Gaylene & friend Glenda on The USNS Sacajawea
Gaylene & friend Glenda on The USNS Sacajawea

I salute today a dear friend of many years Merchant Marine Gaylene Lukenbill. As a Merchant Marine Lukenbill works for Military Sealift Command who contracts for The Department of The Navy.  Though a Merchant Marine is not military, they provide a very important service to our military. Lukenbill is from Livingston Montana where she resides when she is not out to sea.

What are your duties?
MSC provides for Supply Department on ships. Supply Department does all the ordering for our ship or a specific fleet  which includes food, ammunition, medicine, parts and anything else that may be needed. Whatever the Navy needs while it’s at sea, we deliver. MSC does most of the housekeeping and the cooking while we are on board. I work in the Ward Room which is the officer’s state and Officer’s mess, clean, serve meals. Then there are others who work in the Crews Nest and The Chief’s Nest.
MSC does all of the deck work. On some ships the supply department is responsible to do deck work as well. If we have to send supplies to another ship, we run out, hook up supplies to a Helo and they fly it and drop it off over to another ship. We also run lines from one ship to another and send supplies by hooking onto a zip line while the ships are steaming at same rate side by side. It must be precise.
MSC Captain, Mates, deck hands. We also employ a MSO, which is a Medical Service Operator and they are usually a retired Navy Corpsman. Big organization.
I was 61 when I started and it’s been a good job. I made good money my first year just cleaning. Hard work, but great opportunity. You work seven days a week when out to sea. 4 months on and one month off.

What was the training and prep for your MOS?
Literately 40 years in the food service industry. They also send all MSC personnel to Fire School in Earl New Jersey. We went for a month to learn basic skills in firefighting, ship board damage control and two day course in basic navigation skills. They teach you how the ship day to day operations run and the chain of command.  We also did Fall Pro, which is learning to climb in a climbing harness. There are a lot of ladders aboard a ship. We even learn to jump from ladder to ladder and then we also have to free fall in a harness.

What do you like most about serving?
The money, the fact I got to see the world and met people in different cultures I never would have gotten to meet in Montana. I got to see how they lived and hear their stories. That’s been really interesting. When you see the world you see how wonderful the United States is. America is such a great place.

What prompted you to serve?
I wasn’t looking for work, then one day I had lunch with my daughter, a chief in the Navy, on the Emory S Land  she was stationed on. I noticed all these older people who were working around there and I knew they weren’t military, so I asked my daughter, “Who are all the folks and what do they do here?” She told me they worked for Military Sealift Command and they hire civilians. I also wanted to serve my country somehow but never had the opportunity, so I filled out the application and got the necessary stuff together and that was in Nov and they hired me in May.  It really is a good way to serve your country.

What is some of the greatest challenges you faced?
Being the oldest for one. Younger people at times can be condescending. Sometimes it’s hard overcoming preconceived ideas about older people being able to be hard workers. I’ve worked hard all of my life, I don’t know any other way.
Being away from home is challenging at times. Working with people who have bad work ethics.

What was the most rewarding experience?
I got a reward for doing deck work. It was a monetary award of $500 for my work on deck in the Gulf. Then having people say they don’t want me to go and they want me to stay on the ship. It’s an encouragement and uplifting.

How does serving affect your family? Do they find their part of service rewarding?
My kids are really proud of me and very supportive. Two of my children serve in the Navy and they said to me “Gee, Mom, by the time you are done you’ll have more time at sea than both of us put together.”

Do you plan on making a career of your service?
I am going to continue serving as a Merchant Marine until I am 66, then I’ll come home and draw social security and probably continue working at another job of some kind. I want to keep active and learning something new. It has been a great job that God has provided me.

What is your advice to someone thinking about serving their country?
Go for it. You have absolutely nothing to lose. If it’s not for you, it’s not for you, but you should always be up for trying something new. If you don’t try, that’s failing I think. If you do something and it doesn’t work out, there is nothing bad about that. It’s the not trying at all that is failing. Serve your country, it’s the only one you’ll ever have!

Thank you Gaylene Lukenbill for your service!


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