I was born in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina on 17 February 1970 to James Edward, and Janet Gilreath Turner. I have one brother, James Edward Turner II, and we lived at 179 Bermuda Dr, North Wilkesboro, North Carolina for most of my childhood. When I was 16yrs old, my mom and I moved across town for about 2 years but returned to my childhood home my senior year. I’m a graduate of Wilkes Central High School (class of 1988) and I attended Fairplains Elementary and Woodward Jr. High. My mom worked at Duke Power and my Dad at Carolina Mirror. My dad served 2 years in the Army and my brother served 4 years in the Navy and a couple of years in the reserves.
I had a pretty typical childhood growing up in Fairplains. My best friends were Stevie Bailey, Adrian Parks and Shawn Thomas. We hunted, fished, played in the woods, rode bikes, played hide and seek, kick the can, tag, and backyard football. But I have to say the two most influential people in my life growing up were Rob and Philmore Thomas. Rob was Shawn’s Dad and Phil his uncle. These two men taught me so much about being responsible, respectful, working hard and enjoying the outdoors hunting, fishing, and camping. These two men poured into my life as one of their own sons and I can’t express enough how much they shaped my life. They also let me work at Thomas Brothers, which was their meat processing company in Fairplains. I think every kid in the neighborhood worked there at some point. I started out just cleaning the floors but later was taught how to process both beef and pork from walking on all four to little white packages. I absolutely loved it and it gave me a sense of accomplishment and responsibility. This wasn’t the only job I had, I worked at KFC and Quincy’s steakhouse for a bit and the summer before I left for the Navy, I worked with my best friend Adrian cutting grass for his Dad, Alphanso Parks who owned a landscaping company. It was fun working with my best friend but that was some of the hardest work I had ever done. We would cut sometimes 20 to 25 yards in a day. Looking back, that summer job gave me the physical stamina I would need to get through boot camp, I just didn’t know it at the time.
My parents were very supportive of my decision to join the Navy but I could tell my mom was a bit reserved. She never expressed it to me but it was something I felt. My brother asked me, “why did I want to do that”, because he was on active duty at the time and he knew the challenges that lay ahead of me. The real story is, I had no intentions of joining the Navy. I always thought I would go to college but I made a bad choice to skip school one day with some friends and we decided to get some beer and stay at the apartment where my mom and I lived at the time. The plan probably would have worked but one of my friends convinced the other two of us that he needed to go to school because he had a test to take. Long story short, we were caught and suspended from school for underage drinking. That day turned out to be the day that changed my life forever. Once my mom dropped me off back at home after having to pick me up from school, the Navy recruiter called me to see if I would come down to his office to speak with him about joining the Navy. Somehow I always felt like he knew I got into trouble and this would be a good time to reach out to me. My mom grounded me for my delinquencies and I knew she wouldn’t let me out of the house. In my mind, this was a good excuse to get out of the house so I told her about the conversation when she came home. In my mind, I just knew she would let me go alone to speak with him. My plan was to skip the meeting and go hang out at my friend’s house. Well, as it turned out, she decided to go with me so I was locked in to the meeting.
Looking back on that day, I can see very clearly that it was the Hand of God guiding me to the Navy. He used my mistakes and turned them into a blessing for His Glory. He used my Mom as the rutter to guide my ship on a journey I couldn’t imagine. This all happened in December of 1987 and in September of 1988, my Mom and Dad took me to Charlotte to catch the plane that started my journey.
