Portsmouth, VA (NNS) -- “If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
This quote delivered by Tom Hanks’ character Jimmy Dugan in the film A League of Their Own is a powerful statement that notes that work done on the baseball field is taxing and difficult. Only those who have worked hard and have strived for excellence can stand on the green and play ball like a pro.
For USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) Docking Planned Incremental Availability (DPIA) Piermaster Mark Ragsdale, this quote is more than a passing line about sports. It’s about the life at Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) and those who take on the challenges each day to serve the fleet.
“Each day at America’s Shipyard we face new challenges that we must overcome,” said Ragsdale. “Each of us has a part to play and we have to work together. For some, our jobs may seem too hard to ever complete. It is hard work but that’s exactly why I love it here. It takes those committed to the mission and the drive to excel to work here. There is so much opportunity for folks to explore the trades and careers available. You just have to invest the time into your work and seek out the paths that are right for you.”
Growing up in a military family, Ragsdale had been well-versed in the travel that comes with the job. His father had been stationed throughout the United States, including Portsmouth, Virginia where Ragsdale and his friends would come to Callaghan Center.
“It’s amazing how close I had always been to the shipyard but I never thought to look to the left as a child and see this expansive workplace,” said Ragsdale. “I was never really sure of what I was going to do out of school. When I had graduated from high school, my father got orders to California and we moved as a family. I wasn’t going to go to college so instead I looked at joining the military like my father. However, I had a heart murmur since I was two weeks old and was disqualified. It was unfortunate and I wondered what my future would be.”
His father got orders to return to the Hampton Roads area in the summer of 1996, Ragsdale moving back to his familiar stomping grounds where he pursued various part-time jobs to gain experience. However, he soon found opportunity for a possible career serving the country his father had served for many years.
“Friends of the family had talked about the apprenticeship returning to NNSY,” he said. “I went to an information meeting that fall at Tidewater Community College and found that I could learn a trade. With encouragement from friends and family, I applied and started my first day at the shipyard Feb. 24, 1997. It was the beginning of my now 22-year career.”
Ragsdale began as an electronic maintenance apprentice, learning on the job and in his classes what it takes to work for America’s Shipyard. He finished his apprenticeship in 2001 and continued in the shops until an opportunity involving process improvement (Code 100PI) at the shop level presented itself.
“I had a mentor, my supervisor Harry Smith, who shared the opportunity to do a time study to better improve the shipyard waterfront,” said Ragsdale. “I began my path in Code 100PI, getting certified as a green belt and then a black belt. I even got to do a rotation at Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) where I learned more about the waterfront project metrics. These opportunities helped me see that NNSY was more than just our shipyard in Portsmouth. We have a footprint all around the United States and around the world. Kings Bay, Charleston, Philadelphia. We were working hard in so many places. And I wanted to do what I could to help.”
When Ragsdale returned to NNSY following his rotation, he wanted to invest more time with the waterfront. He joined with the carrier projects, taking part in the Bush and USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) projects, as well as the Moored Training Ships (MTS) program. He was especially proud to work with the Bush because it was also the ship his father had been an Executive Officer (XO).
“It’s been a very fulfilling career for me and I want to continue to improve myself and the shipyard each and every day,” said Ragsdale. “NNSY is filled with opportunities for its folks. You have to be up for bettering yourself and willing to work hard to get the job done. You have to volunteer yourself for training, be a team player, and go beyond the call of duty. The sky’s the limit and when people see that you’re up for anything, they’ll help you along the way.”
As Ragsdale continues at NNSY, he looks to possibly finding a career in professional training once he has completed his current availability. “Outside of work, my wife and I have provided mentorship to students and friends who are looking for advice on where to go next. Some of them have just finished school, some are looking to find a more fulfilling career. We provide advice and options for them. We’ve even seen some of them make it into the apprenticeship program here. It’s rewarding to be able to share your experiences with others and help them find the foothold they need to take the next step in their lives. I’ve had mentors throughout my career here and have learned so much from them. I want to be able to give back to my fellow teammates as well.”
For more news from Norfolk Naval Shipyard, visit www.navy.mil/local/nnsy/.