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NEWS | Aug. 5, 2020

Last Plank Owner of TRFB receives Federal Length of Service Award - 40 Years

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Emilia C. Hilliard Trident Refit Facility Bangor

Trident Refit Facility Bangor (TRFB) Commanding Officer Capt. Robert Figgs presented Thomas Cox Jr., the last plank owner and a technician in the work control division (Code 350), the Federal Length of Service Award for 40 years of employment during a ceremony at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, Aug. 5.

Due to COVID-19, the ceremony was a small, in-person event held at TRFB and was extended to friends and family via video conference.

“When I was a sophomore at North Kitsap High School, I heard about a program at Bangor to work on submarines,” said Cox.

Cox got his start with federal service in 1980 as an industrial trainee. He said he was a little reluctant at first from lack of information surrounding the Navy and the civil service realm, but after some encouragement from a then-girlfriend, he applied and never looked back.

“I started in the machine shop (31A) and every three months rotated to another shop,” Cox recounted. “The next was shop 11A/26A/17A (ship fitters, welders, sheet metal) at the Delta Pier, then shop 56A (pipefitters), and finally shop 51A/51B/92A (inside electrical repair , outside electrical repair, formerly sound analysis). My final and current position is C/350 (Work Control Group) at the Delta Pier.”

After his rotation through the different shops, Cox chose to work in the electrical shops for the next 25 years because he found the work interesting, challenging, and rewarding. His quest for knowledge on the job would assist him throughout his continuing career, and when he transitioned into the work control group.

“My brain was like a sponge, going to after-hour trade theory school and then being able to apply it,” said Cox. “The best part was on-the-job training where I would shadow a mechanic to a job on the submarine and put hands on the equipment.”

A couple of years after his time as a trainee, Cox briefly met a future friend and co-worker when they were going through the same program. Wade Bissell, Cox's future friend, recalls the name 'Mike' was on the baseball cap that Cox was wearing, and for a while afterward he had called him Mike, only later learning his name was Tom.

“I recall thinking that was it was strange to have a baseball cap with your name on it but I didn’t think much of it,” said Bissell, TRFB electrical superintendent for Electrical Division ( Code 330). "So, after that, when I saw him, I’d repeatedly greet him with my learned name for him and he’d respond with a wave or a ‘Hi’. It wasn’t until after I began working for 51A that I learned his name was Tom.”

Bissell later realized he had misread the hat and it was actually 'Nike' and not Mike. This was an early example of Coxs easygoing nature that is recognized by people throughout the command along with his commitment to the job. Prior to the length of service award, Cox was selected as Employee of the Quarter in 2018.

“He is a pleasure to have in the shop; always positive, helpful, and completely unflappable under pressure,” said Douglas Miner, Work Control Group Division (Code 350) supervisor at TRFB. “Working with Tom has made me smarter about the Trident submarine platform. That goes for his co-workers in the shop as well – they look up to him for his take on how to do certain things.”

Being an expert in his field and having years of experience under his belt, he shared lessons learned or things not necessarily written down, like tips and tricks, with the younger workers. Cox is the last plank owner still working at TRFB. His experience has contributed to passing down much of the history at the command.

“I like to tell stories to younger workers of what it was like in the 80’s when I used to park my car next to my shop on the Delta Pier, watching the [USS] Ohio (SSBN 726) first come in with the small craft protesters in the Hood Canal, and that the dry dock wasn’t quite finished in the summer of 1980.”

As time went on, security requirements evolved. Because of TRFB's integration with Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility and subsequent reversal to becoming TRFB again, the force was different and Cox had grown throughout his career alongside TRFB. After a couple of years of night school and shop training, Cox’s dedication paid off and led to one of his proudest moments of rising to the level of a wage grade (WG)-10 mechanic.

“Tom is very comfortable in all things electrical on the Trident class subs and it was second nature for him to perform his assigned tasks,” said Bissell. “He would typically be assigned the more challenging jobs because of his knowledge and experience.”

Cox’s job progression led to a time of him being pushed out of his comfort zone to another satisfying moment. He applied and received a position in the work control group, an intermediary between ship's force and TRFB workers that assures proper work controls.

“I was so comfortable working in the electric shop knowing all the ins and outs of my work and was a little nervous to make a change,” said Cox. “Once again, a lady, my wife of 29 years, convinced me to go for it. I really like my current job and co-workers a lot and get to interact with more people from all the TRFB shops.”

Cox said that he stayed here for so long because of the people, the fascination of working on submarines, and the knowledge that comes with the job while also not forgetting about the benefits and job security.

“I can’t imagine leaving here," said Cox. "Who knows? Maybe I’ll stick around for a 50-year pin."