by Ryan Labadens, US Navy Public Affairs
“I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: I served in the United States Navy.” – John F. Kennedy
There are probably many Sailors in the U.S. Navy who can point to that quote by President Kennedy as the inspiration behind why they chose to serve. For Capt. Jeff Powell, even though he hadn’t heard that particular quote before he served, he always had that mentality in his youth – long before he decided to join the Navy.
“In the back of my mind I had always thought I would love to be among the group of Americans who serve their country,” said Powell, who took over as the new commanding officer for Naval Construction Battalion Center (NCBC) Gulfport, Mississippi, on Aug. 27, 2020.
Powell was raised in the Midwest, growing up in the areas of St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri. Math and science were always his strengths in school, so a career in engineering naturally appealed to him. He decided to go to Clemson University in South Carolina for his degree in industrial engineering. However, as he progressed further through his studies, he realized that none of the jobs being offered to junior engineers at the time interested him. Then, he found out about the U.S. Navy Civil Engineer Corps.
Powell already had a family history of service in the Navy. His father served in Vietnam as a machinist’s mate (nuclear), and his grandfather served as a chief musician in the Pacific Fleet during World War II. The U.S. Navy Civil Engineer Corps appealed not only to Powell’s desire to serve his county, but it gave him the opportunity to do so in a career field he truly enjoyed.
“I absolutely love the Seabees and the Civil Engineer Corps. The Seabees are a unique mission, and my family and I have always taken it one tour at a time,” said Powell, who received his commission in 1996. “We’ve always asked ourselves at the end of each tour, ‘are we continuing to enjoy what we’re doing?’ And the answer has always been ‘Yes’. We’ve lived in a bunch of different states, and I’ve gotten to travel all over the world and make a bunch of great friends and great memories, so it’s been a really great experience for me and my family.”
Even though he is the latest in a long line of commanders at NCBC, Powell is no stranger to the Atlantic Seabee base or the Mississippi Gulf Coast. He served as both the executive officer and the commanding officer for Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 133, one of the three active-duty Seabee battalions on base, from 2008 to 2010 and then from 2013 to 2015, respectively.
While Powell admitted that when he first joined the Navy he wasn’t necessarily planning on making it a career, the longer he stayed the more he realized that each tour with the Navy – and especially the Seabees – led him, his wife and two children to want to continue their Navy experience. Nearly 25 years down the road, it’s a journey that led them back to NCBC and the Mississippi Gulf Coast for a third time.
“It’s really been a very special place. The base is all about the mission and all about supporting the fleet, the Seabees and the other tenants, and I’ve been really excited to come back and take on a different role… one that’s focused on base operations and supporting the tenants on the base,” said Powell, who went on to describe his enthusiasm for being back in the Gulfport area. “My family and I were excited to come back to Gulfport. As far as places that we could have landed in the Navy, we already had a built-in friend and support network – we knew a lot of people, we love the food on the coast, and there’s a friendly spirit here – it’s just been a great place for our family.”
In describing his command philosophy, Powell said it begins and ends with people.
“We can replace buildings and we can replace equipment, but it’s the people that really make the difference. We want to support the warfighters and their families,” said Powell. “They’re the ones who train here, who work here and who live here, so we need to have the right kind of services and provide them the support they need, and we need to do the best we can with the people and the resources we’re given to support them.”
Powell concluded with his gratitude to all those at NCBC who serve the U.S. Navy and its mission.
“I would say that a lot of times at a base, and in a service-type role, people don’t always get told ‘thank you’, and so whether you wear the uniform or not, you’re serving the United States Navy and the people that are in it. So I would just like to say ‘thank you’ to everybody here. You’ve chosen a life of service, and we’re all a part of the team. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”