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Lobsters

Updated: Jan 17, 2023

I am on vacation in Maine, so this post is timely and a trip down memory lane. I was stationed in Brunswick, Maine as an Admiral's Aide from 1990 to 1991. That was over thirty years ago. What was once a vibrant Cold War P-3 Naval Air Station is now a hodgepodge of odd businesses that appear to have been shoe-horned into the buildings once used by the Navy. Gone is the Admiral's house where my boss lived, replaced by some new three-story apartments. The baseball fields once full of Sailors playing summer softball are overgrown with nothing but the chain link fence backstops still visible.


As a Loop, I quickly learned during my time in Brunswick that reliability, credibility, and dependability mattered. That became extremely clear when I wore the loop. You have to do what you say you will do, when you say you will do it! And, if you cannot do so, you better have a good reason why you cannot and you need to let others know when you will get it done.


It is no different in the “real world” or with any other civilian job. When you make a commitment, you have to keep the commitment.


The loop community was very tight. There was an unwritten rule that every loop knew. You could depend on each other. If a fellow loop called and asked for help, you provided that help and assistance. The other aides knew they could trust you. No questions asked.


Unlike every other request I made (for which I needed to check and double-check), “an ask” to another loop, never required a follow-up call because I knew it would be done, and if any issues arose, the other loop would call me. It was a strong, trusting bond and if you wore a loop, you were automatically granted the "speed of trust." We knew what the job entailed and the importance of getting it done to perfection so we would all hopefully get promoted and move on to our next assignment.


This is a story about helping other loops with lodging and lobsters and trusting networks that functioned flawlessly as a result of reliability, credibility, and dependability.


Beautiful Brunswick


Being the aide to the only admiral in Brunswick, Maine, was unquestionably a great gig. Brunswick was a beautiful and quaint New England town. Unlike other large industrial-looking navy bases, the only function at the Brunswick navy base was naval aviation. There were no big gray ships.


The town had a Maine Street (not a typo) and an adjacent park with a white gazebo and a nice strip of green space. Maine Street was lined with many small restaurants and shops. Nestled at the top of Maine Street and among the towering evergreen trees was Bowdoin College. Chartered in 1794, Bowdoin was the northernmost college in the United States when it opened. I actually studied for the LSAT in the Bowdoin Library as the surrounds of the library made the misery of LSAT preparation just a little more bearable.


Brunswick had a small-town feel. Fat Boy Drive-In sat right outside the Navy base fence at the end of the runway and was something right out of the 1950s. Built in 1955, you could get a fried clam basket, hamburgers, lobster rolls, onion rings, and french fries and top it off with a delicious vanilla or orange cream frappe. Car service was part of the experience and all you needed to do was pull up to a spot and turn your lights on when you were ready to order or needed assistance.


Brunswick has changed a lot since 1990, but not Fat Boy Drive-In, which thankfully seems to be stuck in the 1950s. It's still there serving great frappes.


The nearby areas of Bathe, Baileys’ Island, Harpswell, and Orr’s Island were perfect for a summer drive for a lobster dinner and a cold beer, or a fall cabin stay on a rocky shoreline with a woodstove warming the room.

Help with trip planning


Because Brunswick was so nice, we received our fair share of visitors. Many of the admirals’ personal friends and other flag officers came to the area on a little R&R or military leave with their families. When that occurred, the aide of the other flag officer would call me, asking logistical questions about lodging, restaurants, and other attractions. A loop also handled the admiral's vacation plans among the many other things we saw and did because a flag officer never really was "on vacation."

I helped a lot with travel plans, reserving rooms and cottages. Gull Cottage was a gem of a guest house cottage next to a lighthouse in the small fishing village of Prospect Harbor. At that time, it was one of the Navy’s best-kept secrets for a charming cottage with two-bedroom accommodations for up to six people. Although the lighthouse remained operational for many years, the historical residence constructed in 1891 had been abandoned for a while when in 1969 it was renovated for exclusive use as a Navy recreational asset and named “Gull Cottage.” On multiple occasions, I helped other loops make reservations for lodging there for their bosses.


(As I was writing this, I learned that a fire engulfed Gull Cottage on June 27, 2022, completely destroying the 131-year-old lightkeeper's house. Apparently, a family of five was staying there and escaped unharmed when the fire broke out around 5am. Thankfully, the lighthouse was not damaged by the fire).


Of course, I was happy to assist fellow loops in answering any questions they had. I would make phone calls to my local connections on those occasions to ensure the visiting admiral’s trip went well.


So many lobsters


In addition to being a wonderful place to live and visit, Brunswick was the best place in the Navy to purchase as many lobsters as you wanted. Much like the many shrimp dishes mentioned in Forrest Gump, Maine had all kinds of delicious lobster dishes. There were lobster rolls, small lobsters, big lobsters, culls, lobster casserole, lobster salad, baked lobster, lobster stew, lobster mac ‘n cheese (my favorite!), lobster salad, lobster ravioli, and of course, warm bowls of creamy "lobsta chowda."


