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Focus on Service

Four Years at Sea

Sailor completes five back-to-back sea tours

"Sailors belong at sea." We as Sailors have heard that phrase many times throughout our career. However the long hours, deployments, work-ups and maintenance of sea duty can take a toll on even the saltiest Sailor.

While most Sailors look forward to shore duty after three or five years on a United States ship, one had to wait - 12 years to be exact.

Five ships, eight deployments and countless evolutions later, Chief Boatswain's Mate Dennis Mitchell had served 12 years on sea duty, with a total of four of those years at sea.

Mitchell is finally experiencing the other side. He now has a well-earned break to relax, spend extended time with family and take college courses in the slower-paced and regular working hours at San Diego Port Operations.

"At first [the adjustment] was hard for me because I'm used to the higher up-tempo," said Mitchell, a native of Seaside, California.

I knew coming in that shore duty was a lot different than being out at sea. The mentality is a lot different...I'm still adjusting." -BMC Dennis Mitchell

Although he is now on shore duty, getting there was almost impossible. As a first class petty officer with over a decade of sea duty and up for PCS orders, his detailer informed him that all shore duties were overseas.

"You don't have anything stateside?" Mitchell remembers telling his detailer. "I'll take anything stateside, I don't care what state it's in. It can be in Alaska for all I care."
Three photo collage of BMC Mitchell during his 12 years on sea duty.

"Then I made chief and I started Phase Two of CPO 365," Mitchell said. "The third day into it, I checked email and my detailer was like congratulations you got orders to San Diego Port Operations."

Adjusting to the many changes the Navy offers is not new to Mitchell. He started his career as an operations specialist onboard the USS Peleliu (LHA 5) in 2003. Four years later, he was forced to convert to the boatswain's mate rating.

"I saw how the first and second class boatswain's mates would interact with everyone and was really in charge," recalls Mitchell. "I admired that. However, a lot of the guys still viewed me as an OS."

"I never really got the opportunity to do boatswain's mate stuff, but during the evolutions I would always sit there and watch," Mitchell remembers. "Over time I started knowing everyone's job and the procedures."

With learning his new rate and his time onboard Peleliu coming to an end, Mitchell had his sights on shore duty in California. However, 45 days prior to transferring, his plans would change.

"I had not received any hard copy orders," said Mitchell. "So I went to the Navy counselors and told them I was supposed to go to shore duty in Coronado. They told me the Navy had cancelled my billet."

His detailer gave him two options: overseas shore duty or a ship in San Diego. Thinking of the stress that such a drastic move in that little time would put on his family, he decided to stay in San Diego and take orders to USS New Orleans (LPD 18). A decision he does not regret.

"The best thing that happened was me leaving the Peleliu and checking into the New Orleans," said Mitchell. "They had no idea about my background, so they never got to hold it against me. All they saw were my evaluations and test scores. So when I got to New Orleans I learned everything. I ended up being Sailor of the Year and making first class."

The New Orleans was doing its time in the yards and unbeknownst to Mitchell it would be time for another "adjustment".

They needed a second class boatswain's mate on the Rueben James, a ship out in Hawaii. I didn't know about it, but I got put in for it by my chain of command. They said 'the chances of you getting picked up are really small' and the next day they said 'by the way, you're going to fly out to Hawaii and jump on the Rueben James. Tomorrow.'"
-BMC Dennis Mitchell

Looking back on the situation, he laughs.

When his time at New Orleans was up, Mitchell was trying to extend on the ship. However, due to overmanning, he was given orders to the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76).
Three photo collage of BMC Mitchell during his 12 years on sea duty.

"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

**Editor's Note**

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.