Happy Military Appreciation month. I have decided to recognize a member of the military everyday in the month of May. Today, I have decided to recognize the first Captain I had any experience with. A.J. Krekich. Was the Commanding officer of the USS Belknap in 1986 when I married into the Navy. The ship was stationed in Gaeta Italy and while it didn’t deploy in the truest sense of the word, it was away from port more than 80% of the time. The Belknap, was an experiment of sorts- after being involved in a collision with the USS Kennedy ( a carrier) that left 7 people dead and the ship in ruins, the navy rebuilt the ship in 1980 as the “fighting Flagship.” It was the only combat ship to also serve as a Fleet command ship. None of this meant much to me at the time. So, A.J. was the Captain of a ship that carried an Admiral- no pressure.
My biggest memory of A.J. was actually due to his wife. The challenge with Gaeta, Italy being our home port was that the Pier was under repair for the first year while we were there, meaning it could not power down and operate on shore power. Instead, the ship was “steaming” all the time. Which meant as an Engineer, my husband worked 16 hour days, pulled three section duty while others had 5 and 6 section duty. It was horrible- some of the engineering crew was on “Port and Starboard “ duty- one day on, one day off. Not off work, but were able to go home. They still worked 6 days a week. It made for a very hard life for a young marriage, gone a lot, and when in port, you were on duty. Lots of our meals were spent on the ship together.
Jack and I were expecting our first child. It was a big thing, I was away from home and while luckily my mother was able to fly to join me, I wanted my husband there. His leave was denied. He was “crucial to the mission” as they were to sail to Tulane France. Seriously? He pleads his case to his Lead Petty Officer Nygaard.. He plead his case to Senior Chief . He pleads his case to his Division Officer . He pleads his case to his Main Propulsion Assistant Warrant Officer Price. He pleads his case to his Chief Engineering Officer. No luck. He was going. As the saying goes, If the Navy wanted you to have a wife, you would have been issued one in your sea bag.
I was enormously pregnant and being sent to Naples because I had developed Preeclampsia. While at the commissary, I ran into the Captain’s wife, Barbara. Gaeta was a small town, I had developed a good relationship with Barbara. I explained what was happening. A.J. liked jack. A.J. was a former football player at Annapolis. I am sure he only noticed him because he was 6”7 and clearly an athlete, but whatever the reason- he knew my husband by name and reputation. Jack was well respected for his work. I will never know exactly what happened, but Jack was granted leave the next day. And Barbara sent Aeysha beautiful pink dress.
A.J. was a hero in my eyes from that day forward and the unit of measure I used for every Commanding officer from that day forward. A.J. retired as a Vice Admiral and went on to be an Executive at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, and then President of BAE Ship Systems. He secured a slot for me the day he gave my daughter the gift of her father for her first birthday.