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Veterans Worked Variety of Jobs to Serve Country
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Saturday, November 12, 2022
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

The movie “Top Gun” was very much at the back of Hailey Police Chief Steve England’s mind as he volunteered for the Navy in the mid-1990s.

Numerous family members had served in the military and law enforcement and it was almost a given that the teenager from Pocatello would serve, as well.

“I wanted to work on jets and an aircraft carrier—you know--‘Top Gun,’ ‘An Officer and a Gentleman,’ ” he said. “I was fortunate. You don’t always get what you sign up for, but I did.”

England served as plane captain on the USS George Washington nuclear-powered aircraft carrier working in what many consider the most dangerous place in the world to work.

He had to be continually vigilant to keep out of the  way of airplane propellers, helicopter rotors, jet engine blasts that could blow someone overboard and the steam that catapults planes forward, giving them the necessary lift for takeoff.

Temperatures could soar above 130 degrees in the Persian Gulf. Falling on the steel platform covered in spiky coating could rip skin to shreds. And getting in the way of a recoiling cross-deck pendant wire could decapitate a foot or a leg.

“You definitely had to keep your head on a swivel,” he said. “I had a couple guys blown overboard into the net and they were white when they came up. But when F/A-18s full of jet fuel put on their afterburners before a launch it’s pretty impressive.”

England said his floating island home of four years wasn’t a cruise ship.

“We’d work 12-hour shifts for 70 days straight. But it was a great way to see the world. They provided excursions when we got to port and I got to see so many countries, including France, Italy, England, Italy and Israel. During my deployment on the George Washington, we got to take part in the 50th anniversary of D-day--that was one of the coolest things we did.”

England said his stint in the Navy gave him numerous tools he could apply to his second career as a law enforcement officer. Among them, teamwork and learning to be humble.

“And I learned to surround myself with people I can trust to carry out the mission.” he added.

 Former Marine Corps instructor Mike Penrose joined England, going into local schools this week to talk about the military. A pilot for 50 years, he also assisted Higher Ground and the Senior Connection on Veterans Day passing out BBQ brisket and ribs, coleslaw and corn bread to about 60 veterans who showed up at the Senor Connection for a drive-by BBQ.

The rest of the year he assists Higher Ground with veteran’s camps for alpine and Nordic skiers, hand cyclers and sailors who sip and puff on straws since they don’t have the use of their hands to steer tri-hull catamarans.  

Asked by a student what he remembered most about his service, Penrose replied that it was boot camp at San Diego.

“It was intimidating, very hard. You have to remember that we have one purpose and that is to defend the nation so we have to be prepared.”

Penrose served in the Marines from 1966-70 during the Vietnam War. He ended up as an instructor,  challenging pilots to think their way through an engine fire of the loss of hydraulics or an electrical system on a flight simulator.

“These were highly qualified pilots with a lot of experience so this was a tune-up for them,” he said. “My contribution was very, very small, but I made a contribution.”

Penrose noted that between 750,000 and 850,000 U.S. soldiers are estimated to have lost their lives from the Revolutionary War forward.

“And a lot of men and women have suffered horrendous disabilities,” he added. “We need to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice and their mothers fathers, brothers and sisters who also suffered loss. No one wins at war. There are just losers to a lesser degree.”

England said he loved the opportunity to go into schools and speak about service to one’s country.

“Kids need to know about service above self,” he said. “I know from my experience traveling the world that this is the greatest country there is, and we need people to serve if we’re to keep it that way.”

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