Naval Support Activity South Potomac (NSASP) said goodbye Sept. 7 to its command master chief, Master Chief Petty Officer (Submarines) Joseph Eller, who retired after 30 years of service. Eller spent most of his career onboard Trident missile-armed submarines, including the USS Lewis and Clark, USS Pennsylvania, USS West Virginia and USS Dolphin. His service saw him participate in the firing of several Trident ballistic missiles for test and evaluation purposes.
Since October 2009, Eller served as the senior enlisted leader for NSASP. His longtime friend retired Cmdr. Dennis Quick, who served as NSASP's executive officer, was the ceremony's guest speaker and honored Eller.
"It's truly an honor to be here today on such a significant and joyous occasion. to celebrate Command Master Chief Joe Eller's 30 years of service to his country and the United States Navy," said Quick. "I had the distinct privilege of serving with Master Chief during my last two years of service, which ended just a short year ago. During that time, I came to rely on his sage counsel, no matter the topic. It was a normal routine to bounce ideas off of him before putting things into action and more than once, I had to adjust my approach or change tacks altogether after some very spirited discussions. I'm honored that he would ask me to come and speak for his service during this ceremony."
Quick spoke about Eller's long service in the submarine fleet, with special attention to Eller's last stint on a submarine, the diesel-powered USS Dolphin. "Joe did tell me they went pretty deep a few times out there, this being a research sub," said Quick. "But he wouldn't tell me just how deep. He did assure me, however, that I didn't have enough fishing line to go bottom fishing where he'd been."
Of course, some occasions among friends call for some good-natured joking. "The Navy History and Heritage Command website includes the Dolphin's annual History Command operations reports for every year since her commissioning in 1968, with few exceptions," said Quick. "Joe arrived as chief of the boat in January 2004. In 2004, 2005 and 2006, the command reports are all missing. They don't say they're classified; they just say they never received them."
The audience enjoyed a laugh, none more so than Eller himself.
Quick turned over the stage, but not before offering his friend a few more kind words. "This is Joe's career in a nutshell, some words on a few pages to try and sum up the many contributions this Sailor has made to our country, our Navy and our way of life. We came together here to celebrate a life dedicated to service and professionalism, and our core values of honor, courage, commitment. Actually, it's more than just dedication; it's success. success at an exceedingly difficult job, done exceptionally well, for an extraordinary period of time."
Quick was far from alone in his gratitude. Capt. Pete Nette, commanding officer of NSASP, praised Eller for his work onboard the installation and thanked him for his friendship. "Today we officially recognize the many contributions that Master Chief Eller has made to our Navy and our country," said Nette. "While serving as the command master chief of an installation brings a different set of challenges, Master Chief Eller has served across the operations spectrum, both ashore and at sea."
Nette paid special tribute to Eller's ability to develop young Sailors in an era of increased operations tempo and decreased budgets. "Today we say farewell to a leader of young men and women, a Sailor who has given 30 years to the Department of Defense and one who has placed service above self. He has sacrificed many hours, days and months away from his family to be a leader in our fine military and defend our freedom. His dedication and perseverance have made a difference, from student, to teacher to leader, 1982 to 2012, 22 patrols and then some."
Nette hoped Eller would remember all the lives he touched while serving his nation. "Don't forget the impact you made, because the Navy will not."
Eller's last commanding officer left him with a friendly goodbye, one that brought out a big grin. "Fair winds and following seas. jack wagon," said a smiling Nette. "That's a term of endearment."
Eller was recognized with a series of awards, including a meritorious service medal and a certificate of appreciation. For him, the moment was bittersweet. "What can I say?" he asked. "What can I really talk about to make the day of my retirement any easier or more difficult? Like Captain Nette said: 'it will be emotional, Master Chief.' And I said 'well Sir, if you start crying it's my military obligation start crying, too."
Joking aside, Eller thanked the Nette family and others for his tour onboard NSASP. "I would like to thank Captain Nette and his family for the best year I've experienced in 30 in the United States Navy. I'd also like to thank my friend, Commander Dennis Quick, retired, for being my guest speaker and for providing me with words of inspiration, as well as his wonderful wife Diane."
Eller expressed gratitude to all the people he came to know while working onboard NSASP. "Today is my final chapter before I forge the few remaining decades I have in my life. I'm not certain what my life has to offer me in the next few decades before I graduate like my parents did in 2005. I will continue to live them out, in the spirit of an August chief petty officer, to the best of my ability."
Those who know Eller were not surprised to learn he wasn't exactly excited about leaving the Navy. "Well, my time to serve has come to an end, but I'm not ready to retire yet."
Of course, it was not the first time Eller faced a bittersweet moment in his career. As the last chief of the research submarine USS Dolphin, Eller learned how hard it can be to write the final chapter in a storied career. "It was pretty bittersweet to de-commission her," said Eller of the USS Dolphin.
And then there were the sea stories amassed over three decades of Navy service. Rouge waves, flooding casualties and cold, really cold, North Atlantic seawater with an odd lime-green color resembling antifreeze. "Some of the stuff we did and said. sometimes I think it's a wonder I'm alive at all."
Through all the adventure and misadventure, Eller was clearly proud the priorities he kept during his career. "I took care of my Sailors," he said. "I always have and I probably always will. I seem to have a soft spot for junior sailors."
True to form, one of Eller's last acts as an active Sailor was to provide some sage advice to other Sailors nearing retirement. "Take it from experience," he said. "If you're about two years from retirement, you need to get busy [preparing] or you are behind the curve."
One item Eller made clear: the thing he will miss the most about leaving the Navy is Sailors. More specifically, he said he will miss molding young Sailors into leaders. While serving onboard NSASP, Eller saw two of his petty officers advance to the rank of chief petty officer. Retirement or not, Eller has been very active with the current crop of chief petty officer selectees this month. He presented the selectees to the audience as the next generation of chief petty officers to much applause.
Eller also thanked the civilians he came to know and work with during his final tour. "We've shared some pretty awful times, haven't we?" said Eller, drawing laughs and nods of understanding from his friends in Building 101. "I hope. and I pray. that my relief has the same sense of humor."
"What a great staff we have here at South Potomac," he said. "I think we were the best working team that it has ever been my pleasure to work with."