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Marshall veteran helped keep nuclear reactors on carrier efficient, well-maintained

  • 2 min to read

Caleb Rogers comes from a family with a long history of military service. He said his family has been involved in every war where the United States of America had a presence going back to the Revolutionary War.

But when he came of age, Rogers made a difficult choice. Instead of entering the Army like his predecessors the now-46-year-old Marshall resident decided to join the Navy in 1994.

“I had looked at the maritime history of our state,” the veteran said. “I’ve always been drawn to the sea.”

Initially, he wanted to be a “frogman” – people who complete military tactics while swimming underwater — or be an underwater welder. However, the veteran did not have the swimming skills to join the ranks.

After basic and service training Rogers ended up in shipyards for five years to work on aircraft carrier construction.

After almost three years of working on building the carriers, Rogers was assigned to the USS John C. Stennis, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier commissioned in 1995 that was powered by two nuclear reactions.

“Our reactor plant was so efficient and so well-maintained and run,” the veteran said.

It was while on the Stennis working with the engineering repair division when Rogers was able to assist the Navy in ways that would lead to new protocols.

He explained even though the Stennis was a fairly new carrier, at times minor problems would occur.

“We had to do some of the cooling (systems) modifications and repair some of those in the reactor so we could certify our reactor,” Rogers said. “When we certified our reactor we certified so well and so far above scale as a command that we got a meritorious certification. I was instrumental in that.

“We were certifying our engineering systems early,” the veteran said. “I certified the first fire damage control team for our watch cycle and then we trained up all the other departments. I was the tech librarian so I had my fingers in all of the stuff.”

While on the seas, the Stennis and its crew went to the Persian Gulf to relieve the USS George Washington as part of Operation Southern Watch. Rogers said during the four-month deployment to the Gulf in 1998 the carrier was responsible for the north-south patrol.

“As a carrier battle group we were able to encompass a 1,500-mile radius, not just a 500-mile radius,” the Marshall man said.

Following the deployment, the USS Stennis made its way to the San Diego. As part of the journey, the aircraft carrier crossed the equator.

“There’s a whole big scenario about fighting off (King) Neptune,” Rogers said.

According to legend, when a ship crosses the equator, the god of the seas comes aboard to judge the sailors to see if they are truly sailors or only posing as such.

“I was elected by the crew to be the ensign to stand that guard,” he said. “I was posted at the bow of the ship while everyone else is going through the ceremony.”

Rogers is currently the adjunct with the Luther-Hamshire-Pearsall American Legion Post in Marshall. One of the things he has started to institute are tributes at the flagpole on the grounds of the Legion building.

Each item on the ground around the pole is representative of military history, the veteran explained. For instance, to recognize the surrender of Japan that ended World War II on Sept. 2, 1945, Rogers laid out a replica photo of the signing of surrender on the USS Missouri and a print of the photo from representatives of Japan standing on the ship.

The Marshall man laid out particular days tributes would be displayed and, personally, is hoping to have something up in early February to mark Four Chaplains Day.

“That story really stuck with me when I first heard it,” Rogers said.

He recounted that on Feb. 3, 1943, the SS Dorchester was hit by a torpedo from a German submarine. As panic set in, the chaplains, all with different religious backgrounds, assisted in helping the crew evacuate. The four chaplains were giving out life jackets but as the supply of floatation devices ran out, the quartet gave up their own life jackets to ensure the military crew could get to the lifeboats.

“They went down with the ship,” Rogers said. “They held hands and recited prayers and went down with the ship. It’s just amazing to hear that story and so many people have forgotten it.”

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