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Nov 15, 2023 (0)
I want to thank you for having me as your guest speaker today. I want to tell you a little about myself. I am Nick Dannenbring, and I grew up in Menno, SD, and lived there until I joined the Navy in 1993. I have a wife, Kelli, and three sons, Carson, Lincoln, and Griffin. My wife is in the nursing program and will become an RN in May. Carson is a senior, Lincoln is in 6th grade, and Griffin is a 4th grader at St. Mary's.
I want to tell you about my experience and my time in the Navy and why I am so proud of serving my country in the Navy.
Before my last year of high school, I wasn't sure what I would do after graduation. One of my friends asked me to come to a meeting about the Delayed Entry Program that the Navy offered. It was a year-long program, and I liked the meetings more and more. It made me think about joining the Navy, so I joined in July 1993. I entered the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS), which determines your mental aptitude and physical and moral qualifications for enlistment to join the Navy officially. I would get my orders to go to boot camp in June 1994, and being 18, I did not need my parent's approval to do this. I was so proud of joining, but my Dad wasn't pleased because he was concerned. I think he wanted to be included in the decision-making process, but he said well, you are 18; now you have to live with the decision. I realized years later what he meant. My senior year was about done well in May of 1994. I knew I only had two weeks left until boot camp, and I was nervous for the next chapter in my life to begin.
In June 1994, I entered Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Illinois, about 45 miles north of Chicago. The night I arrived at Great Lakes boot camp became a real ordeal. They shaved my head, and for the next week, I would sleep for an hour and then be awakened by the Company Commander, who had a metal trash can to wake the recruits up. The boot camp taught us about discipline, cleanliness, being on time and respect. The time at Great Lakes was only two months, and then we moved on to the next step, which was training seamen for the basics of being on a ship, and this was a 3-week course.
When I finished my initial training, I got leave or vacation for about two weeks, and I got to go back home. I got my first orders after leave, and the next step on the journey was Naval Base Norfolk, VA. Norfolk is the biggest base on the east coast and the largest in the world. I flew to Virginia Beach/Norfolk Airport. I did not know my ship was not in port in Norfolk, so for three days, I waited at the Amphibious base in Little Creek. After the ship, the USS Ponce, was in port, the duty driver went to the Little Creek base and picked me up. My nerves were kicking in as I was a 19-year-old, seeing his ship and a bunch of ships and submarines. My ship was big to me as it was about 500 long but compared to an aircraft carrier that is three 100-yard football fields. The USS Ponce was my duty station for my active duty. I was a deckhand with a list of responsibilities in port and out at sea. I would stand a lot of watches or guarding while in port.
My first deployment was a six-month deployment to the Mediterranean with a task force group.
My nerves were kicking in the night before we deployed as a new adventure was coming. The next day we loaded up 900 marines and seal team 6 and a bunch of equipment for exercises. We picked up the Marines and the Seal team at Morehead City, about 45 miles from Camp Lejune, the base for the Marines. After picking up our passengers, we crossed the Atlantic in 2 weeks as the ship at 15 miles an hour. The USS Ponce has about 400 sailors, and with 900 marines, we would have a crew to get the job done. The USS Ponce made port visits to Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, and Odesa, Ukraine. The working ports were Toulon, France and Haifa, Israel. The marines that came with us spent two weeks in the desert for training at these ports.
During this deployment, there was hard work and cool exercises. My department was involved in launching floating tanks. We would also launch rib boats for the seals. Other chores on board would be resupplying at 2 in the morning while we would fuel up the ship on the deployment. It would take 200,000 gallons from a supply ship and 2 hours to fill, which would last 2-3 weeks, depending on how much we were at sea. We also would have a post in which we would rig from the supply ship to us and bring about two weeks' worth of food to the ship. Also, we would use our helicopters to bring pallets of food and goods to the ship.
The deployment was getting close to an end. On April 15, 1995, we would arrive home for the last port visit in Spain. The crew was getting anxious about going back to Virginia, so the day before Virginia, we dropped the Marines and seal team back to Morehead City, NC. After this deployment ended, I had to return to South Dakota for my father's funeral, and it was back in Norfolk. I knew we would go back to sea for our following trials. In the summer of 1995, we made some port visits to Boston and Halifax, Nova Scotia. The orders from the Admiral to our Captain were that we would go to the dry dock for repairs and an overhaul, but before we could do that, we had hurricane warnings, and all the ships had to go out to sea. We went out for five days during really rough seas. During the hurricane, people were walking sideways and were seasick. I stood watch as the Lee Helmsman changed the ship's speed and the Helmsman tried to keep the boat on course well during the hurricane; it was tough. The next step was going to Portsmouth for repairs. Well, that was about three months, and we were ready for an exercise as we had done training for six months for our mini deployment to Africa Mamba Station. In June 1996, we would help the embassy of Africa for 56 days and the same routine with the Marines.
In July 1996, I made 3rd class petty officer and went to the Supply Department and worked the ships store and supply inventory. The Captain said we were 100 miles from the equator and had never been that close. The ship dropped the marines off again, and we returned home to Norfolk. The upper brass said you were in readiness form, and in April 1997, you would start another deployment. Well, in May 1997, I went across the Atlantic and flew back to Norfolk as my time on the active-duty side was done. I stayed in the barrack on the air side for two weeks. On June 5, 1997, I completed my time and active duty.
I can say a lot of things about the Navy and military that you don't forget, and if you don't forget, you love the memories, and we made friends or in the Navy called shipmates for life. I am a proud veteran. I was nervous, but I remember what I did for this country. I am proud to be a part of giving this country freedom. I don't have much else to add, but if you see a veteran, thank them for an active-duty military. If you see one, they are the future veterans. I appreciate this crowd today and thank you. Have a happy veteran's day.
Welcome to the discussion.