Covid in California: Master Chief and Master of Life, Ronald (Ron) Pekkala Sr.

March 27, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Serendipity: noun. "an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident. good fortune; luck."


I absolutely love when serendipity occurs, and I often think of it as fate rather than luck. Meant to be, sort of thing. Ya feel me?


Last Friday, I was walking Tova home from the dog park and she and I both looked up as soon as this man walked by. To be honest, I felt like I had seen him before, which I probably had...Truth be told, masks and Covid have even made it hard for extroverts like myself strike up a conversation with the average person.  However, Ron smiled at us (yes, he forgot his mask at home - whoops!), which gave me the green light.


Usually, conversation strikes when I see someone or something interesting. But with masks and Covid, I'm sure many of us can relate and say that we have "held back" and "kept our mouths shut". I'm going to blame masks for this one, even though I still wear mine and strongly believe that even after you are vaccinated, we must continue to wear them to stop the spread of this awful thing called Covid-19.


Okay, back to this encounter...I knew I had to know this man. Not only was he wearing a U.S. Navy sweatsuit from head to toe, but his smile was contagious! Even Tova noticed the "good" in him. Pun intended.

Going off that serendipity, Ron relayed, "I was quite surprised, IMPRESSED, when you accosted me the other day. We started chatting as though we had known each other for a long time. That does not happen often. I was pleased to meet Tova. I had seen her as you were walking her before and thought her one of the prettiest pups I had seen. Her prance is delightful. She enjoys meeting people. Just as her Mom does!"

I know a lot of us can't say it was a "GOOD year"...but let's be real, there's good in everything. We just have to be open to seeing it!


Meet Ronald (Ron) Pekkala Sr...Retired Master Chief Petty Officer (MCPO/E-9) and the most humble man you might ever meet.


Just to give you some information, for all those not familiar with the military, Master Chief is the most distinguished Petty Officer. They are also known as “Department Chief.” MCPO is highly credentialed in their expertise and holds the most authority in large Departments. As Master Chief, they must maintain unity, communication, and cooperation in the Chiefs’ Mess.


There are not many assigned to each ship, possibly one Master Chief to each large division, but not necessarily. "I would have been the most senior enlisted sailor in a ship's division, or possibly the department. Perhaps I should break a ship's structure down. Each ship or shore command is set up into different departments i.e. Medical, Dental, Navigation, Engineering, Air, Supply, Deck, Executive, Weapons, etc."


A department is headed by a senior officer. It is then divided into different divisions depending upon the technical skills, or ratings, required in that division. As an example, on an aircraft carrier here are some: V1 - Flight Deck Aircraft Directors (Yellow Shirts), V2 - Catapults, Arresting Gear, plus those of us who maintained the PLAT and FLOLS (Green Shirts), V3 - Hangar Deck Aircraft Directors (Yellow Shirts), V4 - Fuels (Purple Shirts, often called Grapes. Launching officers, called shooters, wear Yellow Shirts as do a select few other officers. The Engineering Department consists of enlisted Machinist Mates, Electricians Mates, Enginemen, Damage Controllmen, Each department is headed by a senior officer and staff. It is subdivided into divisions each headed by an officer/s and staff.

"Had I remained in the Navy, I may have been assigned to the Engineering Department and Electrical (E) Division or could have been assigned some administrative position other than those."


"The most senior MCPO assigned to a ship or shore command would be designated as Command Master Chief and acts as senior enlisted representative to the Commanding Officer. He remains junior to a Warrant Officer or commissioned officer, but due to his years of service AND his positional authority, is respected by all. But then, so are all MCPOs."

"The Master Chief of the Navy is chosen from one of the most senior E9s in the Navy. By seniority I mean time as an E9. He works with/for the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO)."


A little more about Ron:


A good, driven, Midwestern young man, Ron was born in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and moved to Northern Wisconsin at the age of 4 or 5. He joined the U.S. Naval Reserves in high school in 1956 and went Active Duty upon graduation. He enrolled in technical school in the U.S. Navy. He went on to graduate from Interior Communications Electrician Class “A” School, Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, Ill. He was then assigned to the USS SARATOGA CVA 60. Commissioned in 1956, this ship spent most of her career in the Mediterranean, but also participated during the Vietnam War, receiving one battle star for her service. One of her last operational duties was to participate in Operation Desert Storm. Yes, they refer to ships as "she"...I kind of like it! :)

Ron's highlights of the Saratoga were two trips to the Mediterranean Sea and ports. He then left the Saratoga, accepting discharge, and after a period, he reenlisted in the Navy as it was agreed to take him at his separation rate and rating of IC2 (pay grade E5). For anyone curious about Navy pay grades, visit https://www.federalpay.org/military/navy/ranks

