Frank Pereira

Frank Pereira photo

Frank Pereira Jr.
US Navy (Served 1987-1996)
Gulf War I (1990-1991)
Lieutenant Commander
Nuclear Surface Warfare Officer

The son of Spanish immigrants, Frank Pereira Jr. was born on June 12, 1965 in Elmhurst, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.  He lived there for one year and then moved with his family to Shirley, New York.  He lived on the south shore of Long Island, New York until the age of five when he moved to Caldwell, New Jersey.  Hi s family still kept the small house in Shirley for summers, vacations and most weekends with family.   Frank’s first job was as a clam digger, making 10 cents a clam.  Good grades in high school got Frank Pereira an invitation to take high school classes at Columbia University in New York City. Following graduation, he was nominated to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis Maryland.

Frank’s father was a Vice President for Allstate Insurance within the home investigation arm of the company known as Service Review.  In about 1976, he left the company to start his own business in the same field. His company was called Metro Reports Inc.  Frank’s mother was a homemaker who assisted him with the business.

Frank’s family had a colorful history of serving in the military, which influenced Frank’s decision when it came time to choose his path in life.  Frank’s father was drafted into the army during the Korean War. He served as a non-commissioned officer in the 101st Airborne Division; the Screaming Eagles.  Frank’s two uncles were also drafted and served overseas.  Frank was young during Vietnam.  The war ended when he was seven, s o there were no strong memories, other than the general collective memory in the popular media, of the Vietnam vets and a lost war.  Frank’s brothers, John and David, followed Frank into the Naval Academy and graduated with the classes of 1991 and 1994, respectively.  His cousin Ray, who was like a brother, went to New York State Maritime and was in the ROTC program.  Ray was commissioned in 1992.

During his four years in Annapolis, Frank Pereira learned how the military worked. This is where many lifelong friendships were formed. The first year was spent in 15th Company (one of 36).  The next three were with spent in the 25th company.  As graduation loomed, everyone prepared to commit to their future area of work.  Some would become pilots; others would go to sea in submarines. Fully, a quarter of the class would join the Marine Corps.  Frank was prepared to become a navy diver.  His class rank was high enough that he could get almost most anything he wanted, and what better way to serve the country than to be diving around the world; It sounded more like a vacation than work.

However at the eleventh hour, the 24th Company officer convinced him to participate in the nuclear power interview.  A few weeks later, with a $6,000 signing bonus, Frank was accepted into the Nuclear Power training pipeline.  He decided to become a “surface nuke,” one of the smaller groups of nuclear propulsion officers that worked on cruisers and aircraft carriers.  At service selection, he chose a ship out of Japan.  It was not a nuclear ship, but one that would get him his surface warfare qualification within 18 months; then he would transfer to a nuclear ship.   Things didn’t turn out as planned, so for the needs of the navy, he was reassigned to the USS ARKANSAS, CGN-41. This nuclear cruiser was currently in the yards in Washington State, but would be reassigned to Alameda, California in late 1989.  With all the training required, it would be two years before Frank ever made it to the ship.

Following graduation Pereira was accepted into the Nuclear Power Program.   Waiting for the next available class at Nuclear Power School in Orlando, Florida, he was assigned to the Naval Recruiting Office in Iselin, New Jersey.  Pereira worked specifically on recruiting minorities for the US Navy.  He did this by travelling and presenting at high schools in some of the poorest and most crime-ridden neighborhoods in North Jersey.   Being fluent in Spanish, he was able to make connections with many Latinos.  It was during this assignment that he started dating his future wife Katie.

In the late fall of 1987, Frank entered the Navy’s Nuclear Power School (NPS) in Orlando, Florida.  There, he would spend the next six months learning the theory behind nuclear operations.  Along with a fellow classmate, Dan Sammons, he moved into Winter Park Villas, a series of condos near the school.  New students were required to log in forty hours of study each week in addition to the forty hours of classroom work.  But after the first test, those carrying an “A” average were allowed to decide on their own study requirements. This led to homework being done in class and more free time. That began Frank’s association with the local rugby team, the IRON HORSE RUGBY FOOTBALL CLUB.

By the spring of 1988, it was time to move on.  Next stop was the Naval Nuclear Power Training Unit (NPTU) Ballston Spa, New York. This site, located just outside of Saratoga, was one of the places the navy trained new operators on working a Nuclear Plant. Frank was assigned to the S8G reactor, where he spent the next six months learning the ins-and-outs of operating a nuclear plant.   He rented a nearby house along with three other students:   Jeff Taylor, Eric Shay and Mark Gibley.  Frank was the first of his group to qualify.   While in New York, he again found himself playing rugby with a local club.