Below is the list of my duty stations and service connected schools I attended:
(*) Deployments made while at the command
(**) Official Navy Training Schools
Recruit Training Command, San Diego, CA Sept 1988 - Dec 1988
Naval Construction Training Center, Gulfport, MS Dec 1988 - Mar 1988
Public Works Department, Keflavik Iceland Mar 1989 - Aug 1990
Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133, Gulfport, MS Aug 1990 - Dec 1992
*Deployed to Rota Spain, Desert Storm, Diego Garcia
Sheppard Air Force Base, Wichita Falls, TX Jan 1993 - May 1993
**Uninterruptible Power Supply School
Naval Support Group Activity Galeta Island Republic of Panama Jun 1993 - Feb 1995
Naval Computer and Telecommunication Station, Cutler, ME Feb 1995 - Jan 1998
Naval Computer and Telecommunication Station, Diego Garcia Jan 1998 - Jan 1999
Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133, Gulfport, MS Jan 1999 - Jan 2001
*Guam, Camp David
Naval Support Command, Camp David, Thurmont, MD Jan 2001 - Jan 2004
**Civil Engineer CORP Officer School, Port Hueneme, CA Jan 2004 - Mar 2004
**Mustang University, Pensacola, FL Apr 2004 - May 2004
Construction Battalion Unit 413/Construction Battalion
Maintenance Unit 303 Detachment Pearl Harbor HI May 2004 - Jan 2006
*Operation Iraqi Freedom 04-06 Fallujah Iraq
30TH Naval Construction Regiment Pearl Harbor HI/
Port Hueneme, CA Jan 2006 - Oct 2008
*Operation Iraqi Freedom 06-08 Fallujah Iraq
Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 3, Port Hueneme, CA Oct 2008 - May 2010
*Rota Spain, Liberia Africa
Center for Seabees and Facilities Engineering Detachment
Fort Leonard Wood, MO May 2010 - Oct 2013
Official Retirement date Feb 2014
Below is a list of my military awards, decorations and achievements:
Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist (Enlisted and Officer)
Fleet Marine Force Qualified Naval Officer
Master Training Specialist
Bronze Order of the De Fleury Medal (Received from the Army Engineer Association)
Meritorious Service Medal
Navy Commendation Medal (Five Awards)
Navy Achievement Medal (Five Awards)
Joint Meritorious Unit Commendation
Global War on Terrorism
Iraq Campaign Medal
Fleet Marine Force Ribbon
Meritorious Unit Commendation
Good Conduct Medal (Three Awards)
National Defense Service Medal (Two Awards)
SouthWest Asia Service Medal
Humanitarian Service Medal
Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal
Overseas Deployment Ribbon (Four Awards)
Overseas Service Ribbon (Four Awards)
Kuwait Liberation Medal
Military training is both physically and mentally demanding. From my days during boot camp to my Limited Duty Officer training at Mustang University, I was tested at all levels. Boot camp was a time of transitioning from a carefree, spirited individual to a fit, disciplined, sailor who knew what it meant to be a team member and team player. My Company Commander or Drill Sergeant for the Marines and Army, selected me as a Squad Leader which was my first official promotion and position of leadership and responsibility. This was the first time I got in trouble for someone else’s mistakes, but this is leadership in the service. The more rank you hold, the more people you become responsible for. Your troops depend on you for their very life and it’s your job to ensure all of them come home at the end of the day.
After boot camp, I transferred to Gulfport MS for my rating training or my job in the Navy. I was trained as a Construction Electrician with the US. Seabees, the Navy’s Construction Company. The Seabee’s claim to fame came during their conception and development during WWII building runways in the south pacific. I was taught commercial, residential, industrial, overhead, high voltage, and underground electrical theory and installation. Along with how to operate bucket, Auger and line trucks. During my career I also was trained to operate Heavy Construction Equipment. I have licenses to operate a tractor/trailer, dump trucks up to 20 tons, front end loaders, dozers up to a D7, backhoe, forklifts, and OshKosh snow plow. As a Seabee, I had the opportunity to learn other trades as well. I was taught light and heavy facility construction, concrete work, plumbing, welding, and HVAC systems.
My other official training schools previously listed were due to my selection as a Limited Duty Officer with the Civil Engineering Corp. Throughout my career, I progressed through the ranks fairly quickly. I was promoted to Second Class Petty Officer (E5) before 3 years, First Class Petty Officer (E6) at 8 years, Chief Petty Officer (E7) at 12 years. Becoming a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy is the most prestigious position any Sailor could hold. No other branch of the military forces places more emphasis on this position than the Navy and it was one of two of my most significant promotions of my career. The other one was when I was selected from the enlisted ranks and promoted to the officer’s ranks as a Limited Duty Officer or Mustang. I was commissioned as an Ensign (O1E) and retired as a Lieutenant(O3E). The two schools I attended in preparation for a new career as an officer had two distinct purposes. CECOS was designed to train new officers who just graduated from college, those of us promoted from the enlisted ranks or those transferred from other branches on the history, operations, structure and responsibility of the Civil Engineering Corp. Most of which I learned while being enlisted but LDOs had a secondary reason for attending; we were able to help train these newly commissioned officers from college on the expectations placed on them from the enlisted ranks and how they are to take care of their troops they will lead. Mustang University was designed to help an enlisted Sailor understand some of the etiquettes of being an officer. This school is also called fork and knife school because they teach the fundamentals of formal dining. This was something I didn’t grasp, who needs different forks to eat when one will do just fine. Matter of fact, the instructor, who was this well refined older lady, didn’t appreciate my question of, “How do you eat fried chicken legs?” She said with a fork and knife to which I said, “I’m from the south, fried chicken is always eaten with your fingers, how else are you going to eat the meat next to the bone!” I was thrown out of the class after that remark. I was sent to my Officer in Charge’s office and he asked me what happened? After explaining myself the only thing he said was, “there is always one!”
