Navy vet served in electronic warfare

Mar. 18—Today's veteran: Eric Craigmiles, 58

Born: Pittsfield, Ill.

Residence: Pecan Park, Fla.

Service: Navy, 22 years

Duties: Electronic warfare

Rank: Chief petty officer

Recognitions: Navy and Marine Commendation Medal; Navy and Marine Achievement Medal; Navy Unit Commendation (2); Kuwait Liberation Medal; Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal; Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist Medal; Coast Guard Meritorious Service Commendation; Coast Guard Special Operations Service Ribbon; Navy "E" Ribbon (5); Good Conduct Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; Southwest Asia Service Medal; Sea Service Deployment Ribbon (5); Sea Service Deployment Ribbon

Duty stations: Orlando, Pensacola, Fla.; Charleston, S.C.; Bremerton, Wash.;

Mississippi, San Diego, Port Hueneme, Calif. and aboard USS Brumby, USS Blue Ridge; USS Truxton; USS Benfold, USS George Washington and USS Ramage

His story: Eric Craigmiles knew he would enlist in the Navy after he graduated high school.

His mother was a Navy career counselor who helped him choose a career path she believed would enable him to succeed in and possibly choose the Navy as a career.

He also had an older brother and stepfather in the Navy.

He enlisted for four years and spent the first 18 months training in electronic warfare.

After his training, Craigmiles was assigned to the crew of the frigate USS Brumby, which was already deployed of the coast of Oman, located in the Arabian Peninsula.

He was flown to the ship on a helicopter and lowered to the deck on a cable, much to his surprise because it was never part of his training.

"They attached the harness on me and scooted me off," he said.

After more than 100 days of the coast monitoring the electromagnetic spectrum for radar, the ship did a Mediterranean tour with stops in Italy, Sicily and France.

During his time aboard the Brumby, Craigmiles said his stepfather spent a week aboard the ship.

He reenlisted and was sent to Pensacola, Florida, for 48 weeks of training before he was assigned to the crew of the USS Blue Ridge in the Navy's 7th Fleet off the coast of Japan.

He was off the coast of Shang Hi during the Tienanmen Square protests and massacre before his ship was sent to the Middle East in advance of Desert Storm/Shield.

The Blue Ridge was the fleet's command ship, surrounded by four aircraft carriers and other vessels.

"We were there prior to the invasion," he said. "We were one of the first ships over there."

His ship remained off the coast of Iran for more than a year, he said.

The ship later made stops in Australia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Hong Cong and Japan.

His next duty station was in San Diego, where he worked the next three years in a shop repairing electronic equipment.

His next duty station was aboard the USS Truxon, a nuclear powered cruiser. He had to learn to re-qualify aboard ship over the next six months to show he had at least a basic knowledge of the ship's systems.

The Truxon made the trip through the Panama Canal to help assist the Coast Guard off the coast of Columbia looking for drug smugglers.

He was later assigned to the crew of the USS Benfold, which was deployed to the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

"We were monitoring what was going on," he said.

After three years aboard the Benfold, Craigmiles was assigned to Port Hueneme, Calif., where he helped test defensive ships.

His next duty station was aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington as part of Operation Enduring Freedom in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.

"They were flying nonstop. I hated it," he said of his time aboard the carrier.

He was promoted to chief petty officer and was assigned to the crew of the USS Ramage. The ship had been without a chief petty officer for more than a year, which created some challenges for Craigmiles.

"I basically had to rebuild the whole division," he said. "Work was not getting done."

He retired after 22 years active duty.

Looking back, Craigmiles said the only thing he would have changed is his first enlistment in the Navy. Instead of four years, he would have enlisted for six years because he would have been guaranteed to earn the rank of petty officer 3rd class after he completed training.

He credits good advice from his mother for his successful Navy career.

"She knew what my choices were in jobs," he said.

He credits the Navy for positive changes in his life as a young man and the success he enjoys as a retiree working part time as a consultant.

"It made me grow up a lot," he said. "It has really served me well. I'm still benefiting from it."