Veterans Day: Honored to serve
In Navy boot camp, the drill instructors all wear a red cord on their shoulder to signify their role on base — something the enlisted men going through the rigorous training quickly learn to spot.
So when Jeremy Buck saw a man with a golden cord walking around the Great Lakes Naval Base, outside Chicago where the Rockwood native was beginning his military career, it caught his eye.
The man was Chief Lyons, and he announced to the recruits going through boot camp that if they were 6 feet or taller, he had an opportunity for them. Luckily at 6 feet, 2 inches tall, Buck made the cut.
"If I could get away during boot camp and spend some relaxing time listening to someone talk about an opportunity, I was into that," Buck said with a smile.
Lyons was there to recruit new members to join the U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard — a prestigious group whose duties included honoring fallen soldiers and attending diplomatic events. It was a task that interested Buck, despite having to void his original naval contract of becoming a cryptology technician and starting from scratch with a new program in the Nation's capital.
"Who else gets an opportunity to go to Washington D.C. and be a part of a presidential unit," Buck said. "There was no way I could say no."
Buck made it through three interviews that whittled down 300 candidates before being asked to participate in the 10-week training. He was one of eight in the program, and graduated first in his class.
His main duty was providing military honors for fallen soldiers being buried at the Arlington National Cemetery. During his two and a half years in the Ceremonial Guard, he stood vigil during 858 funerals. That included being part of the state funeral for President Gerald Ford.
"The honor guard was by far the most honorable, memorable, prestigious thing I have done in my life other than being a parent and spouse," Buck said. "It was incredible to pay tribute in the way that we did to heroes."
The honor guard was the highlight for Buck in a military career that offered new opportunities in life. Enlisting allowed him to expand his horizons, learn new skills and explore the world.
"I was so fortunate that everything I did while in the Navy was fun," Buck said. "It was hard going 3,000 miles away from everyone I knew, missing weddings, births of children, but that is part of the deal."
"That time was a bright point in my life," Buck said.
Breaking out of a rut
Buck wasn't sure what the future held for him in high school — as he struggled to make grades and barely graduated.
The 20-year-old didn't attend college, was working part-time at Target, and was crammed into a small place with his roommates. One day he just stopped and looked at himself in the mirror.
"I thought about what the next five years looked like for me," Buck said. "I asked myself if I wanted to do more — do something bigger."
His father served in the Army, and his grandfather in the Navy and Marines, so joining the military was not a foreign concept. After a chat with a friend's father, who was a Navy recruiter, the decision was solidified.
"I decided to enlist and go for it," Buck said.
He was sent to basic training in May of 2005, joining the military in the midst of the war on terror.
"I went in knowing I could find myself in the middle of the war," Buck said. "But in the Navy there was more of a chance to be on the support side."
After being selected to join the honor guard and stationed in Washington D.C., Buck found himself doing more than just funerals for soldiers, former members of congress, and high-level generals and admirals. He was involved in state dinner ceremonies at the White House; was part of the going-away celebration for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on the back lawn of the Pentagon; participated in a ceremony during the building of Ground Zero in New York; and welcomed arriving dignitaries.
He even spent an evening at Vice President Dick Cheney's home during a fundraiser for the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
"Coming from Rockwood, Oregon; barely graduating high school; working part time at a department store — and all of a sudden I am in the vice president's house," Buck said. "It was unbelievable."
Eventually Buck decided to move to a new area within the Navy, looking to continue to advance at the end of his military career. He chose to become an aviation technician despite having no previous experience.
After some schooling, he was able to test into the role and was assigned to serve on the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier, going on board in the fall of 2008.
Out to sea
While on the Stennis for a year, one of Buck's secondary duties was spreading good vibes and keeping the 5,000 people on the ship from going stir-crazy.
"We would be out in the middle of the ocean for 30 days with no land in-sight, working 12 hours on, 12 off," Buck explained.
Sleeping arrangements are also cramped aboard naval ships. They call them coffin racks — three-tiered beds set up in pods throughout several sleeping compartments. Each pod had six sleeping in a space that is smaller than the office at the Gresham-branch of Clackamas County Bank where Buck sometimes works.
So Buck had a key assignment: serving with the Morale Welfare and Recreation department.
"We put together all the fun stuff — karaoke nights, movies," Buck said. "During the Super Bowl between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals, we had a huge viewing party in the hangar bay."
He helped set up "Wog Day," a unique naval tradition that commemorates the crossing of the equator.
"If you haven't experienced crossing the equator, you aren't considered a true sailor," Buck said. "When you first cross you go from being a 'polliwog' to a 'shellback.'"
The ceremony is filled with traversing an obstacle course of green slime and reciting a speech from memory to someone dressed as King Triton.
Buck also helmed an impromptu musical concert at 3 a.m. by Tyrese Gibson, a singer and actor. Gibson was on the Stennis shooting scenes for the movie Transformers 2 alongside his fellow actors and director Michael Bay. One evening after wrapping filming, Gibson was asked to sing some songs. Luckily Buck happened to have an iPod with some of Gibson's hits, and so he was the DJ during the concert.
"It was incredible, a concert by Tyrese in the hangar bay in the middle of the night," Buck said.
Buck's normal duties had him working with the motherboards on aircraft housed in the Stennis. He also volunteered for the ship's honor guard, and stood in service for one crewmate who died while on deployment.
The Stennis provided support during the war efforts in the Gulf. When the lead aircraft carrier had a small fire, the Stennis switched in and spent a few weeks providing active air support to Marines and soldiers on the ground. The ship was also on standby in 2009 when the world thought North Korea had set off nuclear bombs underground.
"We were told something had happened, and since we were off the coast of South Korea, we had to be ready in case an international conflict started," Buck said, citing this was the most stressful time during his service.
In November 2009, Buck decided to step away from the Navy, returning to Oregon to earn a degree in funeral services and get married. He is now living in Gresham and working as a property and casualty insurance officer with Clackamas County Bank Insurance Services.
And on Veterans Day he likes to think back on the people he befriended and places he saw while in the Navy.
"Veterans Day is a day of recognition. Sometimes we forget there are people that swear an oath to be in a position just in case something happens," Buck said. "We appreciate the people who took the risk, knew what it was, and decided to be a human shield between us and those who wish us harm."
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