“The Navy has done me good.”
That’s how Kenneth Vining summarized his 23 years in the Navy. Vining retired as a Lieutenant in the Medical Service Corps in 2000 from the Branch Health Clinic – Bangor and returned to the same clinic as a provider, albeit as a civilian, in 2005. With a career that has spanned the globe, Vining is thankful for the opportunities the Navy provided him since joining in Long Island, NY, in 1977.
“I escaped New York and the East Coast and saw the world,” he said.
Vining has indeed traveled the world, with two deployments to the Persian Gulf and to Haiti, in between serving at duty stations in Hawaii, San Diego, Pensacola, North Carolina and Bremerton.
“I’ve circled the world two separate times,” Vining said.
It was during his first time stationed in Hawaii that Vining decided to become a physician’s assistant in 1982. He has been a physician’s assistant for 20 years.
“The Navy set me up for life,” he said. “They let me travel all over the world.”
Vining expressed appreciation at how the Navy provided him the opportunity to obtain multiple degrees. Vining climbed the ranks to Chief Petty Officer as an enlisted serviceman before getting his commission to officer ranks.
Memories abound for Vining. Some are from his duty aboard the cruiser USS Worden (CG18). The USS Worden set sail for the Persian Gulf, Vining said, “when Iraq was considered our friend.”
The cruiser took over duties as an anti-air warfare commander in the northern Persian Gulf with the mission of intercepting controllers directed at coalition aircraft in combat air patrols before hostilities began. Vining said his favorite duty was on that cruiser.
“I finally felt like a sailor,” he said.
Sent to Haiti for six months in 1996, Vining was part of a coalition that was intended to stabilize the country when the Haitian president Rene Preval was deposed. Vining was assigned to a fleet hospital. When they weren’t caring for troops, the medical staff cared for the people of Haiti in areas such as Port Au Prince.
“We did hernia repairs and procedures that could be done without a need for a lot of follow-up,” Vining said. “It made me grow as a physician’s assistant.”
Despite the profound personal growth, Vining summed up Haiti in one word: “Depressing.” He described the whole effort as futile.
“No matter what you did, it was just a bandaid,” he said.
Vining compared photographs he had from his time there 15 years ago to those taken after the Jan. 10, 2010, earthquake.
“It was dirty and poor and it didn’t look any different from when I was there,” he said.
While the Haitian infrastructure hasn’t changed much, Navy culture has. Vining described the atmosphere in 1977 as vastly different from the Navy of today. Back then, he said, there was more harassment, more drug use and drinking and the quality of family life wasn’t as good as it is now. The corpsmen weren’t trained on women’s medical issues then, either, because only men served on ships.
“And then you could wear a beard,” he said, adding, “if you could grow one.”
The Navy of today is the polar opposite of the Navy Vining enlisted in. He said drinking is frowned upon, drugs are not tolerated and the combined service of men and women aboard ships is commonplace.
Vining appreciates the additional family support the Navy now provides.
“There is a better quality of life for the family now,” he said. “They’re more supportive of family.”
Vining enjoys his work as a civilian at the Branch Health Clinic – Bangor. He likes taking care of the active duty military patients and always preferred working at smaller commands. He misses the camaraderie of being an active duty sailor. But there’s a positive side to it as well.
“I don’t have to worry about promotions,” he said. “I can spend more time with my family. If something really bad happened, though, I know all the crew here would be deployed and I would remain here. Right now I come to work. I see patients and there’s no collateral duty.”
Now that Vining has time to pursue outside interests, he is an accomplished outdoor photographer and artist.
Vining has made the most of his life both during and after his Naval career. He’s proud of the service he has given the Navy and his country.
“Anybody who has put their life on the line for their country and wants to serve, whether it’s two or 30 years, is a veteran,” he said. “They gave their all. These people could have made more money on the outside but they served.”