In the fall, it was time to head to San Diego for the Surface Warfare Officer School (SWOS) to be trained as a surface fleet officer. He and Jeff Taylor headed out to San Diego in Jeff’s black Trans-Am. Only two stops were planned for the tri:  St. Paul, Minnesota, Jeff’s hometown, and Alta, Utah for a little skiing.  The rest of the time was straight driving. One drove until the tank got empty while the other slept.  They would stop in gas stations to switch seats. The only unplanned stop was in Chicago to go to the top of the sears Tower, at the time the world’s tallest building, for a trip up to the observation deck.  It was pretty uneventful. The stop in St. Paul gave them the first chance to sleep in a bed on the trip.  The next bed they would see was the hotel in Salt Lake City.

In San Diego, Frank and Jeff moved into another condo complex. This one was next to Jack Murphy Stadium, now known as QUALCOMM Stadium:  the home of the San Diego padres.  It was located under a highway.  With the window closed, sounded like we were near the sea. The school itself was fairly simple for Academy graduates.  They had already been exposed to most of the material, which made the time in San Diego enjoyable.   Again, Frank found a local rugby team, this time the Armadillos.  He elevated his play and was selected to play with the Southern California select squad that spring. Unfortunately, with schooling ending, he was about to learn how much the nuclear navy would demand of this time.

In the spring of 1989, Frank finally arrived at this first assignment:  the USS ARKANSAS, CGN 41.  This 11,000 ton warship was powered by two nuclear reactors.  She was designed to keep up with a nuclear aircraft carrier, making her one of the fastest ships in the navy.  Armed with missiles and guns, her true task was to shoot down enemy planes.  In addition, she carried eight tomahawks that could shoot at other ships or land targets.  She even had the capability to carry nuclear weapons.  Against submarines, Arkansas could launch torpedoes.

However, the hulk that first greeted Frank was far from the beautiful vessel that would set sail a few months later.  Laying there in the Bremerton, Washington navy yards, the cruiser had many holes cut in her sides with cables and pipes running in all directions. Yard workers swarmed all over the ship, while the crew lived on a barge that floated behind the cruiser’s stern.  The first job for all nukes was to qualify to stand watch. This would take a few months.  Many times it was difficult to learn piping systems that were incomplete, as they were still being assembled.  But working long days, Frank eventually learned the complexities and uniqueness that was the engine room of ARKANSAS.  At the time, he lived with John Kempkes and Pacy Ostroff, two classmates from Annapolis and fellow nukes.

Arkansas put to sea during the late summer of 1989 for post-overhaul sea trials. Although big and heavy, her reactors gave the speed and quickness of a much smaller ship. The crew was soon at sea racing into the Pacific.  A few months later, they made it to our homeport of Alameda, California.  During this period of transition, Frank proposed to Katie Cullen of New Jersey and they planned a wedding for the following spring.

Life on board the ship became one endless job. Frank qualified as an engineering watch officer, supervising the operation of one of the nuclear plants.  In addition, he got his first job, the Repair Division Officer.  In that regard, he had about dozen sailors working for him. He was in charge of all of the repair shop and firefighting equipment.  That winter, their main goal was to get the ship completely ready to deploy overseas; getting ready meant “workups” and “inspections.”    Most of the training focused on training for disasters to include fire and flooding.  The repair division was the center of the action throughout all of this period.

One, less glamorous, job Frank held was to maintain the sanitation system:  basically the toilets and everything that went with it. This was an area that was not maintained during the overhaul, so when the ship went to sea for the first time, there were plenty of backups.  More than once, Frank would be awoken in the middle of the night to hear, “L.T. the “brown trout” are running in the M-division bathrooms!”

As Frank put in long hours on the ship, his fiancée Katie put hours in getting ready for the wedding.  It all came together in Spring Lake, New Jersey on May 19, 1990.  This was followed by a honeymoon cruise off the west coast of Mexico, which was supposed to be followed by some vacation in California.  Katie moved from the east coast to the west coast in the suitcase that she brought on the cruise ship.  Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned.  While still on leave, Frank got a call from the engineer telling him to come in and start the reactor. Plans had changed and the ship was going to sea earlier than expected.  That was Saturday night, by Wednesday they were gone for four months. Katie helped host the last night party at the rental house (she had moved in with two other junior officers), while Frank was again on watch in the plant.

Frank’s first deployment was four months off of the west coast of Mexico supporting President Bush’s War on Drugs.  The ship didn’t pull into port for about sixty days, and then it was Rodman, Panama.  Mail had been infrequent, so that first phone call home was a long one.  Frank’s Spanish skills made him a valuable commodity in dealing with the local fisherman. The highlight of the deployment was the interception and sinking of a drug runner. This was the largest drug bust ever done by the US Navy.  The ship was home for Christmas and Katie and Frank spent their first Christmas together in San Francisco.

