MARQUETTE – Tony Troutman grew up in Hawaii, the son of a U.S. Navy officer. He followed in his family tradition by spending about 30 years in the line of duty himself.
Troutman served in the from 1975 to 1997 and then served in the reserves for 8 years.
“I grew up watching the military come back from Vietnam,” Troutman said.
“I listened to to all the stories and saw firsthand the people in the military going back and forth to Vietnam. Basically, the war ended in July of 1975 and I joined in August. And from there, I went to boot camp in Orlando, Florida…. From there, I went up to Great Lakes, I came in as a weapons guy, missiles.”
Troutman attended basically gunners mate school and missile school, at Naval Station Great Lakes and graduated at the top of his class. He then opted to go back to Hawaii.
“The ship that was available for the systems that I was (trained) in, the Terrier, my dad was on the same ship,” Troutman said. “It was a frigate, but was reclassified to a destroyer, the USS Preble. Was on that for about two years.”
Troutman said he met his wife Ann in 1978 and got out of the Navy to go back to school for a couple of years, but he was still in the reserves.
He said he got married and went back into active duty in 1981. But where to serve?
“I liked the amphibious navy, even though they don’t have any missile launches on there, just guns,” he said. “But it was a good thing later down the road, because not only do I know missile systems, now I know gun systems, too. And I actually went back to Little Creek and rode another LSD, that was the Hermitage. The first one was LSD-29, that was the Plymouth Rock.”
An LSD, also known as a dock landing ship, is an amphibious warfare ship with a well dock to transport and launch landing craft and amphibious vehicles.
Troutman then served on the Hermitage for two years.
He served as a weapons handler for Squadron 6 which was made up of fast-attack subs until about 1986. I was on there until 1986.
After that he served as a recruiter in Chicago until 1989 were he earned the rank of Chief Petty Officer.
“I was the number one recruiter in the nation got a couple of weeks vacation, went down to Disney World in Florida and talked to some of the new recruiters and stuff,” Troutman said.
After that, I went to VLS Vertical launching systems, which was the latest and greatest missile system… (And I) basically was on there from the start of that system. Went to the USS John Hancock, which is the only U.S. Navy Ship where the John Hancock was actually a signature.”
Troutman said he broke his leg while he was recruiting, which was repaired with a plate and several screws.
The limb repair was not compatible with the constant pitch and yaw of a ship.
“That really made it really hard for me being back on the ship, so they took the hardware out of my knee because it really started causing problems. So I was on limited duty for a while and they wanted to know where I wanted to go, so I went to the AD 41, which was a Destroyer Tender.”
As the weapons officer on the Yellowstone, Troutman was responsible for all the weapons’ handling, inspections and certification of missle systems, launchers and magazines.
And for the first time, his crew consisted of 60 to 70 people.
“That was a big thing,” Troutman said, “to learn to manage large groups of people, which was good. I excelled basically in everything I did. I had a good time, I enjoyed it. It was a job to me, you know what I mean.”
He said as a supervisor in the Navy, he was tough but fair.
“I am a firm believer in getting things done right the first time. Instead of finding out at the end of the day that it wasn’t done or that it’s still going…,” Troutman said I have to answer to people. My people have to answer to me. I am not into that can’t do. Don’t tell me that. ’ve said, look, I don’t want to be torpedoed when I am standing in front of the captain explaining why my people did this, or why they didn’t do that or why something wasn’t done right.
So just let me know.”
Troutman did have several notable missions while he served.
He said he helped bring a yacht to Manuel Noreiga, the de facto leader of Panama i.n the 1980s. “We put this big yacht in the back of the boat and took it down to him, and not a year or so later we went after him because he was a drug dealer.”
Troutman also served in Grenada, Kosovo, and Lebanon.
He said serving in Lebanon when Yasser Arafat was still in there was like “watching a war movie.”
“Because you would sit there – we were in the harbor. No one was allowed up on the deck, because you would be sitting inside the ship and you would hear ting, ting, ting, ting.” Troutman said. “It woud be bullets (hitting) the ship. You’d go out there and find bullets on the ship. So we basically moved out a little ways.”
He also evacuated groups of people, including U.S. citizens and diplomats to Cyprus in 1982.
“When I went on shore, on the beach, (where) we landed,” he said. “You could run your hand through the sand and pick up nothing but bullets. Once the sand was gone, you would have a handful of bullets. (We) watched planes get shot out of the sky and Israel coming and bombing them.
He witnessed rocket propelled grenades shooting from building to building and “people being blown up…”
“It was like watching a movie. But you realized those people were getting killed and it was a bad thing,” he said. “Lebanon used to be the Riviera of the eastern map, well it wasn’t anymore after that. The PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) was in there and that was a bad thing.
Troutman said he saw a lot of change while he served in the Navy.
“We went from the 70’s with no computers or anything to now where they have satellite phones or cell phones or laptops and stuff. And the only way we communicated was by writing,” Troutman said.
“Ann or I would put a number in the top corner of our letters, because if you were out to sea and wrote a bunch of letters she would get a whole stack, or I would get a whole stack. So we (told each other to) read this letter first, this one second, etcetera. You learn to adapt.”
Troutman has been retired on full disability from the Navy for a little over a decade.
His time in the Navy was a job for him. A job that he always tried to do to the best of his ability.
And while he doesn’t carry many mementos of his service, Troutman carries the memories themselves. It may have been a job, but it was a job well done.