MILLINGTON, Tenn. — “I always wanted to be in the military,” said John Frakes, U.S. Navy Master Chief Petty Officer and Rawlins native.
Nearly 30 years later, and the once fresh faced high school graduate is seeing his final few years as a sailor.
The future was not always so certain for the Rawlins native, but the choice was always the military. Where to go, however, presented a roadblock. Frakes had narrowed the choices down to either the U.S. Navy or the Marine Corps, but which branch to commit four years of his life to still seemed a daunting question.
The search abruptly came to an end when Frakes met with the navy recruiter, attributing his 30-year career to simply talking to the navy before the other branches.
Frakes, only recently removed from his graduation from Rawlins High School, signed his first four-year contract with the U.S. Navy, beginning service in 1989 as a seaman.
Frakes began his career without a specialty, rather his first several years were spent at sea, as a general worker aboard the U.S.S. Lexington.
His next step, once he completed his time as a general sailor, was technical training to begin a permanent career as an electronic warfare technician, which would carry him to the end of his first enlistment.
It was during this time that Frakes experienced his worst stretch as a sailor. His assignment to the U.S.S. Saratoga would see issues at nearly every level plague his work and his home life. From a poorly executed chain of command, to paychecks arriving weeks later, forcing his family to struggle through several months of bills, his time on the now decommissioned aircraft carrier saw nothing but problems.
“Murphy’s Law took over. Anything that could go wrong went wrong.” Frakes said.
Despite fulfilling his lifelong dream by being in the military, Frakes saw himself rejoining the civilian world once his enlistment expired; but life had other plans. He married during this time and also had children, which forced him to reconsider how the next years of his life would play out.
Frakes saw the stability offered by the navy, unlike college or other civilian occupations, while it also provided quality insurance and healthcare for a fraction of the cost of a life outside the military. Thus, Frakes once more signed a contract with the U.S. Navy.
Frakes said that after the second contract, he was hooked on military life. No longer were contracts carefully weighed against civilian options, instead they were signed as soon as possible.
After his first enlistment, however, his career as an electronic warfare technician ended when he was “voluntold” to convert to another specialty. Frakes was given the choice of his next career field, but was unable to continue in his prior role, as the field had bloated beyond the navy’s requirements.
With no option but to convert, Frakes became an intelligence specialist, as much of his training would still be useful moving forward.
His time in the U.S. Navy was defined by movement, always changing ships and duty stations, as he crisscrossed bases and oceans. From Norfolk, Va., England, to Omaha, Neb., Frakes moved as his orders changed.
Frakes even spent a year in Bahrain guarding Iraqi oil platforms. His time was split between naval bases in Bahrain, and on tugboats moored to the oil wells. Most days were spent watching the radar for merchant ships with sinister intentions.
Despite his enjoyment of his time spent on the other side of the world in Bahrain, Frakes enjoyed his time in England the most. Living in country for three years, he and his family were able to experience the sights and sounds of another continent, an experience none will soon forget.
Besides his year in Bahrain, his career in the military was relatively quiet, despite his best efforts to the contrary. Frakes volunteered multiple times for combat deployments with various units, including the SEALs, but every opportunity fell through.
His deployment with the SEALs, for example, was cut short three days before his deployment date. His orders were to leave on a Monday, but during what he believed to be his final Friday with his family until returning months later, Frakes received a call saying his orders had changed. Frakes never found out why, but believes the SEALS’ orders had changed and no longer required an intelligence specialist attached to their unit.
In Frakes’ career, he saw the Russian boogeyman of the Cold War collapse under its own weight, the “peaceful steaming” of the 1990s, and the sweeping changes brought on by 9/11. He helped commission ships from the ground up that are now more than 20 years old. He also witnessed hundreds of sailors come and go, and hundreds more commit to a career in the U.S. Navy.
“It’s amazing how fast 30 years fly by,” Frakes said.
Frakes’ official retirement and entry to veteran status will occur on Aug. 1, in Millington, Tenn.
Rawlins Times is hoping to spotlight the veterans of Carbon County. If you or someone you know would like to be interviewed, please call (307)324-3411 or email email@example.com.