VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. –
According to the Naval History and Heritage Command, a plank owner is “an individual who was a member of the crew of a ship when that ship was placed in commission.” Today, the term is defined in different ways by different Navy units, and is often used to describe someone who has been with an organization since its establishment.
On Dec. 31, a Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) Dam Neck Activity (DNA) plank owner bid farewell to the place he’d worked since 1997. Randall Abbey, an integrated Logistics Support Services technician at DNA, retired after 55 years of combined service in the military and federal government.
Abbey left his “hometown” of Orlando, Florida, in May 1966 for U.S. Navy boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois. The son of an Air Force senior master sergeant, Abbey’s family moved a lot, and Orlando was the last place he lived before heading out into the world on his own.
“Sixth grade was the first time I started and finished a complete year in a single school,” Abbey said. “I had [attended] 18 schools by the time I graduated high school.”
After completing boot camp, Abbey attended parachute rigger school where he learned to pack parachutes for fighter aircraft. During his five-year enlistment, the job afforded him opportunities to travel to France, Spain, Italy and Greece while assigned to his home base, Naval Air Station Oceana, in Virginia Beach.
“I had three nine-month Mediterranean cruises and a few short operational readiness cruises in the Caribbean,” Abbey said. “Some places were nice to go ashore, but others I didn’t really care too much for. You learned pretty quickly to take more money than you expected to spend, because there would be times when the water might be too rough, so we couldn’t get back on the ship.”
Life aboard the ship consisted of packing, repacking, checking and rechecking parachutes and other life-saving equipment for Navy pilots—a duty Abbey took very seriously.
“If an accident or something happened with a pilot, they would check the records to see who packed that equipment and we could be held accountable—it could result in a court martial,” he said.
Before he was honorably discharged in 1971, Abbey participated in a Navy-sponsored program to prepare Sailors for civilian life that allowed him to work for the Navy’s Public Works Department for 30 days while still on active duty. The 30-day “internship” turned into a full-time apprenticeship, kick starting his career as a federal civil servant.
Abbey stayed with Public Works until the 1980s, becoming a lead electronic mechanic before moving on to Naval Electronic Systems Engineering Command in Norfolk, Virginia. The organization later became known as Naval Command, Control and Ocean Surveillance Center, In-Service Engineering, East Coast Division, or NISE East.
“Doing [electronics] installs at [NISE East] was one of my favorite jobs,” Abbey said. “It was hands on from start to finish. We would get a job, I’d do the site survey and all the engineering drawings, and we’d figure out how long it would take and how much it would cost. I’d order materials and have them sent to the site once the drawings were approved. We did the wiring diagrams, wiring hookups, and we’d go onsite and put everything in.”
Abbey also enjoyed the travel that came with his work at NISE East. While tedious at times, doing onsite installs sent him to various places around the country and overseas, including Iceland and the Azores.
In 1995, a Base Realignment and Closure Commission forced Abbey and others at NISE East to choose between moving to Charleston, South Carolina, or look for other employment on their own. Luckily, Abbey and other NISE East colleagues, including Linda Estepa, were presented with a third option that would enable them to stay in Virginia.
“Thanks to our former technical department head, who was well known for taking care of his people, we were able to transfer to the Naval Surface Warfare Center Port Hueneme Division Detachment, which later became NSWC Dahlgren Division Dam Neck Activity,” said Estepa, an engineer who is also a DNA plank owner. “I transferred [to DNA] in December 1996 and Randy transferred in January 1997, and we have kept in touch throughout the years.”
During his time at DNA, Abbey worked in logistics where he handled shipping, and disposition and demilitarization of secure equipment, primarily in support of DNA’s Intelligence and Cyber Technology Division.
“Randy was always willing to support the team in technical, material delivery, Operating Material and Supplies, and Government Purchase Cardholder efforts,” Estepa said. “I remember one time, near the end of the fiscal year, I could not complete all the branch purchase requirements before the fiscal year was over. I called Randy at home—while he was off—to ask for support. He was happy to come into the office and support the team, and we were able to successfully complete the effort.”
Abbey’s helpful disposition was also noted by John Mello, Intelligence and Cyber Technology Division head at DNA.
“Randy is an extremely nice guy who cares about his coworkers,” Mello said. “He’s the first to ask how you are doing and how he can help. Randy is always looking forward to understand how initiatives or changes to policy will affect the project he supports. He’s also interested in discussing how these changes will affect others.”
Now that he’s retired, Abbey said he is looking forward to completing a few overdue projects at home.
“I don’t have any plans to travel or go work anywhere else at the moment,” he said. “I need to replace the boards on the deck, so I’ve got some work to do around the house.”