There is nothing easy about war or combat nor is it something easily discussed by those of us who have experienced humanity at its worst. I’m proud of my experiences and grateful for making it back home, knowing my actions made a difference in some else’s life. I served both in Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, deploying a total of three times during these conflicts. At one point, I spent some part of a year for three years straight in Iraq. My most challenging assignment was during my last deployment to Iraq from August 2007 to March 2008 as the Current Operations Officer for the 30TH Naval Construction Regiment. My responsibility was to manage all engineering efforts in support of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force responsible for the 91 thousand square miles of the Al Anbar province and the fight against terrorism. I was stationed in Fallujah and I managed and assigned engineering projects to (2) Naval Mobile Construction Battalions, (1) Marine Engineering Battalion and (1) Army Engineering, Reinforced Battalion. Together, these 4 units comprising over 2000 Sailors, Marines and Soldiers executed over 250 projects in support of combat operations. These brave, dedicated warriors constructed everything from new forward operating bases to house 800 war fighters to building new roads and repairing war damaged facilities.
I will share one story from this deployment. Admiral Fallon, who was the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, came to Fallujah for a site visit. He wanted to have lunch with and sit down with a panel of junior officers from various units to ask several questions about officer retention in the Navy and Marines. I was selected from my unit to have lunch with the Admiral. When he asked me what it would take to keep me in the uniform, my response was that he needed to ask my wife and not me. I told him at that point in my career I had already served over 20 years so He didn’t have to worry about me leaving anytime soon. That improving the quality of life for my wife and kid especially while I was deployed is something I would appreciate. Military life for families is just as tough on them as it is on the service member. So I did ask him if He could make it possible for me to give my Montgomery GI Bill to my kids and family. This was a program I paid into when I first joined the Navy to pay for future college expenses should I elect to attend after I got out. I told him I would not be interested in attending college after a full career in the Navy. He thought that was an excellent idea. Only a few years later, the Military brought online a program which allowed service members to transfer their GI Bill to their dependents and my daughter used it to pay for her 4 year college education. I like to think because I had that conversation with the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff that one day in Fallujah, this program was born.
When I was deployed during Desert Storm, communication with my family was only through letters which my mom would write to me when she could and she would send little care packages with cookies from time to time. When I was deployed to Iraq during OIF, I was in a location where I could communicate with my wife and family primarily via emails which was something I looked forward to everyone when I arrived at my office space. There was nothing like firing up your computer for the day and seeing an email from your wife. We wrote letters too and I occasionally was able to call so keeping in touch was fairly easy during this time.
Adapting to Military life and Friends
As you can imagine, military life is one of the toughest and demanding lifestyles there is. But it wasn’t hard for me to adapt to military life primarily due to the friendships and bonds I formed with the people I served with. I have lots of friends who I have run across from duty station to duty station and we were able to pick up right from where we left off. But I also have friends that became more than that, they became family and I stay in touch with them. For me, one friend in particular is Chris Vincentti. We first met early in my career while I was stationed in Gulfport with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133 in 1992. At first we mixed like oil and water. We even got into a fist fight in the galley all because he bumped into me. After the fight, we became best friends. As far as who won the fight, not sure, I seem to remember it being a tie. We quickly became like brothers. We were the rate (Construction Electrician), we had about the same time in, I joined a year earlier than him, and we rose through the ranks at about the same time. After battalion, we both took separate paths in our careers but found each other again back in 133, 7 years later. We both made Petty Officer First Class (E6) and we quickly became a force to reckon with. We got shit done and our Chiefs knew it. They came to us for everything and we ended up being ranked #1 and #2 in the whole battalion out of 100 or so Petty Officer First Classes. We fed into each other and it propelled both of us to the top. We separated again after that duty station but we both made Chief Petty Officer the same year. We both were selected for Limited Duty Officer as well but he was promoted a year ahead of me. Matter of fact, I had been applying for several years before I convinced him to put in his package and wouldn’t you know it, he was selected the first year he applied, ahead of me. He never gave me shit over it and I still celebrated with him on his selection. Looking back, I see now that it was the Hand of God because had I been selected that year, I would have had his career path instead of the one I did have and I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as I did my own career. His first duty station as an Officer was San Diego CA, mine was Pearl Harbor HI, see what I mean. We both retired in 2014 and we still remain brothers and close friends as in the days we served together.
