Story by PO3 Ashley Estrella on 12/27/2018In the beginning, there was the creation of the heaven, the earth and Senior Chief Gunner's Mate Robert Hyatt. The Navy wasn't without form, but it needed "Old Tar" to fill a void in the midst of the waters.
Long before donning the uniform, long before the title of "Old Tar," there was Robert Hyatt. He grew up in the Midwest, in the heart of Springfield, Ohio. Hyatt began his prestigious Navy career in 1982 after graduating from Tecumseh High School.
"I joined the military because my father served in Vietnam and it seemed like the right thing to do," he said.
He initially wanted to join the Air Force to follow in the footsteps of his father. However, Hyatt wanted to join sooner than later. The Air Force took too long. With a keen sense of duty combined with a tenacious attitude, another Sailor was forged.
After completing basic training, he reported to his first duty station, USS Stark (FFG 31) in Mayport, Florida, in March 1983. As an undesignated seaman with a strong work ethic, he quickly became the pride of deck department.
During his time aboard Stark, he made one deployment to the Arabian Gulf and took part in the invasion of Grenada, Spain as a support ship. After years of accumulating dust, grime and a true Sailor's grit working as a deck seaman, Hyatt struck the rate of gunner's mate. As an undesignated Sailor, striking a rate is a milestone. His hard work was starting to payoff. After striking his rate, Hyatt achieved the rank of petty officer third class.
Hyatt then reported to Naval Education and Training Center, Great Lakes, Illinois, for "A" and "C" school after his time on Stark. Excellence was his standard no matter the task. He graduated salutatorian, the second highest ranking student in a graduating class, in both schools. These accomplishments would mark the start of a Hyatt's rise to stardom as one of the top enlisted weapons masters the Navy has yet to see.
In 1985, he returned to Florida and reported to the USS W.S. Sims (FF 1059), a Knox-class frigate named after William Sims, formally DE 1059. With a small crew of about 20 officers and little more than 250 enlisted Sailors, this frigate would call for the highest level of cohesiveness to keep it operational. It would demand long days, longer watches and a spiritual fortitude that could test the most disciplined Sailor. It was armed to the teeth with Harpoon missiles, one 54-caliber gun, torpedoes, sea sparrow missiles, and Hyatt had to learn them all inside out. He made three deployments: North Atlantic, Unitas (South America) and Indian Ocean. During his tour, his ship reinforced Naval Gunfire Support which participated in the bombing of Libya.
"Mentally, it was tough to train back in my day, so when something did happen, we were prepared," he said. "Your job wasn't to negotiate for benefits in exchange for working hard, your job was to man the 50-caliber gun and prepare to lay down your life knowing the person manning it after you dropped was going to fight with all he had."
It was a different Navy, the mythical old Navy'. The stakes were higher than today regarding the frequency in which a life-or-death situation would arise. The political climate was submerged in the shadows of the Vietnam era. Defending the country was not a popular thing to do. However, despite the rhetoric and criticism, Hyatt risked his life day in and day out.
During a time when fighting for America put Sailors closer to staring death in the eye, family kept Sailors anchored mentally and motivated while far away from home.
"The most difficult thing during my time in the Navy was being away from family," said Hyatt.
Sailors often miss the first steps of children, the first day of school and other big life-changing events. Not only do Sailors miss some of these significant moments, the small things like a warm embrace from a spouse, can also weigh heavy on the heart. Throughout his career, Hyatt has missed moments with his wife and three children. Often times Sailors have their collection of fond family memories intersected with military instruction and protocol or flashbacks of trying times out to sea. The sacrifice of shared mental space is necessary in order to increase the survivability of ship, shipmates and self.
Awarding the title "Old Tar" is a tradition of crowning the Sailor who has the longest running Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist (ESWS) qualification to date. The Navy began the ESWS qualification program in 1979. Hyatt received his ESWS pin in 1988.
Getting ESWS qualified meant he was willing to go above and beyond to ensure optimal mission-readiness, which in-turn increased his chances of returning to his family.
The ESWS qualification is important because its original purpose was to help Sailors learn how to fight the ship, said Hyatt. It was created with the intention of arming Sailors with the knowledge and know-how to help save shipmate's lives, and to send people back home to their families.
"Getting my ESWS was more important to me back then than ranking up," said Hyatt. "Not everyone had one; it required a lot of work. It set you apart and made you feel special. The commanding officer stood the board and you had to know everything about the ship. I did it the old-fashioned way."
There were indeed times Hyatt had to put his training to use. The drills became a reality. The practice became the fight. Looking at his own mortality, he had to take all the things he learned to increase the survivability of himself and those around him. The ESWS became more than an earned merit. Its lessons became the basis for sustaining life itself in the middle of nautical conflict.
