"I kind of did it to myself the second time," admits Mitchell. "I guess I could've gone to shore duty, but I wanted to stay in the area. When I transferred to the Reagan, it was a little different. On carriers there is not as much for [boatswain's mates] to do because flight operations takes precedence over everything. But, I had 75 undesignated seamen in my division. There was so many Sailors, that it helped me learn how to manage a lot of things that were going on."
Two years into his tour onboard the Reagan and in the middle of a three-carrier hull swap, Mitchell found himself on the USS George Washington (CVN 73), not for too long but on his way to shore duty Mitchell estimates he has spent a total of four years out to sea, not to include work ups. The hardest part of it all was the toll it took on his family. At the same time, it was his family that kept "Boats" pushing forward.
"Boatswain's mates are supposed to be tough guys, but my son broke me down," Mitchell explains. "So, I'm at the airport, I kissed my family goodbye, I'm taking off my shoes and going through the metal detectors. My son just takes off running."
"[He] runs through the metal detectors, jumps on me and says 'please don't leave me,'" Mitchell said. "I'm holding him...I started to, what I call an 'engineering causality', crying. That hurt because I knew for a young kid to say that, I knew I was leaving too much. It was really hard on my family."
Although leaving his family was a burden, Mitchell says the time he spent out to sea gave him the opportunity to learn the technical side of his job on different platforms and get to where he is today.
They [my family] support me and it's been paying off for the most part. I made third, second, and first class and then I made chief. My family saw it was progress."-BMC Dennis Mitchell
Now that he is on shore duty, he is able to spend more time with his family, in particular, with his youngest son, Dennis Jr.
"I am able to plan out vacations and spend time with extended family members on holidays now, which was hard to do at sea dealing with work ups, deployments, inspections, and underways," said Mitchell.
Mitchell offers junior Sailors advice on how to get through a tough time at sea.
"Find a hobby," said Mitchell. "Yes, it is great to do your job, but you have to have something else. Whether it is watching television shows, playing cards, or video games, I would suggest to do that and not just immerse yourself with work. Also meet people, talk to people. You will find someone with similar interests and it will help keep your mind away from home.
Although twelve years of sea duty would make any Sailor very salty, Mitchell wouldn't have it any other way.
"Looking back at it now, I wouldn't have gone a different route because the experiences of meeting different Sailors," said Mitchell.
I wouldn't trade that for anything. I truly enjoyed my time at sea. I was able to gain a lot of technical expertise and personnel management. A wise man, BMCM Morales, once told me 'If you want to make first class, stay at sea. If you want to put on khakis, stay at sea and sustain superior performance!'" - BMC Dennis Mitchell
Chief Mitchell's career path is not the norm, as most Sailors complete five years of sea duty before going to shore duty. The career choices he made were in the best interests of not only himself, but his family.
To see the latest on the Navy's sea-shore rotation check out NAVADMIN 190/16 and read the following update from the Chief of Naval Personnel. www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=96381