Following Christmas the workups and inspections began all over again. This time, Arkansas was scheduled to head to the Persian Gulf to support operation Desert Storm.  During one of the exercises, the Navigator lost his bearings and could not pinpoint the location of the ship as the ship approached the beach.  The Captain and Executive Officer lost confidence in him and he had to be replaced. Frank was selected to be that replacement. He scrubbed off the engine room grease, spent a few weeks at school and immediately started planning the deployment to the Middle East as the navigator of one of elite, state-of-the-art nuclear cruisers of its time.

The trip out started uneventfully, with a stop in Hawaii and a long 14-day crossing the Philippines.   However, while pier-side a local volcano, Mount Pinatubo exploded and rained ash onto the ship.  The whole crew was up at dawn using shovels, hoses, hands and anything else they could to push off the 600 tons of ash that had accumulated on the deck overnight.   The volcano wreaked havoc on the United States base at Subic Bay and shut down Manila, the Philippine capital.  The decision was made to have ARKANSAS assist in evacuating United States military families to Cebu, another Philippine Island where an airport still functioned.  While the crew started loading the 600 civilians, along with cats, dogs, birds and at least one turtle, Frank journeyed out into the moonscape-like whiteness that was the Subic Naval base.  He was sent by the captain to find accurate navigational charts to safely transit the ship to Cebu, a trip that was completely unplanned. The base had been completely covered with a fine white volcanic powder.   That same powder would cause havoc with all the machinery on the ship.  Anything that rotated had to be opened up, the old grease removed, and new material added.  In fact, it wasn’t until a few days from reaching the Persian Gulf that radars started turning again and guns were test-fired.

USS ARKANSAS relieved the USS ENGLAND as the cruiser in the northern gulf in support of Operation Desert Storm.  The ship and crew would spend their days moving slowly to avoid the ever present danger of floating mines.  As a cruiser, their job was to watch the skies for signs of danger from aircraft.  The crew was on station just after the hostilities had ended, as the Navigator Frank worked with the Captain to position the ship each day.  The ship made stops in Bahrain and Dubai.

Finally it was time to head home. USS ARKANSAS returned by way of Australia, stopping in Perth, Hobart and Brisbane.  During the long crossing, the ship conducted the “crossing the line ceremony” where King Neptune arrived to help the Shellbacks (those sailors who had crossed the line before) indoctrinate the Pollywogs (those sailors crossing the line for the first time).  All manner of hazing from crawling through old garbage to fishing tootsie rolls out of toilet bowls with teeth were considered effective indoctrination techniques.  Frank’s attempted rebellion was ill advised and resulted in “special treatment” for the Navigator.  He was the last to be proclaimed a Shellback before King Neptune and his court, including Davy Jones, Baby Huey and the Queen Consort slipped back into the sea.

Following the trip to the Middle East, Frank began studying for his engineer’s exam.  This comprehensive two-day written and oral exam was given in Washington.  Frank passed and was licensed by the Department of Energy to run Naval Propulsion plants.  Then it was time to leave USS ARKANSAS.  After three years, Frank was piped off by the wardroom on the fantail.  But even more memorable were the Chiefs and Leading Petty Officers from his divisions who saluted him from the ship as he walked away to his next assignment.

In 1991, Frank was assigned to Naval Technical Training Center (NTTC) Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay.  He was originally assigned to run the underway replenishment school, which were actually four separate schools. In this assignment he had four Master Chief Petty Officers under his command along with another fifty sailors. One of these was the most senior enlisted woman in the navy at the time.   Basically, the Chiefs ran the school, and let Frank focus on obtaining his Master’s Degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

Again things changed. Also under the NTTC umbrella was a firefighting school.  An older oil-fired facility was being replaced by a state-of-the-art computer controlled trainer.  The new school was way behind schedule, and when improper procedures caused an explosion at the old site, the officer in charge of the Firefighting School was relieved.   When the Admiral found out that there was a Nuclear Qualified officer on the base, Frank was reassigned. Over the next year, he finished the facility, developed Standard Operating Procedures, trained the instructors, and closed the old school. Within a year, the school was up and running taking students.

In 1993, Frank volunteered to go back to the Persian Gulf to support Operation Desert Watch. He spent four months working out of Riyadh Saudi Arabia.  There he learned to speak Arabic.

Leaving the service in 1995, Frank drilled with the Reserves for about a year. But with a civilian job and a new baby, he felt it was time to become inactive.  He ended his service in 1996.

Frank now resides in San Rafael, California with his wife of 21 years, Katie.  They have three children ranging in ages from six to sixteen.   He owns his own company utilizing many of the engineering skills he used in the Navy and working alongside many fellow navy nuclear engineers.

Interview by Victoria Pereira in August 2011.

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