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'Silver Eagle' LDO signed up for 6 years, staying 38

Jul. 21, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Retiring Capt. Gerry Slevin, left, assigned to Defense Information Systems Agency, Special Operations Command, hands off the Silver Eagle award to Capt. Richard Verbeke on June 28 at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.
Retiring Capt. Gerry Slevin, left, assigned to Defense Information Systems Agency, Special Operations Command, hands off the Silver Eagle award to Capt. Richard Verbeke on June 28 at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. (Navy)
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Capt. Richard Verbeke did not plan to stay in. And he certainly didn’t foresee the 2-foot-tall trophy of a silver eagle and horseshoe now residing in his office.

“When you’ve been around long enough you eventually get there, I guess, because you’re still here,” the 56-year-old submariner, whose name is now inscribed on the imposing trophy, said with a laugh.

In late June, Verbeke was handed the Silver Eagle and Horseshoe Award, the honor given to the Navy’s longest serving limited duty officer and one that it took him 36 years to reach, after another LDO, Capt. Gerry Slevin, retired.

“I never intended on being in the Navy for 36 years,” Verbeke said via phone. “ I intended on getting out after six. And yet here I am, 36 going to 38.”

Verbeke, now the commanding officer of a support unit in Groton, Conn., is nearing the end of a long Navy journey. He joined when the fleet was all male, Jimmy Carter was president, and the service had three boot camps. He arrived in February 1977, at the one in San Diego, which he’d chosen to escape the cold.

A nuclear-trained electrician’s mate, Verbeke served aboard subs and rose through the ranks quickly. He made chief after seven years. He liked being a chief, but wanted something more, he recalled. Back then, sailors weren’t allowed to serve as chief of the boat, as they do today, and his shore duty was largely limited to instructing at nuclear training sites. Since the chief warrant officer program required applicants to have 12 years or more of service, Verbeke applied to be a limited duty officer instead. He has worked in the submarine maintenance realm ever since and now heads Regional Support Group Groton, which oversees repairs and overhauls for subs based there.

The Silver Eagle holder is typically a ceremonial position. Verbeke wants to make it more. He intends to be a “standard bearer” for the 3,800-strong community and to address some of its biggest challenges, namely attracting talented sailors to apply for a program that brings a jump in pay and responsibility, but also the likelihood of longer hours and wardroom politics. Nonetheless, the job brings great challenges and rewards.

“My job as an LDO is to make everybody else around me successful,” explained Verbeke, who recalled arriving onboard a sub tender only to be given a different job than the one he’d been assigned to do, to fix problems in that division. “As an LDO, it’s isn’t about what you’ve been sent out to do. It’s how they’re going to use you ... and LDOs will step up to the plate.”

Verbeke plans to retire in 2015 and admitted he is a little uncomfortable with the prospect of retirement. But he plans to focus more on mentoring LDOs and said that the best advice he can offer is to stay open to opportunities, which often present themselves unexpectedly.

“None of my plans have ever gone to fruition,” he said. “They’ve all changed along the way because all of a sudden, some unexpected call or communication occurred asking me to go do something that has always worked out for the better for me. And you need to be prepared for those.”

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