Prior to being assigned to the Pre-commissioning crew for USS ALBANY (CG10), Ron attended a 12-week school at IC “C” School in Great Lakes. The ship was commissioned at the Boston Naval Shipyard where she had been converted from a WWII heavy cruiser (CA) to a Guided Missile Cruiser (CG). The highlights of Albany were being promoted to IC1; being a Plankowner; visiting Holland as part of a North Atlantic cruise; becoming a proud Bluenose awardee when we crossed the Arctic Circle and another Mediterranean 
cruise.

Ron then reenlisted for IC Class “B” School. After graduation, he was assigned to USS INTREPID (CVS11), an updated WWII Essex Class aircraft carrier.


"Highlights of INTREPID include transiting the Suez Canal en route to the Western Pacific and Vietnam. Highlights include the Indian Ocean and sea snakes; becoming a Shellback; Subic Bay Philippines; Yokosuka & Sasebo Japan; Hong Kong; Singapore; Mombasa, Kenya; sailing around the Cape of Good Hope; promotion to IC Chief (E7) and a stop in Rio De Janeiro returning to Norfolk. On my second trip to Vietnam, I left the ship early, as I became eligible for shore duty. Transferring was an experience! I took a public bus from Subic Bay to Manila, flight from Manila to Hong Kong, caught another flight to New York via India, Saudi Arabia, and one other stop which is probably best forgotten." I like his sense of humor, don't you?


"After stammering my way through Instructor Training School, I was assigned to IC “B” School where I taught for a total of 4 years (3 plus a 1-year extension). Upon completing my duties, I used a reenlistment bonus to attend Class “C”, Closed Circuit TV School. This was a 19-week class which covered Pilot Landing Aid Television (PLAT) on carriers and covered Shipboard Information Training and Entertainment (SITE) on smaller ships. Graduating from this course awarded me an all-expense paid visit to USS ENTERPRISE (CVN65) in Alameda, CA. The Big E was a great tour! Due to my being in the Air Department vice Engineering Departments as I had been on the other ships, I was promoted to Senior Chief (E8) while on the ship and Master Chief (E9) shortly after leaving her. The E was a tough ship for families. Out of 3 1/2 years of duty, we had two eight-month deployments to Vietnam. In between deployments the ship went to Bremerton, WA, Naval Shipyard for refueling and overhaul for six months. I attended another school learning about the Fresnel Lens Optical Landing System in Lakehurst, New Jersey. At least this happened while the ship was in drydock in Bremerton. The class was taught in a blimp hangar (you recall the Hindenburg disaster?) This blimp hanger is so large it has its own weather."


"Returning to Alameda from the second West Pac visit, I discovered my promotion cut my sea tour short and I was eligible for shore duty. Once again, Great Lakes. I ended up as Branch Head of IC “C” School. That is sort of like a civilian school principal."

"Completing this tour, I was assigned to The Chief of Naval Broadcasting. This office oversaw TV on Navy ships and shore stations. Because he and his head engineer took a liking to the sailors, I had on staff teaching the Closed Circuit TV course, he had me visit a number of Navy shore stations and ships to recommend how to relieve the US Army from being responsible for our SITE TV and shore station television maintenance."


Ron spent 22 years in the U.S. Navy, and although he retired from the service, he still continues to stay active and work when he can.


Another fun fact: Ron is both a wine connoisseur and a beer lover. Two things I love as well! When asking him about his favorite wine and beers, here's what he had to say:

"What is Wisconsin famous for? Beer and Cheese. So; Beer is likened to Mothers Milk to most of us present and former lads. So, then, being a Cheese Head (Packer Backer) comes naturally as well. One thing I have done in my travels is sample the local beer. This is especially rewarding now that Craft Beers have become so widely popular. The food available in many of these places is often unique and good. There are very few communities which do not have a small brew house. Wines are a bit different. Wine is something which some folks must take a liking to. Living in California for many years, I first became interested in the grape when I was transferred to the USS Enterprise (CVAN 65) home ported in Alameda. There are several good wineries in the Bay Area. It was natural to pile wife and kids in the car or RV and explore. With very little planning, the trip would take us close to a winery. Sampling there we always picked up a red we liked. At first, being ignorant novices, we chilled our reds. Don’t! It has been fairly recently that I have taken a liking to dry whites. Enjoying Italian foods and fish, I soon found the snobbish “reds with meat, whites with sea food” was not true. A good wine is a pleasure with any food, or without."


