<i>'It has always been my goal to keep training in the forefront'</i>

ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- If you never thought television could influence a person, think again. The 1960s program "Sea Hunt" was just what a farm boy from Sibley, Iowa needed to become a diver.

At the age of 17, Thomas Wick answered his country's call and enlisted in the U.S. Navy where his dream to become a diver became a reality.

"Watching that program got me interested," said Wick. "I was always a good swimmer, so when the Navy was looking for explosive ordnance disposal divers, I signed up."

Wick is the Defense Ammunition Center's liaison at headquarters, Joint Munitions Command, a position he's held for seven years. He has worked with ammunition his entire career.

DAC is located at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, McAlester, Okla., where it has been since 1998. Established in 1920, its original home was at the Savanna Army Depot, Savanna, Ill. The mission of DAC is to provide ammunition knowledge and
logistical support.

Wick has been with DAC since 1988, when he entered the Logistics Management Specialist career program after his retirement from the Navy. At the time of his retirement, Master Chief Petty Officer Wick (E-9) was the senior EOD technician and served at the Navy EOD school as the command master chief. Having dealt with ammunition all throughout his career, DAC hired him to teach Navy courses.

"At the time, the Army had taken on the responsibility of ammunition safety for all the services," said Wick. "I was the point of contact for information on Navy-related ordnance.

"I focused some of the courses I taught to senior naval officers. One course, in particular, was Expendable Ordnance Management which readied the officers to be commanders on naval weapons stations," said Wick.

He also developed that course. Other courses he's taught include the Ammunition Management and Quality Assurance Surveillance Ammunition Specialist intern programs.

To be a diver in the Navy or any military service is not the same as being one for an Olympic team or other competition. It usually involves something dangerous or search-and-recover operations.

"During the Vietnam era, the military needed personnel for bomb disposal and they culled them from the ranks of the divers," said Wick.

One of his last tours in Vietnam was in 1973 in Haiphong Harbor and Hanoi working to neutralize and remove the underwater mines that had been dropped over the years.

His task throughout most of his Navy career was to remove old ordnance dating back to World War II.

"Most of this old ammunition was in Hawaii, Guam and the Philippines," he said. "A lot of it did not explode when it was originally fired."

"While I was stationed in Guam in 1972, I came upon a discovery that proved to be one of the highlights of my career," he said.

"The Guam police department had captured the last known Japanese soldier, Sgt. Shoichi (Yokoi) in the remote jungle. As a member for the Navy EOD team at the Navy magazine, we were called in to inspect his cave for any explosive devices he may have had. Since I was the junior man on the team as well as the 'skinniest', I was chosen to be lowered by ropes into the vertical cave to recover numerous hand grenades, mortar rounds and small arms ammunition," Wick recalled.

"Meeting someone like Yokoi had a profound effect on me and what dedication to duty really means."

Yokoi died in 1997.

But that was not his only brush with infamy. During his career, he has served as EOD support with the Navy SEALs (Sea, Air, and Land forces). The SEALs are an offshoot of the Navy diving teams and were created during the Viet Nam War to engage in "jungle warfare."

Two individuals he had the good fortune to serve with were Master Diver Master Chief Petty Officer Carl Brashear, one of his instructors at Pearl Harbor Deep Sea Diving School and Master Chief Petty Officer Rudy Boesch, with whom he served on Special Warfare Enlisted Personnel development screening boards.

Brashear's story was told in the movie "Men of Honor" and Boesch was on the television reality program "Survivor" and "Combat Missions."

Wick will retire in 2009 and will take a wealth of experience and knowledge with him having served a total of 42 years.

"It has always been my goal to keep training in the forefront," he said. "You should never lose that link between teacher and student. I feel it's that important."

Although Wick, the person, will never be replaced - not his humor, his outgoing personality or his "gift of gab" - he hopes his successor is true to the DAC mission.

"I hope they keep the focus on training and teaching."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16