"I stood all of the watches," he said. "It is all about a sense of duty and honor. I'm not one to feel immortal, but I've had to fight the ship when Stark was hit, I've been on the ground in combat with the Army. My ship was involved with the bombing of Libya."
Wearing the ESWS pin during the initial implementation of the program meant studying after hours when everyone was dog-tired, said Hyatt. The pin indicated who was qualified to step in and help out in any department if the ship was down people.
Return to Service.
Following his deployments, Hyatt was temporarily assigned duty to USS Iowa (BB 61) for five months. After making the rank of chief petty officer, he separated from the Navy in 1992. Often times Sailors who join the military right after graduating high school realize there is another world outside. However, the relationships built and bond forged in the Navy are unlike any other.
"I ran a company for a while, but I sold off everything I had and came back in," said Hyatt. "I missed it. The camaraderie is different than that in the civilian world; I missed the people."
In 1997, Hyatt returned to the Navy as a petty officer first class in the Navy Reserve and reported to Naval Construction Battalion 1, in Gulfport, Miss. He served as a platoon leading petty officer in charge of training Seabees. Later, he reported to Naval Construction Battalion 26 in Suffrage, Mich., in July 2000. As the officer-in-charge, he served the detachment managing 93 Seabees and conducted a variety of construction jobs. He worked hard and did not complain about coming back in as a petty officer first class after achieving the milestone of chief.
It is not easy to re-enter the military. Very few people are able to qualify for initial entry. Less than one percent of the American population choose to serve in the military. Approximately 2/3 of the population are not eligible. It takes some Sailors 20 years or more to make it to the rank of chief petty officer, others retire without ever making chief. After broken service, and approximately seven years as a petty officer first class, Hyatt achieved the incredible feat of making chief, again.
Following his promotion to chief for the second time, Hyatt reported to Naval Expedition Logistics Support Group in Williamsburg, Va., in 2013 as an active-duty reservist, where he trained 3,500 reserves in combat skills training and weapons qualifications in preparation for being forward deployed to Iraq and Kuwait in support of Opeartion Enduring Freedom. He performed inspections and additional training going temporary-assigned duty ten times to Iraq and Kuwait for troops forward deployed.
His next command would allow him to carry out this dream. In 2008, Hyatt began working as an active duty chief petty officer at the Recruit Training Command and Naval Education and Training Command.
The same year he received orders to report to Army Corp of Engineering in Iraq for an individual augmentee assignment. His job as the non-commissioned officer-in-charge consisted of supervising multimillion dollar contracts for 15 civilian engineers, building military barracks, a tank repair facility and a waste water treatment plant. His skills and vast knowledge shifted his role as a Sailor. He led the charge of constructing and building critical infrastructure pertinent to the success of military missions outside of the United States. Not only would Hyatt continue to lead the way, he was beginning to carve out new paths, and render practical solutions.
He would return to the U.S. to continue training and educating Sailors. In 2009, he reported to Explosive Ordnace Disposal Technology Division in Indian Head, Maryland. In 2011, he was promoted to the rank of senior chief petty officer during his time at this command by training in weapons qualifications, advanced shooting skills and close-quarter combat training.
In January 2013, he reported to the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command in Littlecreek, Va. Hyatt was the N75 leading chief petty officer. Here, he would help develop new channels to train deploying Sailors. He created the new standard for Navy Expeditionary Combat Command force by crafting a new combat weapons shooting course.
By March 2013, Hyatt reported to his next and final duty station, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (Ike), as the G-2 divisions leading chief petty officer. He deployed with Ike in 2016 in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. Out of all of the incredible places he has been and things he has seen, this is the first time he has experienced an aircraft carrier.
"I haven't seen anything like it," he said. "It's great to be out to sea and watch flight operations."
Looking back at his career, two moments stood out to Hyatt.
"Making chief and receiving the Old Tar' title are my biggest accomplishments," he said. "When I found out I was "Old Tar" it made me feel old and happy."
"I want to see who the next Old Tar' is going to be," said Hyatt, the eleventh "Old Tar" in the Navy. "It is about pride. It was an honor to be a part of such an important group because ESWS is steeped in Navy tradition. With some Navy traditions going away, this is one that I don't want to see fade."
Hyatt hopes to pass on the torch of duty, honor and pride to a new generation of Sailors. He sincerely believes new Sailors are responsible for shaping our country.
A third of a century chocked with memories and patriotism is enough to bring anyone to tears, but this salt-laden man probably hasn't cried very often in his life. Tears are gear-adrift.
"I'm going to miss the Navy because of the people," said Hyatt. "I'm tired, sore and broken, but I'm going to miss it."
In the mind of a leader lives a thousand stories, and in the heart of the Ike's weapons department there is a legacy finally untying his boots after nearly three decades of service. Following the creation of a world where his career was full of astounding feats, Hyatt's uniform will finally rest.