by Ryan Labadens, U.S. Navy Public Affairs
Sometimes it can be hard for people to leave behind the parts of their lives that they have identified with for so long, especially when it comes to long-established careers, and especially the long-established relationships they’ve built over the years.
That’s the main thing Ron Perry, deputy security officer for Naval Construction Battalion Center (NCBC), said he will miss most – the relationships he developed over the 18-plus years he’s worked in security at NCBC – when he retires Oct. 31, 2020.
Even though he has been at Gulfport only 18 short years, his career in security spans more than four decades, counting his time serving in the active-duty Air Force.
Perry is originally from a small town in upstate New York called Skaneateles, where he lived with his mother and stepfather on an 85-acre farm raising a small herd of cows and nearly 6,500 chickens.
In his latter teenage years, he worked a couple of odd jobs, one of which was as a security guard for a major hospital in Syracuse, New York.
“I enjoyed the work and was looking at a civilian police career,” said Perry.
“My older brother served his time in the Air Force and returned home. He spent a little over four years as a cop in the Air Force. We discussed his experiences while he was stationed in Vietnam and Vandenburg Air Force Base (AFB), Calif. At this point, I decided to join the Air Force and work in the police field.”
Perry enlisted in the Air Force in May 1975, serving almost 24 years in various security roles.
He credits the nine years he was assigned to Clark Air Base in the Philippines with molding him into the security officer he is today.
“I worked as a patrolman, desk sergeant (dispatch), mobility noncommissioned officer (NCO), admin officer and executive officer to the security police group commander,” said Perry.
A series of natural disasters hit Clark Air Base (AB) in the early 1990s, creating a major impact on the Philippines and on Perry’s life professionally and personally.
“In the spring of 1990, a major earthquake hit the main island of the Philippines,” said Perry. “There was significant damage to the base, but there was greater damage to the civilian community. Over the next few months, we supported the rescue and rebuilding of areas devastated by the earthquake. In June 1991, Mount Pinatubo erupted and severely damaged Clark AB to a point where we evacuated all personnel and closed the base. The period from June to November 1991 we moved household goods out for evacuated personnel, inventoried equipment and shipped back to the states, and closed facilities. I returned to the states in December 1991 and was assigned to Keesler AFB, where I retired Jan. 1, 1999.”
After his Air Force retirement, Perry worked in security at one of the casinos in Biloxi, Miss., before landing a job as a watch commander here at NCBC Gulfport in January 2003.
He worked in various security roles here before becoming the NCBC deputy security officer, the second highest security position on base, in December 2017.
Only a couple of short years after he started working in Gulfport, the Gulf Coast was hit with a natural disaster of its own in the form of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.
“I will never forget Katrina. We went to bed Friday night before the storm made landfall, and it was a Category 2. When we woke up the next morning, it was a Category 5 storm,” said Perry (Hurricane Katrina eventually made landfall as a weaker but still devastating Category 3 storm).
“Probably what I will remember most was sitting in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) as the [command staff] put together military construction projects for the Katrina recovery, and these projects getting approved. We completed over $480 million in construction – which normally takes 10 years – in a little over two years without a security incident on the installation.”
“He’s done some remarkable things over there, like helping with the design of all the gates after Katrina, the new design of the security building – for all of that he had his fingers in the pie,” said Lewis Fountain, NCBC Gulfport emergency operations center director. “We all worked together well. We became the FEMA gas station – he handled that part of it, making sure people got what they needed. And there was a lot of other things he was involved with during Katrina as well,” he said, naming several different security-related tasks that Perry was responsible for overseeing, such as overseeing the money runs his security teams made since banking services were practically non-existent right after the storm, and providing security for the numerous civilians who were sheltering here at the time.
In all of his time working with military members both in the Navy and the Air Force, Perry said that he had the opportunity to work with some great people and some great leaders throughout his security career.
“Some people who mentored me and really shaped me to be successful were [U.S. Air Force] Col. Mike Irwin and Chief Master Sgt. Bob Thomas while I was assigned at Keesler, and Mark Ashley, Lew Fountain and Lt. Cmdr. (retired) Ron Jenkins while I was assigned here at NCBC Gulfport. I can honestly say that I would not be where I am today without their guidance, leadership and friendship,” said Perry.
Guidance, leadership and friendship are attributes that Katie Morrison, the installation training officer at NCBC Gulfport, noticed about Perry while she was working for him in the NCBC security department.
“That’s when I really saw not only his ability to manage people but also to care about his people – and that’s the biggest thing that I have always loved about Ron is that he can be your boss, and he can care at the same time. Not many people can do that,” said Morrison, who has worked at NCBC since 1998 in various military and civilian security roles. “He’s done great things for the department – the technology’s gotten better, he shows up on guard mounts, he takes the time to walk around to different posts on post checks, and instead of just asking the surface questions, he really digs in and wants to know his people.”
In that same vein, Perry went on to praise the tightknit community, camaraderie and professionalism he experienced while working at NCBC.
“What I enjoyed the most was working for true professionals here at NCBC Gulfport,” said Perry. “Your Naval Security Force is better equipped and better trained than any other Naval Security Force within CNIC. With the guidance of Capt. William Whitmire, Lt. Cmdr. (retired) Ronald Jenkins and Lt. Cmdr. Ross Pitcairn, we have taken training, training drills and our work with the local police forces to a new level. We went outside the box and asked the command to support us in building a shoot house for our personnel to train. Without hesitation, the approval was given, and now we have a great training facility that not only we use, but police agencies throughout the coast use.”
He then expounded on some of the insights he gained while serving in a leadership position.
“I have learned that being a leader within the Security Department is a lot like being a parent. You worry every day whether the decisions that you make are the correct ones, and whether these choices will lead to a better future for those you have the responsibility to protect. You have to have faith and trust that must go both ways,” said Perry.
“I have enjoyed my time with the U.S. Navy and especially with the Naval Security Force. I have fought each and every day in this job to protect the personnel who work, live and transient the installation.”
After all of his experiences working in security for 45 years, and even after all the challenges he has faced with earthquakes, volcanoes and hurricanes, Perry said one of his hopes for the people at NCBC is that they will always continue to grow and persevere in the face of adversity.
“What I hope people take away from my time here at NCBC is that you cannot give up, and that you must keep pressing forward,” said Perry. “No matter how tough times may get, tomorrow is a new day.”