LCDR E. L. “Jack” Spratt US Navy (Ret) (1969-1999)
Read the service reflections of US Navy Sailor:
LCDR E. L. “Jack” Spratt
US Navy (Ret)
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WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
I graduated from high school in 1967 and decided to give college a try, because that was my only way to keep a draft deferment. Well, college and I didn’t see eye to eye and in the middle of my third semester I had dropped out.
Coming from a small town, the lady who ran the draft board turned out to be my Aunt. I was home for Thanksgiving and she bumped into me in the post office. She indicated that since I was no longer in school, I probably shouldn’t make any plans after Christmas.
I wasn’t even sure where Vietnam was, but I knew I didn’t want to go there, so the Monday after Thanksgiving 1968, I went to see the Navy recruiter and entered boot camp on January 7, 1969.
WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
My career was very unconventional. I was a Radarman (later Operations Specialist) as an enlisted man, but I did my shore duty at an Air Traffic Control facility where I became a control tower operator and radar approach controller.
I made Chief in 1981 and the following year was selected for the Limited Duty Officer program and commissioned as a Surface Operations Ensign. I did the standard shipboard tour, followed by a shore tour. After that, I got out of my element a bit and ended up spending almost eight years in the Naval Special Warfare’s small boat community.
I completed my twilight tour in San Diego at the newly commissioned Fleet Information Warfare Center.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
I served a year in Vietnam as a crewman on a PCF, more commonly referred to as a Swift Boat.
Twenty years later, I served in Desert Storm operations with the Naval Special Warfare Boat Units.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
There are so many … but I think watching one of my boat crewmen during Desert Storm overcome his fear of nighttime patrols in mined waters is probably the top.
This young man was always the last guy on the boat and I could sense his reluctance. So one afternoon before we were to patrol up the Kuwaiti coast, I asked him to take a “walk and talk”.
He explained that he was afraid every time we took the boat out at night. He was with us when we had spotted a mine and in his words, “it scared me. I have a new baby at home and I’m scared to death that I’m never gonna see him or my wife again.”
I told him I understood and that I would take him off the boat and put him in the maintenance detachment. I also told him that no one would know of the conversation we just had. It was his answer that impacted me.
He said, “Sir, I’d like that, but no thanks. I’m part of this crew. We have trained together and we know each other well. If it’s all the same, I’d like to stay with them. Yeah, I’m scared, but I won’t let you down. I’ll never be late for an o, and I’ll do what I need to do. So, thanks, but I’ll stay with the boat.”
As we walked back to the boat house, just before we got within earshot of the others, he stopped and said, “Sir … thanks for listening and thanks for understanding.”
WERE ANY OF THE MEDALS OR AWARDS YOU RECEIVED FOR VALOR? IF YES, COULD YOU DESCRIBE HOW THIS WAS EARNED?
I received the Navy Achievement Medal with the combat V for my actions in Vietnam. According to the citation, I participated in 125 combat patrols and engaged the enemy on six occasions. Truthfully, although I remember being in a firefight or two, the details escape me. I am extremely thankful that no one on my boat was wounded or killed during my time in Nam.
I received the Navy Commendation Medal with V for my actions during Desert Storm. It is basically an end of tour award for my being Officer in Charge of the Special Boat Detachment of Naval Special Warfare Task Unit, Central. I was fortunate to be in charge of 46 of the bravest guys I ever had the privilege of working with.
OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
One of the most meaningful awards I received is the Navy Achievement Medal with the Combat V that I earned while in Vietnam. A close second is the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat V I received for Operation Desert Storm.
I’m also extremely proud of my Good Conduct medals, and my Surface Warfare Officer pin.
That said … there is one award I cherished then, and still do now, more than any other. The day I was commissioned, my daughter gave me a “friendship pin” she had made with her Brownie Scout troop. It was nothing more than a few beads strung on a safety pin, but it was hand-made by her, and it was beautiful. When she pinned it on my shirt, she said “This will keep you safe, Daddy.”
I kept that pin and wore it on the inside pocket of my jacket every day until I retired. I still have it in my jewelry box, and it is by far the most meaningful award I obtained while in the Navy.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
This one is easy. Radarman Chief Charles B. Sharp. He was my Chief on the USS Monticello, the first ship I rode after my tour in ‘Nam. He taught me more about leadership than any of the schools the Navy sent me to and the lessons I learned from him in our two years together have remained with me for my whole life.
Chief Sharp helped me get through the post-Vietnam “spookies”. He showed me how to be a leader and he taught me that the most important things a leader has going for him are the people who work for him. He also taught me the concept of “walk and talk”, as a way to get to know what’s going on in your division.
