February 2017 Veteran of the Month: Recipient of the Navy Achievement Medal

We are excited to introduce our February Veteran of the Month – Tracy McClain!

Tracy McClain Navy Picture

Tracy when he was in the Navy.

Tracy is originally from Hartford City, Indiana, but lived in Indianapolis, Indiana for twenty five years. In June of 2013, after marrying his wife, Shelly-Ann, he moved to Alpharetta, Georgia.

Tracy has worked for National Vision as an IT Security Engineer since November 2016. He was an IT contractor before that, employed by Ingenico in Alpharetta, Georgia.

Tracy also served our country in the Navy from 1987 to 1991 as a Boatswain’s Mate Second Class (BM2) and received the Navy Achievement Medal. He also visited Cuba, St. Thomas, Puerto Rico, Aruba, the Panama Canal, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, the Strait of Magellan, Argentina, Brazil, Port of Spain, Trinidad, and Venezuela.

After being honorably discharged in August 1991, Tracy went to college for a year, then decided to enter the workforce in the printing trade. He has worked in printing and IT his entire adult life – owning and operating a wholesale printing company from 2002 to 2009, then returned to IT, where he has been ever since.

We recently sat down with Tracy to learn more about this service history and how his time in the Navy has shaped who he is today.

Why did you join the Navy?

“After I graduated high school I worked as a mechanic at a local tire shop in my hometown of Hartford City, Indiana. There really didn’t seem to be much opportunity for advancement or to gain a higher paying job without acquiring additional experience or getting a college degree. So I decided to join the Navy.

My brother had already served in the Navy for six years an Electronics Technician and seemed to enjoy it. I thought electronics was in my blood as my father was a Journeyman Electrician so I chose an electronics rating. From the first time I spoke with a Navy recruiter until my first day in basic training, only six days had elapsed. They had slots immediately available for the advanced electronics field I had applied for.”

Can you tell us about your time in the Navy?

“I had basic training and initial electronics schooling in San Diego, California. I was then transferred to the Great Lakes Naval base where I spent a few more months in advanced electronics training for the position I was to hold – Fire Controlman (FC). FCs typically operate weapon systems on-board surface combatant ships.

USS Lawrence

The USS Lawrence. Photo credit: http://www.navsource.org/

However, the further I advanced in my training, the more I knew it wasn’t for me. I dropped out of my classes and was transferred to Norfolk, Virginia to the USS Lawrence DDG-4, an Adam’s class destroyer built in 1960, which was receiving a major overhaul and upgrade. I was assigned to the Boatswain’s Mates (BM). BMs are the leaders and backbone of every ship’s crew – they maintain the exterior surfaces of ships, handle deck machinery, equipment and cargo, and operate small boats.

While in the ship yard, I mainly worked on refinishing the outer hull and decks, which consisted of chipping away the old paint and laying down a few coats of fresh paint. It was hard work and it made me truly appreciate the time at liberty (the term used for the time while not at work).

Fairly quickly I began to enjoy the work I was doing along side the Boatswain’s Mates. I decided I would pursue that as my rate designation instead of looking at any other rating available on the ship. I worked really hard and in just under three years, I achieved the paygrade of E-5. My official title was Boatswain’s Mate Second Class (BM2) or otherwise known as Petty Officer Second Class McClain.”

In 1990, you were awarded the Navy Achievement Medal.  Can you tell us more about that?

USS Harlan County

The USS Harlan County. Photo credit: http://ussharlancounty.com/

“After decommissioning the USS Lawrence in 1989, I was transferred to Little Creek, Virginia on-board the USS Harlan County LST-1196. The Harlan County was a tank landing ship that could be run onto a beach where it could offload its cargo without the need for a causeway or pier. As such, we usually carried Marines with their vehicles and gear during operations. 

Marines use Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs) that can maneuver in both water and land. Our ship was equipped with a huge stern door that could be lowered down below the water level to allow the AAVs to launch from the inner deck of the ship, right into the water. Our ship would anchor off the shore, up to a mile away, and the AAVs would exit the ship and head to the shore. My job was to drive a transport safety boat and lead the group of AAVs to their destination on shore. Once they were done with their on-shore operations, I would escort the group back to the ship.

In 1990, we participated in a training exercise where we visited many of the coastal countries in South America. During one such night training operation, we were off the coast of Argentina. I received a call that one of the AAVs was in distress. It had to shut its power down, as it encountered an internal exhaust leak. The leak had completely engulfed the cargo bay of the AAV, which housed 18 Marines. They were all choking or vomiting, and some passed out due to the toxic fumes. They were able to open the hatch doors to bring in fresh air, but the vehicle was dead in the water. I was instructed to advance to the AAV and retrieve the stranded Marines.

Navy Achievement Medal

Navy Achievement Medal

The seas were quite rough and choppy, making it nearly impossible to tie alongside without sinking my boat, as it was made of fiberglass. We tossed over lines, in an attempt to keep the two vessels close while transferring the Marines onto my boat. I was fearful of two things – getting a Marine caught between the two vessels, which would surely crush them to death, and taking on too much water from the damage caused by hitting into the AAV. After what seemed like an eternity of maintaining position alongside of the AAV, we were finally able to get all of the Marines on-board.

Now I had the task of bringing the Marines back to the ship, where once again I had to tie alongside so they could climb up the debarkation net that was draped over the side of the ship. Just as we had issues with maintaining position along side of the AAV, we too had the same problem alongside of the ship. We had to deal with multiple issues, all at the same time. Finally, we were able to get all the Marines and my boat on the ship.

I knew what I had done that night was courageous, but I was simply doing my job, as there really wasn’t any alternative for the situation at hand. Weeks later, prior to the end of my four years of enlistment, I was awarded with the Navy Achievement Medal for my efforts that trying night.”

Tracy and his wife, Shelly-Ann.

How have your experiences in the Navy helped you in your career?

“My experience serving in the US Navy has helped me with perspective in many ways. First off, no other organization can teach you discipline like the military can. I learned that no matter how difficult the challenge, there isn’t room to give up or quit. Keep working at it until you achieve your goal, period. The military has standards and procedures for nearly every situation and you quickly learn to follow those to accomplish any task.”

What are your thoughts on National Vision and our Veteran Inclusion and Partnership Program?

“I think it is great that NVI recognizes military veterans for their service and makes an effort to hire them. My experience working with fellow service members proves we are a group with a high level of dedication and loyalty for our jobs. I love working at NVI because the environment is really great. The people here really seem to care about their roles and overall success of the company.”

Last year we made a commitment to hire a minimum of 500 veterans and/or veteran spouses over the next five years across all of our retail brands. Within those 500 positions, we have committed to hiring a minimum of 100 military veterans and/or veteran spouses in technology-focused positions as part of the Joining Forces initiative. We are extremely proud to have a Navy veteran and true American hero as part of our NVI family.

Thank you Tracy for your service to our country!

Jessica Altamirano

Jessica Altamirano

Communications Specialist at National Vision, Inc.
Jessica Altamirano is a proud Veteran spouse who has worked for NVI since 2014. She holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a Masters Degree in Public Administration from George Mason University. Jessica is passionate about corporate-nonprofit partnerships, philanthropic efforts in developing countries, Veteran recruitment, and creating a culture of health and wellness in the workplace.
Jessica Altamirano