:: Karen J. Brown
Karen J. Brown
Radioman 1st Class, United States Naval Reserve
Interviewed on 14 April 2003, at the home of Karen Brown, Riverside, California
Barksdale: My name is Ozell Barksdale and today is April 14, 2003. This interview is taking place at Karen Brown’s home in Riverside, California, as part of the Riverside Veterans’ History Project, a Riverside Public Library partnership with the Library of Congress.
What is your name, please?
Brown: Karen Brown.
Barksdale: And were you born and raised in California?
Brown: No, I was born in Ohio.
Barksdale: Born in Ohio. Did you go to school back there?
Brown: Yeah. I went to school in Ohio.
Barksdale: When did you join the service?
Barksdale: And you went into the Navy, I understand.
Barksdale: Where did you actually go to training?
Brown: I went to training in Orlando, Florida.
Barksdale: Orlando, Florida. And how long was your training?
Brown: Actually I was there sixteen weeks. That’s a twelve-week training course but because I didn’t have a guaranteed school, I had to spend another, I think it was either two or four weeks. I think it was sixteen weeks all totaled.
Barksdale: O.K. And what type of specialty schooling did you go to?
Brown: Well, I didn’t actually get a school. I got assigned to a Naval Communications Station and went to the Radio School after I got assigned to the station in San Diego.
Barksdale: So you actually trained on the job in communications.
Brown: Yes. And then went to the A school.
Barksdale: O.K. And how long were you in?
Brown: Three years, active duty.
Barksdale: And reserve time, I understand?
Brown: Yeah. I had nine more years of reserve time. I spent twelve years total.
Barksdale: O.K. And what was your rank at that point in time?
Brown: When I got out of the reserves I was in E-6. A radioman first class.
Barksdale: O.K. I don’t understand that first class.
Brown: Well, it’s an E-6, which is easier probably to understand. I think that would be . . . gosh, it’s been a long time. I don’t even know what all the equivalences are now. I think it would probably be like a gunney. Maybe a gunney.
Barksdale: We have a sergeant. A sergeant is an E-5.
Brown: That’s the second class in the Navy.
Brown: It’s an E-5. Third class is an E-4 and then there’s the seaman recruit. Well, it starts out seaman recruit, seaman, third class, second class, first class, chief, petty officer, senior chief petty officer, master chief petty officer. That’s as high as the enlisted go.
Barksdale: Was there any one interesting event that happened to you while you were in the service that really stayed with you? Some job?
Brown: Actually, I think about the only most interesting thing about the job was that when I first started we were actually still using teletypes. There were computers around but we weren’t using them solely for our communications or data communications. And we had a set up where we actually could be in contact with the President’s plane if he was in the area. Or the joint chiefs or something like that. And there were one or two occasions because I went in in
’76 and the Vietnam War wasn’t quite over. There were a couple of things, probably the first war. We actually had to man the equipment for the communications from the President’s plane flying in the area. That was basically it. There wasn’t anything really exciting happening. I was shore station for the three years I was in.
Barksdale: Well, now you mention communications with the President’s plane.
Brown: Well, I didn’t actually communicate with that. But we had to be on alert. Like if he was going someplace, or if he was coming to our general area, ‘cause I was in San Diego and because of what was set up in San Clemente, was were some of the Presidents liked to hang. We would be picking up communications for that ‘cause we were the closest communications station.
Barksdale: So, it was additional security if he was in the air or if he was actually down in San Clemente at the time. (Brown: Right.) Now, what President was that? Was it Nixon?
Brown: No, because I think Nixon had already been put out before I got in the Navy. ’76. Shoot. You’re asking me to try and remember something like that? I’ll say, “Oh, I don’t know.”
Barksdale: It must have been Reagan, maybe.
Brown: Or Ford?
Barksdale: But Ford wouldn’t have come and use the White House in California. It would have to be a president that originated from here.
Brown: Gosh. I don’t even remember. Isn’t that sad? It’s been a while. I’ve been out longer than I was in. (Laughing) Well, we’ll have to look at the history books for that one. I don’t even remember.
Barksdale: So how did you end up in Riverside after getting out of the service in San Diego?
Brown: Well, actually, San Diego’s Naval Communications Station in San Diego had lots of annexes in southern California. And one of them was in Norco. When I was out there in the Com Center in Norco, and the Norco facility itself is called Fleetac. What they did there was monitor tested missiles with two computers. When they shot the missiles off Point McGoo, the facility at Norco read tests on it, you know, to see how well they did, etc. And they did it through computers, radar and that type of stuff. Just a one man operation there. We only worked one shift, Monday through Friday, ‘cause that’s all the Center worked. At that time too it was still taped. We were still doing the tapes. Sending tapes, getting tapes, and then they moved into, what? Using the OCR typewriters where then we entered the OCR through a reader. But at Fleetac, the coms in our Fleetac, we were still doing it by tape. We had to actually cut it by tape after the divisions out there. Fleetac gave us the paperwork, the hard copy to type from. And that was with, what was known as . . . they were PW7s. They had cards. They had to be opened up every morning, then a new card put in, and it could be kind of a hassle because sometimes the cards didn’t want to take. The equipment didn’t want to come back up after you took it down, up-dated, a new day. But it was an interesting . . . that was probably the most interesting time because I ran it by myself, which was right up my alley.
Brown: Being in charge. (Laughing) That was right up my alley.
Barksdale: So, you used a term “Fleettac . . . ?
Brown: Yeah. I can’t remember. I think it was Fleet Assessment Center is what the Fleetac stood for and they changed the name to what was then NWAC, which was Naval Weapons Assessment Center, because that’s actually what they were assessing. The capabilities and how well they did, because they were operating the missiles by computer, so that’s what they were testing, I believe. I’m not totally sure because I didn’t actually work for Fleetac. I just ran the Com Center, handled their messages, that came in and went out. A very interesting thing about that is in Norco, ‘cause it was right over there on the same grounds where what used to be the . . . I don’t even know if it was called the Norco Officers’ Club but it used to be the big club out there. It used to be a place for movie stars to hang out. The whole facility, I guess, was like a resort area for movie stars. But during war time, they took over the buildings and made it into a hospital and then, after when it became peacetime, a long-term peace time, they turned the facility . . . what was hospital barracks, into this weapons assessment center. Now I think it’s called ANWAD. That’s been long since I left. I do have some friends that still work there though. Engineers. They had mechanical engineers, I guess. Max was an engineer but I can’t remember exactly what it would have been. That’s what they did.
Barksdale: So that’s how you ended up in Riverside?
Brown: Yeah. Because I liked the area and when I left . . . I actually continued working for the . . . I was a civilian at the time. I wasn’t active duty, but I was still working in the same facility, for the same communications. I was still doing communications, as a civilian. I just liked it out here. It was a lot smaller back then but I actually didn’t move out here permanently until ’94 when I retired from the facility. ‘Cause they ended up back in Long Beach at the NTCC, which was a telecommunication center. Another annex of the Naval Communications Station in San Diego.
Barksdale: Well, thank you very much, Karen, for the interview.
Brown: You’re welcome, Barksdale.