NORFOLK, Va. — Seated at an empty desk in a room once filled with accolades, plaques, photos or any other item you can imagine, a hollowed echo rang out as Mark Anthony spoke in the now bare office space.
“My career is coming to an end. It’s been a long 48 years dating back to when I first reported to the U.S. Naval Academy back in July of 1972,” Anthony said as he settled into his chair. “It’s been 28 years in the United States Navy flying P-3 (aircrafts) and doing really exciting things for the Navy.”
Anthony, the shore readiness subject matter expert for the Fleet Installations and Environment directorate at U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFFC), will officially retire on Wednesday — for a second time. Anthony will move on after 48 years of naval service and support. He first served in the U.S. Navy on active duty for 28 years before earning a position as government service employee, where he would continue his service by dedicating another 20 years to his country.
It’s hard to believe that the space once housed mounds upon mounds of paperwork, binders, books and the remnants of a nearly 50-year career of naval service. On his last day of work at USFFC, Anthony packed up the last box of his goods and sat down to tell his story spanning almost five decades.
First Career, Life of A Sailor
Upon graduation from Washington High School in his hometown of Cedar Rapids, he was accepted into the U.S. Navy Academy in July of 1972. After commissioning as an ensign, he headed to Pensacola, Fla., where he completed the training needed to earn the title of a naval aviator.
“I always wanted to fly, and I saw naval aviation as a great opportunity to do that, so that led me to the Naval Academy and the rest is history,” he said.
Over the next nearly three decades, he would see countless campaigns and missions as a P-3 Orion aircraft naval flight officer and eventually as a commanding officer of the crew affectionately known to him and many others as the “World Famous Woodpeckers” of Patrol Squadron VP-49 in Jacksonville, Fla. Relocating to places across the world and bouncing between duty stations from California to Iceland, Anthony has experienced many tours of duty. Nonetheless, his several tours as a commanding officer seemed to hold a special place in his life.
“My favorite duty station has to have been (Naval Air Station) Keflavik, Iceland, where I was CO,” he said. “I think working with the great Icelandic people, NATO and the U.S. Navy team, is a whole added dimension that put so much more excitement and challenges, and yet rewards into that job.”
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While some may suggest he deserves kudos for using the terms like ‘excitement’ when describing his tour as a commanding officer while stationed in a foreign country, Anthony was certain of his choice.
“I had some great duty stations and tours, but when I think back on the people — the mission, and the support for the U.S. Navy — that one in Iceland is at the top of the list,” he said.
When answering ‘how does a guy from Iowa even think about joining the Navy?’ he replied, “It’s the patriotism inherent to the Midwest — it’s a very important part of life there, being an American and giving back of yourself for your country.”
Second Career, Life in Government Service
This life seemed to be a far cry from the person who sat in the seat as a shore readiness guru. It seemed to be impossible to fit both of these full lives into one. Anthony managed.
“I retired from the Navy on a Friday, I’ll never forget it,” he said. “May 4, 2004, at Fleet Forces after three years as a captain here. I came back to work on Monday at Fleet Forces working now as a GS civilian.”
If 28 years of holding roles of a military aviator and being the senior, responsible officer of several commands wasn’t enough, he set his sights on integrating into the staff of one of the Navy’s most senior officers. Working at a four-star admiral’s command hosted a wildly different set of challenges in itself.
“Not until I came to a four-star command did I realize that the kinds of projects that we get involved in at the fleet level affect the country to a much greater degree,” he said. “So my biggest challenge has been the outlying landing field project for the F-18 aircraft. Though we never did achieve that end result, it did lead to a major accomplishment — finding a (fleet carrier landing practice) location field for our E-2 and C-2 aircraft.”
This significantly changed the course of training for current and future aviators.
“We didn’t quite get it for the jets but we did for another aircraft,” he continued. “You learn from what you didn’t succeed at, but you move forward and try to find another solution. And seeing those first E-2/C-2 aircraft coming into the modified field at Flight Facility Wallops Island that first day was extremely rewarding and gratifying.”
Was retirement really a reality for Anthony? The reality is that he has never held a job since high school that has not directly involved with the Navy. But he stated it was because of his high level of job satisfaction that he had no regrets in leaving. It simply was his time to say goodbye.
“It’s been a lot of fun and it’s been rewarding, and I can’t say there isn’t one day that I didn’t enjoy putting on a uniform, military or civilian, and coming into work,” he stated as he beamed.
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He explained that it was the outstanding people he worked with, sailors and civilians alike, who kept him “fighting the good fight,” as he put it. He truly believed that “every day was a joy. It never was a job, but rather an adventure.” But why?
“Number one it’s the people,” he said. “It’s always rewarding and gratifying when you are working with such professionals, and great folks who are dedicated and excited for what we are doing for the United States government and the Navy as a team.”
Now that all of his taskings are complete, he is turning off the light and walking out of the door, but not after leaving a few pieces of advice for those considering a life ... or two ... in military service.
“I would just say for someone already in the service to keep an open mind and be flexible. There are always new ways and new challenges ahead. Don’t be averse to looking at things from a different perspective to come up with the right answer,” he said.
“Whatever career paths or challenges you choose to partake, be bold and go for it,” Anthony continued. “Have faith the Navy will do their part and make it happen. That’s my advice for people already working for Uncle Sam.”
A wide smile spreads across his face.
“For the folks considering time to serve their country, the best advice I can offer is in terms of encouragement. There is so much the Department of the Navy has to offer. Education and awareness is the best advice I have for anyone looking to join the team, civilian or military. Go for it.”
This article was written by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Cass Stacy M. Atkins Ricks, U.S. Fleet Forces Public Affairs.