End of Service
I originally planned to serve for 30 years. Once I past 20 years, the decision for 10 more was pretty easy for me to make. At my 20 year mark, I had just been promoted to Lieutenant and had to do at least 6 more before I would be eligible for Lieutenant Commander (O4). This was my goal, to be selected for Lieutenant Commander because I would hold the most senior position in the military of all my relatives. I already out ranked any family member on my side but my father-in-law was an Army Captain (O3) so I was tied with him. All this changed almost overnight for me. I was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, MO as the Officer in Charge of the Navy Detachment. I had orders to Italy where I would be the Future Plans Officer for the First Naval Construction Division (1NCD), the highest command for the Civil Engineer Corp. My job would have been to travel all of Europe to different military installations working with their base Commanders to develop construction projects for the Seabees to execute during their peacetime deployments. It was going to be the perfect job. I would have transferred with just my wife and dog because all our kids were on their own. I also was next in line for that promotion to Lieutenant Commander. Life was looking really good. Then the phone call came from my detailer telling me that my orders were canceled because a new Navy command was taking over 1NCD, and my job was deleted. I didn’t have any options for orders after that, the Navy wouldn’t put me in an O3 billet because I was too senior and they wouldn’t place me in on O4 billet because I wasn’t promoted yet. So I spoke with Lieutenant Commander Scott Anderson, who was the most senior Limit Duty Officer in my field at the time and a really good friend of mine about my situation. We really didn’t come up with any good option except one. As I told Scott, “I could pull the ripcord,” meaning I could retire. This was something I never thought about before. Leaving something I had dedicated my whole adult life to was somewhat scary. But as I was driving home that day, something happened to me that has never happened before and only one or two times since then. In my truck as I was thinking about all this, I audibly heard God say, “Jeff it’s going to be ok”. I heard that voice as clear as anything else. As though God was sitting beside me in my truck. Tears began to roll down my face and when I walked into my house, my wife immediately thought someone died. So I told her the whole story and we prayed about it and she supported my decision to retire.
I had my retirement ceremony at Westside Baptist Church, the church we attended while stationed in Missouri. I had my family and friends with me to celebrate this moment. Several of them were actually in the retirement ceremony. My good friend, CDR Scott Anderson (he was promoted), was my retiring Officer, my Uncle Mitchell Dowell, retired Army Sergeant Major performed the opening prayer, my good friend and Chaplain in the Navy and Army Capt Keith Adcock performed the closing prayer and I had several of my good friends and brothers in service as side boys who gave me my last salute and send off as I was piped ashore for the last time. My best friend Chris Vincentti, escorted my wife to be by my side and the Navy piped us both ashore, leaving the Navy behind us.
Where God closed one door, he opened another. Upon my retirement, I moved my two best friends, my wife and my dog just south of Fort Leonard Wood, to a little ole town called Mountain Grove where I served as Youth Pastor and General Construction Manager to rebuild both physically and spiritually one of the local churches. We stayed there four years and moved on to another ministry called On Time Ministry where my wife and I served as house parents for women rescued from sex trafficking. We provided a safe home environment with structure, counseling, mentorship, and healing for these women. It was the most rewarding yet hardest thing I had ever done. Looking back, God had a plan for my life and I couldn’t do what He needed me to do while still in uniform which removed all doubts or regrets for retiring before my 30 years. I’ve since moved on from the ministry because the ministry dissolved and in 2020 I was hired by the City of Mountain Grove as the General Manager of the Randel Hinkle Municipal Golf Course. Golf is something I love to play and now I get to work in an industry where work and play come together. I also designed and served as treasurer for the Mountain Grove Veterans Memorial Wall project, constructing the first ever veterans memorial in the city.
I have truly been blessed by my military service in more ways than I have time to speak about. But the greatest thing to ever come from my military life is my life long partner, best friend and wife, Tracy Ann Turner. We met in the Republic of Panama in 1993 and were married on 1 July 1994. She too served in the Navy and actually gave up her career to be with me. She has sacrificed so much for me and words can’t express deep enough how much I love her and what she means to me. She has been my support and biggest fan for almost 30 years of being married. So if there is anything or anyone who should get the credit for my success in the Navy, it is God and how He used my wife to hold me up through the thick of things and my mom for steering me in the Navy’s direction. Oh, and she also told me she would kick my butt if I didn’t re-enlist when it came time to do so, so thanks mom!
Being a career military service member is the toughest job you’ll ever love. If you commit yourself, work hard, stay focused and follow the orders of those appointed over you, you’ll have the most rewarding life and experience you could ever imagine. You’ll see things, do things and go places beyond your wildest dreams. You’ll join the elite few who can say proudly and distinctly, “I served my country in the armed forces”. So if you are a young man or woman and you are reading my story trying to figure out what you want to do with your life; stop reading and go to the nearest recruiting office and sign up. It will be the most challenging and rewarding decision you’ll ever make.