One night, we were walkin’ and talkin’ and he mentioned that my enlistment was ending in a few months. He asked what I was going to do when I got out. Since I really had no concrete plans, he listened to me babble for a few minutes and then asked me one question, “Do you like what you are doing now?”
Well, we were about 3/4 through a great Westpac cruise that had me visiting places like Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand and the Philippines. I was a Second Class by then, making more money than I had ever made in my life and was having a blast seeing the world. Of course I liked what I was doing and I told him so.
He just said, “well, you might want to think about re-enlisting. It ain’t a bad life, you know.” And he walked away. I had a bit of trouble sleeping that night and the next morning I initiated the walk and talk. He explained that not only would I get to keep doing something I enjoyed and was good at, but if I shipped over within the next four days, I would add a couple of thousand dollars to my re-enlistment bonus because we were still in the tax-free war zone.
That afternoon I put in my chit to ship for six years and two days later, I was raising my hand. And Chief Sharp … well, before he would allow me to raise my hand or sign the paper he made me promise him something. He said, “Spratt, promise me this. If this ever quits being fun, you will quit doing it.”
Well, for 27 years after making that promise, the Navy was still fun and I kept doing it. Thanks to RDC Sharp who did more for me and my career than he will ever know.
One side note, shortly after I was commissioned, I was able to track Chief Sharp down. He lived in Hawaii and I was able to speak to him by phone and tell him how much of an impact he had on me and my life. I have heard since, but unable to verify, that he has died. If this is so, the world is a little worse off for his passing, but a great deal better off because he was here.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE THAT WAS FUNNY AT THE TIME AND STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
Wow. Over 30 years, there have been so many.
One of my favorites is the night my roommate went blind. I shared a stateroom with the Bos’n, and one afternoon in Australia, Tommy and I went out on a wine-tasting tour. Well, it seems Tommy tasted about three bottles over his limit and I literally carried him back to the ship. I got him undressed and in his bunk, then I went back out to hit the town.
I got back about midnight. The ship had lost shore power and she was totally dark. Not a problem, I knew my way around, so I headed to the stateroom. It was pitch black inside the room, so I started getting undressed for bed.
Just as I was about to hit the rack, Tommy woke up and asked, “Jack, is that you?”
“Of course,” I answered. “Who else would it be?”
Tommy then said, in a bit of a panicked voice, “Jack, you can turn on the light if you want.”
Never one to pass up an opportunity, I replied, “Tommy, the lights ARE on.”
About ten seconds went by, then Tommy let out a blood curdling scream … “Jack … I’m BLIND. I’m F…kin’ Blind.”
I flipped on the light, laughing like crazy. Tommy was sitting up in his bunk, he had one hand holding his eyelids open and the other right in front of his nose. He said, “What the …” and then he started to laugh along with me. He told me later he really thought he may have gotten some bad wine and somehow drank himself blind.
I will also say that Tommy got even with me for that … but that’s a sea story for another time.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER THE SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT JOB?
I am a Juvenile Probation Officer in San Diego. I am part of a program that partners with the Police Department trying to offer diversion and intervention programs to minors early enough they don’t get caught up too far in the system. The goal is to get them back on track so they don’t become criminal adults.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
I’m a Lifetime Member of the VFW. When I came home from Desert Storm, my hometown VFW Post purchased a year membership for me (and all local DS Veterans). I thought that was a nice gesture and bought the life membership a year later. I’m not too active – my Post is 800 miles away. I do stop by the local Post now and then for a cold one, but that’s about it.
HOW HAS MILITARY SERVICE INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?
I think the biggest influence I carried over from the military is my work ethic. The military taught me to be on time, do my job to the best of my ability and to follow orders. I was also taught to be a leader as well as a follower, and this has served me well in my new career.
I also think the military has taught me to embrace life a little more than many who don’t have the military experience. I have come face to face with my mortality and have learned to value the important things (to me at least). I can love unconditionally, I can accept unconditional love and I try and always do the right thing.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THOSE THAT ARE STILL SERVING?
Enjoy every moment, take pictures, keep a log, take pictures, work hard, take pictures and don’t forget to take pictures. Of course, try and label them so you can remember who/what/where/when. In this digital photo computer age, this should be easy.
My only regret in my career is not taking enough pictures or keeping enough notes. Well, maybe not my only regret, there was that night in Freemantle, but ….. never mind! LOL
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU MAINTAIN A BOND WITH YOUR SERVICE AND THOSE YOU SERVED WITH?
I have touched base with a couple of warriors I knew from my Boat Guy days – and because of TWS I have formed a very good friendship with someone I didn’t know before. The site has also allowed me to keep abreast of the changes which have occurred in the Navy since I hauled out. I’m happy to say, it appears my Navy is in good hands.