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Why We Serve: Sailor Trades Sea for Sand

By Meghan Vittrup
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 10, 2007 – While working as a nuclear repair mechanic for the Navy, Caleb Duke traded sea for sand when he volunteered to take on an Army position that took him to Afghanistan.

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Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Caleb S. Duke is an eight year veteran of the United States Navy and is currently serving as part of the Why We Serve speakers program. Defense Dept. photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

In 1998, at the age 20, Scranton, Pa., native Caleb Duke enlisted in the Navy.

“I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself,” he said. “I was motivated by the lure of being part of an elite organization, the nuclear submarine community. I was impressed by the level of knowledge required and the discipline it takes to be a submariner. I have stayed because the opportunities and benefits are endless. I have found a home, a brotherhood and a community in the United States Navy.”

Duke was later given the opportunity take on an individual augmentation assignment supporting the Army, transforming Duke into a “sand sailor.”

During his deployment to Afghanistan, Duke served on a civil affairs team.

“My four-man direct-support team paved the way for future long-term successes in Afghanistan,” he said. “It was a privilege to serve in an all-Navy team under special operations conditions. As a nuclear mechanic qualified in submarines, it was such a rare opportunity to be challenged and explore new uncharted waters.”

While in Afghanistan, Duke’s team conducted village assessments and worked to integrate indoor plumbing into schools. They also helped design roads and build solar lighting projects to help the community with electricity.

In addition, they did a great deal of community work. They spent time handing out small stuffed toys and pens to local children, while one of the team members put together a kite festival, handing out kites to locals.

Duke is one of eight servicemembers who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan or the Horn of Africa who have been selected to share their individual stories to Americans across the nation, in support of the Defense Department’s “Why We Serve” public outreach program

The Why We Serve program was initially the idea of Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The program began in fall 2006. Groups include two military servicemembers from each branch selected to participate in the program for about 90 days.

Duke said he wants to emphasize his belief in job satisfaction through adventure, purpose and community to the Americans he comes in contact with.

“You have to keep it going,” Duke said, when talking about job satisfaction. “If you get stagnant, you’ll get bored.”

Job satisfaction is only one of two points Duke stressed. He also wants people to feel the sense of belonging and community he has found through joining the military.

“I want to tell people that I like it, I love it, and I want to continue to do this,” Duke said. “I want people to know that we aren’t narrow-minded, we aren’t absolutists, and we aren’t robots, we are effective, highly educated individuals. That the military allows for good decision-making processes.”

After completing the 90-day Why We Serve program, Duke is planning to return to work in the nuclear field. He also is working to be commissioned as a Navy officer, saying he feels that the world needs more leaders.

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