The Navy's only 40-year veteran, Command Master Chief Petty Officer Bobby L. Scott, has retired and officials say that with new rules limiting enlisted men to 30 years of service, he likely will be the last to hit the four-decade mark.
"I have had a good time, but I know it's time to leave," said Scott, 58, who retired Friday. He last served aboard the guided missile cruiser Thomas S. Gates. "There's really no room for me anymore."Scott was 18 when he enlisted in 1952 fresh out of high school in Union City, Tenn. He has served in the Korean, Vietnam and Persian Gulf conflicts and visited nearly every major port in the world, including the once-closed city of Sevastopol in the former Soviet Union.
His tour of duty included volunteering for Vietnam twice and 51/2 years on the battleship USS Iowa. He was transferred from that ship just a few months before a gun turret explosion killed 47. "I lost a lot of friends," he said.
As a chief petty officer, Scott has been a tutor and mentor to both young sailors and young officers.
"If an officer is going to be a success, he needs to listen to his CPO until he finds out what he is doing," Scott said. "That is part of being a chief petty officer, training young officers.
"Sometimes it required an abrupt manner, and sometimes you need to pat a kid on the back," he continued. "I probably used the first one more than the others."
He said if there was anything he could have changed about his career, he would have spent it all at sea.
As the Navy is downsizing, it will not let enlisted men stay longer than 30 years. Navy officials say Scott's tenure will likely never be matched.
And despite his reputation as a gruff old salt, he gives a lot of credit to Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, a former chief of Navy operations, for making the Navy what it is today. In the '70s, Zumwalt pushed through dramatic changes that allowed sailors more freedom, such as wearing civilian clothes off the ship and having somewhat longer hair.
"A lot of people said he ruined it, but I think Admiral Zumwalt was a turning point," Scott said. "He was the first guy who started thinking about our people."
He added: "I've never seen a lot of bad sailors. There are some, but most can be helped and saved. I've enjoyed working with professional, dedicated individuals, and through the years it has gotten better. There is a dignity in the enlisted ranks that wasn't there when I was a young apprentice."