During my tenure as an aide, I probably arranged for the delivery of hundreds of pounds of lobster to other colleagues in the Navy and friends around the world. These lobsters were shipped live and usually served within 24 hours at large social events and small family dinners given by admirals and military friends.


And although I dealt in lobsters, other Navy bases had their specialties, too. Puerto Rico could return the favor with gallons of Ron Rico Rum. Rota, Spain, and Lajes in the Azores were known for their cases of Lancers or Mateus wines. My colleagues in New Orleans could produce some phenomenal king cakes just in time for Mardi Gras!


As a northern, east coast Naval Air Station, Brunswick had a constant throughput of military aircraft, many of which would be coming from or headed to overseas destinations for a quick “gas and go” fuel stop before continuing to their final destination. There was also a fleet of Navy DC-9s regularly transporting military passengers and their families worldwide as a Navy logistics squadron. Brunswick was one of the official destinations of these “rotator flights.”


In addition to the Navy DC-9s, we had twelve east coast P-3 squadrons regularly flying around the world and Navy C-130s doing the same. Six of the P-3 squadrons were home based in Brunswick including the VP-8 Fighting Tigers, the VP-10 Red Lancers, the VP-11 Proud Pegasus, and the VP-23 Seahawks. It wasn't uncommon for large Air Force jets, including C-141s, C-5s, and KC-9s, to stop in Brunswick. We had the occasional Navy jet jocks who would come screaming in in pairs, including F– 14s and EA-6Bs.


There was also occasional orange edge-painted training T-2s or TA-4s jets, dropping in on a cross-country training flight with a lieutenant flight instructor and young ensign student naval aviator. They would typically arrive on a Friday afternoon for weekend stay. On departure, they would find some hatch or compartment in the jets just large enough to stuff a small box of lobsters to treat their spouses when they returned home.


I liked it when the roar of the Navy jets interrupted the usually quiet base full of P-3s. It reminded me of the power of Naval aviation and my love for aviation. We called that noise the “sound of freedom,” and the heavy smell of the fumes from the jet exhaust burning JP-5, the “smell of freedom.”


During that time, I could be trusted to get any quantity of live fresh lobster anywhere in the world as long as there was an existing flight headed in the right direction. We had a vibrant schedule of military aircraft coming in and out of Brunswick, many of which could accept additional cargo. So, there was typically a flight headed in the right direction.


J&A Seafood Market


My predecessor Lt. Samuel Jackson told me during my turnover, “For all lobster requests, just call Mike at J&A Seafood.” That is all he said, and that’s all I wrote down and needed to know. “Lobster requests, Mike, J&A.” Sam had briefed me thoroughly over a couple of weeks’ turnover when it was like drinking from the firehose. He had also briefed me about wooden toothpicks, the significance of which I discussed earlier here.


J&A was a relatively small red barnlike shop with a white trim door. It smelled heavily of fish and had the sounds of bubbling water from huge wooden and metal lobster tubs. The gray cement floor behind the white wood counter was always wet and slick.


When summer began, requests from others around the country would start coming in by phone. The calls would go something like this:


"Hey, Lieutenant Fava, this is Lieutenant Burton, the aide at Commander Southern Command in Puerto Rico. In about two weeks, the Admiral is having a dinner party at his quarters for some VIPs. I heard that you are the one who could assist us in getting some live lobsters," the Southern Command aide would say.


“Yes, that’s me; what do you need?” I would ask with pen and paper ready to go. There was not a lot of time for small talk as an aide. Just get right to the point, please.


Rarely did I know how the individual had gotten my name. I stopped asking because, at some point, it didn't matter. I knew the answer to a request for a lobster shipment on an available flight was always: "Of course, I can."


The aide continued, "We’re having about 50 guests, so we’re looking for about fifty to sixty lobsters, one to two pounds each. We need them to show up on that Friday afternoon around 1500, so they can be cooked at the party that night. We heard a P-3 is coming down to Puerto Rico from Brunswick that day from VP–26.


"Got it. Fifty to sixty, one to two pounds.” I would repeat the order like any good naval aviator. “Not a problem at all. I've got it on my calendar. Let’s touch base the day before to finalize the logistics," I said.


As the day approached, I would coordinate with the local P-3 squadron to make sure I knew the name of the patrol plane commander on the flight and that he and the aircrew knew that they were to be expecting a couple of boxes. I would also tell them the name of the individual who would meet the aircraft to accept the packages at the destination.


I made one call to Mike at J&A with the details of the order. The rest worked like clockwork. During my nearly two-year tenure, J&A never failed me! The orders were packed to perfection in special cardboard boxes or white styrofoam coolers packed with ice and the lobsters wrapped in newspaper with claws bound by yellow bands. The boxes were taped up with brown masking tape. There was a black Sharpie handwritten name of the recipient of the order on the outside of the box and a handwritten receipt taped to the box.


