AUGUST 15, 2016, NASHVILLE (NNS) – A firefighter, a bomb builder, and a man who studies dots on a screen walk into an office just outside of Nashville. They sit down each day and work a very different job – putting people in the U.S. Navy. The paperwork and community interactions are a far cry from the high stakes skill craft that they each display on the seas. Still, they deliver despite the change of pace and the change of work. And they don’t stop there.
Whether it’s at a retirement ceremony, or during the national anthem at a hockey game, or even the massive stadium of the Tennessee Titans, these three Sailors from Navy Recruiting Station Rivergate are some of the most visible faces of the Navy in a town known more for country music than its naval connections.
As members of Navy Recruiting District Nashville’s color guard, they regularly spend their off time making an impression on the community. They often receive thanks, which are followed by the common refrain: “What’s the Navy doing in Tennessee?”
The truth is that the Navy, in the case of these Sailors, came out of a Tennessee.
Damage Controlman 2nd Class Jamie Parker grew up in Memphis. Aviation Ordnanceman 2nd Class Allen Barreto hails from the opposite side of the state in Knoxville. And the leader of the group, Operations Specialist 1st Class James Miller was raised in a little suburb just outside of Music City called La Vergne.
But saying that each is from Tennessee and thus the same is like saying that because each is in the Navy that they all rig sails. The state, like the service, is much more complicated. In fact, the flag of Tennessee has three stars to represent what is known as the three grand divisions of east, middle and west Tennessee. Each division’s main city happens to be where these Sailors call home. The different regions represent very disparate areas of culture, demographics and identity. And somehow, through fate or fortune, these three met in the middle just outside Nashville in Madison, Tenn. And sitting in the office which is tucked in a strip mall, they call themselves a team.
“I’ve never been so excited to just come into work each day,” said Miller. “I literally wake up excited and start compiling a list of what we can get accomplished. They are just as excited to try to get done everything I come up with. They put it into action and make it all work.”
As the leading petty officer of Rivergate, Miller is charged with setting the pace and managing the station. He transferred to the office in October 2015 after spending time at another station in the division for several months. It was a move that he was at first unsure about and then grew to love. Things just clicked when he joined up with the Parker and Barreto. The team was recently recognized as the best large station of the quarter within the command. Considering how much they see each other both as recruiters and color guard members, Miller said he is surprised at how well the chemistry continues to work.
“It would be possible to get sick of each other but not here. They always put in the extra effort and make mission first,” he said.
Jokes fly around the office and laughter often punctuates the normal hum of the community printer and clicking of keyboards. It’s an office space without the feel of an office, more like a locker room getting for the game. When future Sailors walk in, each Sailor has a unique story to tell.
For Parker, that story might be a steam leak. As a Damage Controlman, he is charged with helping to protect a ship from fire and flooding, not to mention chemical, biological and radiological attacks. One time, steam was the enemy he faced. Normally, it powered the catapults that help sling aircraft off the flight deck. On this day, it threatened to rip apart the ship with fire.
“Waking up at 2:00 a.m. in morning to combat that casualty, my heart was pounding. The fire jumped out and surprised us but I was able to find and use a hot water hose in the compartment and put it out. Instead of having all these drills, it was like actually getting in the game.”
The pace of being a firefighter is what Parker said he missed most. Yet he has found other ways to keep the tempo going. When he’s not marching on a field in his dress uniform with the color guard, he is working on his bachelor’s degree in business management or helping to run the audio production for a local artist, not to mention his side job in real estate.
“I am always trying to learn as much as possible,” he said with a smile.
In fact, each member of Rivergate is pursuing a degree and Miller is only one class away from completing his in finance.
The motivation for success is shared equally among them. For Barreto it is a link that reminds him of the flight deck where he would assemble and load bombs for the aircraft.
“It’s a different tempo but the same camaraderie,” Barreto said. “I compare it to being a part of football team. Everyone is working hard out there together. At the end of the day you are tired and sweating but everyone put in good work and got the job done.”
When someone asks Miller about his job, he starts talking about radio frequencies and radar screens and dives into the subject with zeal.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Miller, who was recently recognized as Sailor of the Quarter for NRD Nashville. “Always knowing where you are in the ocean and what is going to happen next is a real advantage to the rate.”
He has carried that zeal from sea to shore and found a new reason to love the Navy in the process.
“I joined the Navy and didn’t know what an operations specialist did. I didn’t care about what job I was going to be doing. Ultimately, I just wanted to be in the Navy so I could have the opportunity to go to college. That was eight years ago and now I want to stay in for the leadership opportunities.”
The Sailors of Rivergate each impact the community as they visit schools and simply show up in their uniform. When they prepare for their color guard presentations the effect goes both ways.
“It gives you a little bit more of that pride you first had in boot camp because you get to go out and represent something more than yourself,” said Barreto.
Miller added that it is a good way to remind himself of the duty he has to show the Navy in the best possible light.
“As soon as you start putting on the color guard accessories, you’re a lot more focused on military bearing and making sure everyone is in step.”
The change reveals itself in moment like a call to attention with a spoken word. The smiles turn serious and their bodies straighten up. Their hands tighten and they stare straight ahead. Suddenly, a few normal Sailors become something else, some more as they begin their march holding the flag of their country. It’s a melding of mind for brief time and out of many different backgrounds, they become one.
“It’s three of us in a city of thousands of people. But when you have a few people on the same page going forward together, you simply don’t need as many people to accomplish a goal,” Parke said.
NRD Nashville is one of 13 districts which make up Navy Recruiting Region East. More than 100,000 square miles are assigned to NRD Nashville including counties in Tennessee, Arkansas, northern Alabama, northern Georgia, northern Mississippi, southern Kentucky and Southwestern Virginia.