Jeremy P. Amick is the public affairs officer for the Silver Star Families of America.
“The experience gained through military service can’t be bought,” said Columbia resident Warren Forrest of his service aboard submarines during the Cold War. “These are experiences that must be lived.”
While sharing the details of a career now in full hindsight, Forrest mirthfully recalls that not everyone in his family embraced his decision to join the Navy.
When his older brother returned from naval leave in 1955, Forrest recalls his advice: “Whatever you do, don’t join the Navy!”
But the aspiring sailor ignored the warning and enlisted — a decision that lead to a 20-year naval career.
Completing his initial training, Forrest spent 26 weeks in Norfolk, Va., attending radio school learning the basics of Morse code and the fundamentals of radio communication.
The new enlistee then made yet another last-minute decision when he decided to serve aboard submarines because “it just seemed exciting.”
Upon completion of his 8-week submarine indoctrination training at New London, Conn., in late 1956, Forrest was assigned to the USS Pomodon — a World War II-era submarine powered by diesel engines.
The vessel, Forrest explained, served as a training platform for extended submarine duty. The submarine would perform short exercises during which new sailors were familiarized with on-board operations.
Spending 18 months with the submarine, Forrest was transferred to the submarine group for the western Pacific located in Yokosuka, Japan, in 1958.
Attached to a submarine for “administrative purposes,” Forrest notes he was part of an eight-person command group coordinating the repairs and resupply of several submarines.
In 1958, he was sent to a six-month school in Mare Island, Calif., to learn the basics of an emerging propulsion technology — the Navy’s Nuclear Power School.
“It was like a four-year degree program completed in six months with a concentration on the principles of nuclear engineering,” Forrest said.
He then traveled to Idaho to receive applied training on an actual nuclear reactor becoming familiar with its operation and supportive equipment.
Initially, the fully-trained sailor was sent to Pearl Harbor and served aboard the USS Sargo— a nuclear submarine which, according to Forrest, “had recently become the first sub to transit the North Pole during the wintertime.”
During the next several years, Forrest went on to serve on several nuclear submarines and became a qualified engineering supervisor. His assignments found him on western Pacific deployments where surveillance was conducted on Russian vessels in order to determine their nuclear capabilities.
Throughout the latter half of his career, he served as a recruiter in Illinois and Missouri, returning to submarine duty in 1969 when attached to the USS Plunger (SSN-595), which was the third naval vessel to carry such a name.
Forrest spent five years aboard the vessel becoming qualified as an engineering and diving officer and advancing to the rank of master chief petty officer. Responsible for all reactor operations, he participated in additional western Pacific deployments, some off the Siberian coastline.
He left the ship in 1974 and spent the last 18 months of his career as a nuclear adviser with the Navy Training Center at Great Lakes, Ill.
Following his departure from service, the seasoned sailor spent the next 34 years working at nuclear power plants throughout the country, with the exception of a three-year stint during the mid-1980s during which he served as a training instructor at Fort Leonard Wood.
In 2009, Forrest made the decision to retire from this second career.
“I’ve had a fulfilling career and have been fortunate to do everything that I’ve wanted to do,” Forrest said.
With a cheerful expression born of memories mined from years past, Forrest notes that unlike his older brother, he in not hesitant in recommending naval service for young men and women.
"My service gave me practical experience in a technology most people have never seen," he said. "And not only will the Navy provide (young people) with nuclear training free of charge, they'll get to see the world while they acquire this knowledge."
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