If we could not coordinate an order with a pre-existing military flight, J&A would also package the lobster for overnight or express shipping using the US Post Office. For available military aircraft, J&A delivered it to the exact spot on the flightline tarmac where the aircraft was parked, usually minutes before engine start and takeoff. Even though the squadron ramp parking spots adjacent to the runway were all surrounded by the same barbed wire fence that enclosed the airfield, J&A had complete access to any of the locked gates by simply calling the squadron duty office and stating who they were and which aircraft they were going to.


Of course, as an aide, I would always make sure the squadron duty officer was aware of the delivery and that any such delivery was recorded and highlighted as a “passdown” item for the duty officer if the delivery was to be made on the next watch section.


There was one request in the early winter of significant size. The order was for over 100 medium-size lobsters to be delivered to Naval Air Station Roosevelt Roads in Puerto Rico. While many think the lobster season is only in the summer, I learned that was not true.

As luck would have it, on this particular occasion, the weather forecast was for a significant nor'easter coming through Maine that week. Sure enough, late Thursday night before the Friday morning departure of the aircraft, near blizzard conditions set in, dumping nearly a foot of fresh snow.


In Maine, the clearing of snow off the roads and highways is something that is easily done. Huge yellow dump trucks with flashing yellow lights and plows attached to their front bumpers blast down the major roads at over forty miles per hour, throwing snow twenty to thirty feet in the air towards the shoulder of the road.


The locals in their pickup trucks helped with their yellow detachable plows mounted on their front bumpers. Those plows would sit in the side yard rusting a little more each year and surrounded by weeds during the summer.


Late that night, as the snow continued to fall, I became worried that the 100 medium-size lobsters were not going to make it to the warm and humid weather of Puerto Rico the next day, either because the flight was going to get canceled due to heavy snowfall or that the roads might become impassable for J&A's truck to make it to the base safely.


I called J&A around 0400 because the departing flight was taking off approximately three hours later. The phone rang repeatedly. No one picked it up. And, of course, this was years before personal cell phones.


I then called the squadron duty office and asked them to please call me when J&A showed up, reminding them that I expected the truck to come through the flightline gate between 630 and 645 before the 7 AM departure with several special packages.


I again tried to call J&A. No answer.

Around 0645, my home phone rang as I was preparing to make my way to the office. "Lieutenant Fava, this is Lieutenant Shepard in the VP–26 duty office. I just wanted to let you know that the J&A truck just arrived and loaded the packages on the aircraft. The aircraft has been preflighted, and the runways are clear. It is scheduled for an on-time departure of zero 700."


By the time I got to the office at 7:15 AM, the roads had been salted and cleared of over a foot of snow, but the snowfall continued.


As soon as I arrived at my desk at work, the phone rang. It was a familiar voice.

"Maaackk, this is Mike. I gotcha lobsta over to VP-26 on time. It was a little hairy this morning, but, you know me, if we say we’re gonna do it, we’re gonna do it. I saw the weather forecast last night and packed the lobster up in extra ice to get them really cold, and I took them home. They stayed overnight in my garage. They will be fine – good and cold. I got up at five to make sure I could get to the plane in time. It was a little tough, but I made it."


"Mike, as always, you are incredible. I owe you one,” I stated.


"You owe me nothin’, my friend. Just keep those orders comin’. And I threw in a couple extra lobsta because you're such a good customer."


About a week later, I got a check made out to J&A and a short note in regular US mail. The check was written out for the exact amount of the handwritten paper invoice that had been taped to the boxes. I then would hand deliver the check to the J&A front counter on my way home.


I also usually received a personal thank you letter from the lobster-receiving admiral. I knew the admiral had not personally written the note, but the aide had. That’s what we did. We took care of each other. Regardless, such notes with the admiral’s two or three-star blue flag emblazoned on the top of the official Navy stationery were still a nice touch. The note would not specifically mention lobster. It might say something like this:


Dear Lieutenant Fava,


I wanted to personally thank you for your recent help with one of our major command functions. Your reliability, dependability, and attention to detail were clearly displayed in how you responded to our request for assistance. The event could not have been such a success without your contribution. Thank you for a job well done!


Regards,

Admiral Jefferies

Lessons learned


I arranged for the delivery of a lot of lobsters during that time, but in reality, it was Mike at J&A who delivered and my colleagues who in turn answered my calls for help. They taught me the true meaning of credibility, reliability, and dependability and how it was essential to follow through with a commitment even in extreme circumstances because people depended on you and your word.


To this day, Brunswick and the Maine coast remain beautiful. I was fearful when as a southerner I was headed there, but those were two great years.


My next post speaks to the importance of flexibility, creativity, and being thoughtful when things do not go as planned. It also occurred on a wintery day in Maine. It involves military protocol, a handheld propane torch, and the visit to Maine by a four-star admiral!


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2 Comments


TD Smyers
TD Smyers
Jul 29, 2022

Well written, Mark; and solid lessons for success with no excuses!

Here's to Mike at J&A! 🥃🥃

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Thanks TD!

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