Now to get into the specifics...

"Wines I enjoy...

Reds: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo. The reds I enjoy most must be high in tannins.

Whites: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling. No real preference. I prefer dry whites. Preferably aged in oak which lends a softer, buttery taste/feel than does steel. No sweet stuff.

Wine companies I have used: Naked Wines, an online seller with good, discounted wines. A variety.

Wineries NAPA area: Clos Pegase, Silver Oak, Beringer, Rutherford Hill, Caymus, Clos Du Val, Stag’s Leap and really, you cannot go wrong driving through and sampling any winery. Part of the experience is visiting the winery and taking a tour if offered. This holds true for any of these areas on this page. I guess I am easy to please. I drink even Vendange (cheap) in boxes.

Wineries Central Coast/Paso Robles/Templeton area: Justin (!!), Wild Horse, Maddalena, Tablas Creek...

Wineries Escondido area: Miramonte (Has a wine dinner!), Orfila...

Santa Barbara area: Buttonwood, Cottonwood Canyon, I have found some excellent whites around here.

He goes on to say,  "I have not found a region in California which has wines I have not enjoyed."


In terms of beers, this is what Ron had to say:

"My favorite beer, as my brother says...FREE BEER!"

I love his unapologetic honesty and sense of humor! 

"Actually, 805; whatever Lazy Dog has; Mickey's; Spotted Cow, a micro brew sold only in Wisconsin; Lone Star; most any micro brew because of the experience. Like wines, the experience is in the tasting. There are lots in San Diego which I enjoy when I visit there. Including Pizza Port, Stone Breweries and several others in North County."

Drinking has definitely become a way to cope with Covid-19...something we all are probably afraid to admit, but hey, that's half the battle, right?


See below for my interview with Ron to get to know how Covid-19 impacted him:


RR: How has Covid-19 impacted you personally? 

RP: "I find that being confined to the house is difficult. Being an explorer probably even more so."

RR: Did you or anyone you know get Covid-19?

RP: "Not to my knowledge."

RR:: What specifically changed your personal / professional life during this time? I. E. what daily routine did you have to adjust?

RP: "Professionally, I have been in the Entertainment community for a few years. Covid has negatively impacted those of us in small companies; no matter what industry it is."


RR: Is there a story behind your mask?

RP: "Nope. Just continue to take it with me and sometimes forget to put it on even when I have it."

RR: What do you miss most about life before Covid-19?

RP: "The freedom to eat out when desired. The freedom to visit son-in-law and grandkids in San Diego. This may not be a good answer: I just miss life as it was even two years ago. A visit for two or three days was always a pleasure. They made me feel welcome. My son is a great cook and host. San Diego, especially North County as it is referred to, is great. I also enjoy visiting the Navy Base and driving by the ships, wandering through the Navy Exchange store."


RR: What has Covid-19 made you grateful for?

RP: "Ha! The way life was pre-Covid!"

RR: What has been the biggest challenge for you during this time?

RP: "Keeping my sanity. Trying to do more on less funds. I have not been able to travel as much as I would like. Not in my RV which was another life. I have family in San Diego, Orlando, and Wisconsin I would love to see. There are places in the US, South America, and Europe I would love to see again, or anew. Not now! Keeping my sanity...connecting with people...so many people have been "hiding" behind the mask...I am not a shopper. If something is needed, I generally will get it and be done. However, I do enjoy seeing people without the hideous masks we are compelled to wear. An example, I sometimes visit COSTCO simply to see what new items there are, and to people watch."


RR: What are you most excited for when things return to “normal”?

RP: "Throwing away the masks, traveling, returning to life as it used to be...if we'll ever get back there again. To not have to sit at every other table. To go in and enjoy chatting with people that you don't know at different tables. I enjoy cooking...Soups, chili, pasta sauce, BBQ ribs, stuff that must simmer long times. I am lazy, so I do not do it often enough. As I mentioned, I enjoy going out to eat. Lazy Dog being one favorite. I also enjoy good Mexican or Italian restaurants, good steak houses, fish places. Conversations with your table mates is great. One can meet the most interesting people when dining out. The patrons of course, but I enjoy good servers. By good, I mean competent, friendly, even sassy. Food is meant to be enjoyed and atmosphere is a big part of that. Once found, a good restaurant is meant to be revisited. Once poor service or food is encountered, that place goes on my “never again” list!"

Thank you, universe, for connecting Ron to me. And Ron, thank you, for sharing your story. You are an inspiration and someone I am lucky to know. #serendipity


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