I guarantee that in 30 years you won’t remember it all.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU MAINTAIN A BOND WITH YOUR SERVICE AND THOSE YOU SERVED WITH?
I’m a shutterbug and a packrat. I brought my waterproof Nikonos II camera with me during my service years. It may be something of a shock to the younger generation, but there was a time when you actually had to pay for film and then pay again to have the film developed with no guarantee that any images actually were usable! I accumulated several thousand color slides. I also saved various bits of paper: documents, certificates, course handouts, correspondence, etc. It may be a further shock to the younger folks that everything was on paper instead of on electronic media. A few years ago, I began the herculean task of scanning my lifetime collection of stuff, which I have finally nearly completed.
So far, I’ve been concentrating on scanning my collection of photos and ‘stuff’ and building my profile on this site. I’ve been spending quite a bit of time to write down what I remember about each school or duty station. I’ve noticed that the vast majority of profiles on the TWS site don’t have detailed narratives written down. That’s a shame, people, because everyone has a story to tell!
I didn’t make a career of the naval service, participate in combat operations, or do anything particularly important. I admit that I wasn’t always a ‘model sailor.’ However, I did have some interesting experiences, traveled to exotic places and I lived through a piece of history that now is vanished. I’m doing this mostly for myself, since this project allows me to relive old memories of my long-lost youth before my geezer brain totally turns to mush. However, if anyone stumbles across my reflections on this site , I hope you get some enjoyment out of reading them and hopefully inspire you to write your stories, too.