ST. MARYS — At 17-years-old, MMCS Brock Luedeke made a decision that has impacted the rest of his life.
At the time, Luedeke, the son of Edward and Ginger Luedeke of Union City, Tenn., and Mike and Mary Zimmerman of St. Marys, was a senior in high school, anticipating his 18th birthday and making plans to attend the University of Tennessee – Knoxville. A friend of his had recently joined the military and referred Luedeke to a recruiter.
“At the time, if you referred a friend to the military, you would be able to promote faster within a certain amount of rank,” Luedeke said of why he was referred to the recruiter.
After ignoring a phone call from the recruiter, Luedeke got a visit while he was working at Home Builder’s Mart.
“I was counting nuts and bolts for inventory purposes and this guy came and said, ‘You can count nuts and bolts the rest of your life, or you can go do something that’s worth something. It’s up to you.’” Luedeke said. “He said it very bluntly.”
Impressed with the bluntness of the recruiter, Luedeke said he decided to stop by the office that night, and by the end of the evening, he made a decision to join the Navy.
Initially, Luedeke said he signed up to be an aviation mechanic, but after taking a test, he found himself heading in a different direction.
“When I got to the military processing center, they looked at my high school scores and realized that I needed to take a test,” he said. “I took this special test, the Nuclear Field Qualification Test, and I did well on it — well enough to be accepted into the nuclear program.”
Luedeke was offered a slew of incentives to join the Navy Nukes.
“They offered me $10,000 to go to school for two years and I thought, ‘Well that’s pretty cool, I’m going to go to college anyway,’” he said. “So they told me about this school and they were going to pay me $10,000 to go to school and pay for room and board and everything.”
He decided to join the program, but was required to leave quickly.
“I turned 18 on May 19, and I was off to the Navy on May 29 of the same year,” he said. “I graduated high school May 25 and, I was off to boot camp on May 29. It was a very quick May.”
Luedeke attended boot camp in Great Lakes, Ill., and upon his graduation from boot camp a few months later, he was ranked a fireman. He then went through the schooling program for the next year and a half before arriving on his first ship, the U.S.S George Washington. His job, Luedeke said, was to watch over the nuclear equipment.
“Basically, I made sure that the components that supported the nuclear reactor were in operation,” he said. “I would operate the equipment and I would do maintenance on nuclear equipment ... Basically I was a plant operator.”
Luedeke re-enlisted in 1999 and was advanced to petty officer second class. He then qualified for chief reactor watch and was selected to be a work center supervisor, where he was in charge of a group of 12 people.
Luedeke’s ship responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, while he was still serving as a work center supervisor.
“On Sept. 12, the only airplanes that were flying over New York that day were planes from the U.S.S. George Washington,” Luedeke said. “Smoke was still coming from the buildings. I got to go up on the flight deck and see the aftermath. This was a sad day, but I’m glad I got to help.”
Luedeke continued to advance to petty officer first class, taking on more responsibilities and training younger sailors. He worked to qualify as reactor duty chief and was then put in charge of 110 people, before leaving the U.S.S. George Washington in 2003 as the No. 1 petty officer first class.
He reported back to the Nuclear Power School as an instructor.
“I taught students electrical theory, mechanical theory and reactor plant systems,” Luedeke said. “I was in charge of anywhere from 32 to 105 young, impressionable sailors.”
Luedeke was pinned with his anchors in 2004 and was named Naval Nuclear Power Training Command Section Adviser of the Year in 2007. By 2008, Luedeke was faced with a decision.
“When I got to my 10-year point, I was a chief petty officer for two years at that point, and I had to make a decision,” he said.
“I got to that 10-year point, and you make that decision then if you’re going to stay in or get out. The job market wasn’t looking real good then — that was in 2008 — I had a pretty good job and I made rank pretty fast. I really just wanted to see how far the Navy could take me as far as if I could ever make master chief petty officer.”
Luedeke signed on again and continued work on the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, ported in San Diego, Calif., where he stayed until August 2011. He is now stationed in Norfolk, Va., as part of the Commander Naval Air Forces Material Inspection Team — the first nuclear-trained person to ever be a part of the team.
In his 14-year career with the Navy, Luedeke has earned a slew of awards, medals and honors and has been deployed six times.
The most rewarding part of his experience, he said, has been the opportunity to teach young sailors.
“The most rewarding part of this job is seeing your sailors advance and go through the ranks just like you did and you being able to help them,” Luedeke said. “At the end of the day, you go home and you realize, ‘Hey, my division is doing well because I’m helping them get through it.’”
As an instructor, Luedeke noted, he had an affect on the lives of many young sailors.
“I had the ability to get into so many young peoples’ lives,” he said. “Get them through the program and help them. I had a tremendous impact there, and then I had just as much of an impact, if not more, when I got to the fleet as a chief.”
Luedeke said his choice at 17-years-old to join the Navy was the right one for him.
“I think if I would have stayed in Tennessee, I would have gone to college,” he said. “I don’t think I would have done much. I think I’ve had a much greater impact doing what I do in the Navy than I would have ever done staying in Tennessee.”