SUFFOLK, Va. (NNS) -- The stage is set. Familiar faces in the audience take their seats. Conversations among the crowd come to a halt. The lights dim. Only the red carpet leading to the stage, lined with ceremonial bullets and side boys, remains lit. This is a moment 38 years in the making.
Capt. Vincent Janowiak, a small-town boy from Linwood, Mich., retired, June 1, after 38 years of naval service.
"This all feels so surreal," said Janowiak. "I've had such a tremendous career, and it's hard to believe that I'll be moving on to the next chapter in my life."
Janowiak enlisted in the Navy in 1980 as a fireman recruit in hopes to follow his passion for woodworking and to become a patternmaker. However, the Navy had different plans, and he became a hull technician. Though, his passion never left him, it just changed direction.
"We would make our own replacement parts for the ships. It's an incredible process," said Janowiak. "The patternmakers build the shapes needed for parts out of wood, and the molders would create a mold from that shape, and we would pour molten metal into the mold to create our parts. That's how we maintained our ships."
Though it was something he loved doing, Janowiak does not consider anything he's physically built his masterpiece.
"Looking back at my career, the things that I value most are the relationships that I've built," said Janowiak. "I didn't get to where I am today by myself. It was all due to my relationship with God and the support network of friends and family that I've built along the way. It's something that I think is important for any Sailor, no matter the rank. Don't let anything ever get in the way of your relationships with other people."
Building relationships is something that he not only learned himself, but he also imparted to those around him. Janowiak's former commanding officer aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), friend and guest speaker Rear Adm. Karl O. Thomas, took to the podium to reminisce about the times they served together.
"He was my [chief engineer] aboard Lincoln," said Thomas. "He taught me about fixing ships, about various systems, but more than that, he taught me about people and how to persevere, having the right attitude and dedicating yourself."
The retirement ceremony took a pause as Janowiak walked off the stage to gift his family with flowers and embrace and thank his wife Denise Janowiak for all of the support she's shown him throughout the years.
"I don't know anyone with more integrity and dedication than this man," said Denise. "I respect him so much, and not because he's my husband but for everything he's shown me and everyone around him."
Throughout Janowiak's 38-year journey, there have been personal and career achievements to go along with the relationships that he has built, but the one thing that has been along for the ride and imparted on those that have worked with him is the difference between two common household items.
"I was always working toward the next step," said Janowiak. "There was always a goal throughout my career. One of the proudest moments for me was putting on anchors. Making chief is a big deal. I think from that moment on, something really stuck with me, and that's the difference between a thermometer and a thermostat. You see, a thermometer will only tell you the temperature. That's all it can do. A thermostat, however, will tell you how cold or hot it is, and it can change the environment. Something so small can make such a drastic change. So, a person or action, no matter how small, can make big changes. Be the change. Be a thermostat."
Being the change and working hard have been major themes throughout the captain's career, and this has not been lost on others.
"The job that he's done and the leadership he's shown to our Navy and all junior Sailors is outstanding," said Thomas. "He's played a major role keeping our Navy the best in the world. I couldn't have asked for a more dedicated, even-tempered, caring and qualified leader during our time together. He's a fabulous man."
This dedication and leadership is about to take a new turn. After 38 years of service, maintaining ships, and leading and developing Sailors, the time has come for this captain to hang up his uniform.
"It's been an incredible journey with him," said Denise. "I'm so proud of him as a person and all of his accomplishments. After so many years of planning moves and the next duty station, it may take a while to get used to everything, but I'm excited for our next journey together."
Prayers have been made. Emotional speeches have been given under the spotlight. Friends have recalled the times spent working together. Stories have been told. The bell has been rung, announcing a captain going ashore for the last time, after nearly four decades of dedicated service. This was the captain's curtain call.
"It's time to move on," said Janowiak. "It's time to start another chapter."
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