SHREVEPORT, La. - Sailors assigned to Navy Operational Support Center Shreveport teamed up with the staff of decommissioned destroyer Orleck (DDG 886) museum to help perform maintenance and renovations to the World War II destroyer in Lake Charles, La., March 16-17.
Over a dozen sailors from the NOSC volunteered at the ship completing multiple tasks including moving a barge alongside the ship to repair corrosion, accomplishing chipping, grinding, priming and painting projects throughout the ship and relocating more than 30 berthing racks.
According to Ron Williams, executive director for the Orleck Association, the work performed by the sailors impacts the local community by making the ship more accessible to visitors, increasing interest in Navy history and inspiring the next generation of sailors.
“You get a real appreciation for history, what has gone before,” said Williams. “People who don’t have a background in the military or the Navy or the other services learn something from our volunteers here.”
In 2010 the ship opened as a museum telling the Navy’s history and educating local Boy Scouts, Sea Cadets and school groups by allowing them to experience life onboard a ship.
“Boy Scout groups come out to visit and a lot of school groups come out,” said Williams. “One day, in about a three-hour period, we hosted about 250 of them.”
“The local Sea Cadet squadron, they come out here and train on the ship, firefighting training and things like that, but they also come out and do team building and leadership training,” he said.
“It’s really neat to see these kids come out and learn things and have a great time,” he said.
According to Williams the museum opened to the public in April 2011 at its temporary berth.
“Major fundraising is ongoing to build a dock on the lakefront next to Interstate Highway 10 where 60,000 vehicles a day will pass in view of the ship,” Williams said.
"We have tours during the day and laser tag in the evening,” he said. “When we get to the lakefront we will also have overnight stays like the other historic ships,"
"So it's going to be pretty much a 24-hour operation," he said.
“We are confident we can do it,” said Williams. “It’s going to be a major business, nonprofit business, for our town.”
“I personally think it’s going to be a big deal,” he said.
The history of the ship attracts visitors from the Southern Louisiana and Southeastern Texas area that have connections with the shipyard in Orange Texas where the Orleck was built.
“It’s been a great impact on telling the story of not only the period and the men who served on her, but also there’s a story about ship building because many of our family members worked at the shipyard during World War II,” Williams said.
“I look at the Orleck as a national treasure, such a wonderful rich history,” he said. “We have family members that come aboard that say their father worked there or their mother worked there.”
During the visit, members of the Orleck museum staff and volunteers were present including Navy veterans who had served aboard the ship when it was active.
Electronic Technician 1st Class Timothy Butler, a volunteer from the NOSC, said, “Talking to the Navy veterans was more fulfilling than any History Channel documentary.”
“Hearing first hand accounts of everything from World War II beach landings to the blockade during the Cuban Missile Crisis were major highlights of the weekend,” he said.
The Orleck was decommissioned in 1982 after 36 years of active duty with the U.S. Navy, entering service at the conclusion of World War II and serving in the Korean War and Vietnam War.
After decommissioning, the Orleck was sold to Turkey and continued service for another seventeen years, to include serving in the first Gulf War in 1990, until it was returned to the United States to be used as a museum.
Machinist Mate 1st Class Ryan Case, a volunteer from the NOSC, sees potential in the Orleck as a future training opportunity.
“This is something NOSC Shreveport needs to start doing several times a year,” he said. “This helps sailors sharpen up on their skills.”
“The Orleck staff was grateful of the expertise the sailors brought, not to mention the training our sailors were able to receive while doing this work,” said Case.
“The trip was mutually beneficial,” said Butler. “We provided these guys with the kinds of man power they can use to accomplish some of their larger projects while exposing our sailors to some of the same kinds of work they can expect in the fleet.”
“We got a little bit of everything on this excursion, from Military Heritage to Safety on board a Navy vessel and reintroduction to coffin locker life,” he said. “It was hands down the best drill weekend experience of my Reserve career.”
Butler also agreed that returning to the Orleck would be beneficial.
“I think it would be immensely positive if there were some way to be able to turn this into a Remote Training Site for NOSC Shreveport,” he said.
The goal of visiting the Orleck was to provide skilled labor and expertise to help refurbish the museum, but in the end, the trip benefited the sailors as much as the museum.
“The civilians in charge were so thankful for our help and the sailors were so thankful for the opportunity,” said Butler. “It just seems like a match made in heaven.”
To learn more about the USS Orleck museum, visit www.orleck.org.