Seamen on volunteer duty Tradition: When residents from the state bearing a naval vessel's name call, crew members in port offer their help with projects from wiring computers to revamping old barns.

March 23, 1997|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

The Navy touched ground yesterday on the peaceful, rolling hills of an equestrian center in Howard County, where seamen from the USS Maryland nuclear submarine heavily armed with levers, hacksaws and hammers made swift work of a former dairy barn fixup.

While helping to refurbish the 100-year-old barn at the Therapeutic and Recreational Riding Center in Glenwood, the 10 volunteer sailors encountered a problem never faced aboard their vessel: shoveling shin-high piles of cow manure.

"This is not really what I expected to do when I joined the Navy," Barron Rhodes, 29, a seven-year naval technician from Arcadia, La., said wryly. "I never thought of Navy life like this. But we volunteered for this project."

Welcome to today's Navy, where you can travel the world, experience new cultures and learn the many interesting uses of a shovel, for example.

The Glenwood restoration project, where the two-floor dairy barn is being converted into a facility with conference rooms and gift shops, is one of many community service projects preformed by crews from the USS Maryland.

With its home port in King's Bay, Ga., the submarine's crews have driven to Maryland seven times during the past two years to help fingerprint St. Mary's County middle school students, construct a computer media center for a Calvert County high school, and paint and prep classrooms at an Eastern Shore elementary school.

Navy officials said it is traditional for crews to do community service when the vessel is in port or when requested by residents from the state bearing the vessel's name.

"It cements relationships with the community, whether it's foreign or local," said Pat Barrows of the Navy's public relations office.

The submarine has a blue and a gold crew, and while one stays aboard the vessel, the other does community service work.

The submarine arrived in Annapolis on Friday, its first venture into Maryland ports, with the gold crew participating in activities at the Naval Academy. The blue began work at the riding center Friday.

"We're stuck in our world and don't get a lot of chances to deal with real people," Brian Desjardins, 23, a seaman from Sabattus, Maine, said as he pried several worn and musty 20-foot-long, 2-inch-thick barn floorboards.

"This gives us a chance to give something back to the community," he said. "Heck, before I got in the Navy, I did a lot of stuff like this anyway."

The submarine is the fourth commissioned naval vessel to be named in Maryland's honor.

"Everyone likes to get out and do something different sometimes. This is my first time in Maryland, and it seems pretty nice," said Daniel Smith, 26, from Bay City, Texas. "You should have seen this barn yesterday -- you didn't want to see this barn yesterday."

Dale Reynolds, 37, a technician and an 18-year Navy veteran who grew up traveling the country as an "Army brat," said the seamen enjoy volunteer work, largely because it breaks the monotony of daily duties aboard the sub.

He said the sailors offer communities not only free laborers, but ,, trained and skilled mechanics and technicians who can repair items at no charge.

For instance, in addition to ripping up wood floor planks and

shoveling manure yesterday, the sailors fixed a broken tractor and offered technical assistance on the construction.

"We've got a cook here, a nuclear chemist here and missile technicians here," Reynolds said. "There's no missiles or anything electronic to fix, so we just help out in any we that we can."

Lynn Fitrell of the Governor's Office on Volunteerism said many nonprofit organizations routinely request the seamen's assistance.

At a St. Mary's County elementary school, for example, they helped with wiring for Internet access.

"I was very surprised by all of the work that they did," Ranee Smith, a teacher. "The kids liked them because they also answered questions about submarine life."

Dr. Helen Tuel, the founder and director of the riding center, said the Navy agreed to help after she answered an ad in the state's volunteer newsletter several weeks ago.

The private riding center for people with special needs has been at the Glenwood location for about three years. The sailors' assistance saved the facility as much as $10,000 in labor charges.

L Her only problem this weekend was trying to feed the seamen.

Before they came, she thought she had acquired enough food for all three days. It was devoured Friday at lunch.

"I was totally unprepared for that," she said. For instance, she had no idea that each seaman could put away four hot dogs at one sitting.

"But they're working hard and burning a lot of calories," she said.

When the crew wraps up work at the riding center today, much of the floor on the upper level will have been ripped up and replaced. They also hope to finish most of the ground floor -- after they complete that shoveling detail.

Pub Date: 3/23/97

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