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Crew of 12 keeps a Naval reservist readiness center running at Army post

February 9, 2014 Updated: February 9, 2014 at 3:24 am
Caption +
Lcdr. Tom Van Scoten stands in the main entrance, also known as the quarterdeck, of the Navy Operational Support Center located on Fort Carson Wednesday, January 29, 2014. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

Loose lips sink ships.

Maybe that's why the sailors of Navy Operational Support Center Fort Carson largely stick to themselves.

It's a good excuse, at least - especially during college football season.

"When you're a small group on a big base, you try not to run your mouth too much," Navy Lt. Cmdr. Tom Van Scoten said with a grin. "Every once in a while we're like, 'Go Navy!' and then we put the flag down."

Van Scoten is the commanding officer of the Navy center, affectionately dubbed "Port Carson" by the sailors who man it. It's a 12-person operation that ensures the readiness of 230 Naval reservists.

He's one of a handful of sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who serve at military installations in this predominately Air Force and Army town.

Some of them enjoy getting to know brothers- and sisters-in-arms from other branches of service.

Others associate mainly with each other and local retirees.

At times, Van Scoten and his sailors feel like fish out of water at "Port Carson," nestled in the decidedly landlocked northeastern corner of the Army post.

Their golden yellow Navy-issued workout shirts blend in about as well yellow-fin tuna in a sea of grey mackerels during morning workouts.

Their brilliant blue combat uniforms stick out like a sore thumb in a sea of Army green.

On post, Marines, whose fatigues are similar to that of soldiers, have the luxury of blending in with soldiers.

Sailors, not so much, Van Scoten said.

"Kids in the commissary stop us all the time and ask us about aliens and things like that because we have the same uniforms as they did in 'Battleship'," Van Scoten said, referring to the 2012 movie in which sailors battle extraterrestrials.

"Their eyes get real big. You walk up to them and you're like, 'How are you?' They're like, 'Seen any aliens?'"

There are comments from adults, too.

"It's mostly retired Army civilians who want to know why we're here," he said. "We goof around and tell them we're taking over. Or they ask, 'Where's the ship at?' I say, 'You don't know where the lake is up in the mountain, do you?'

"We have a good time with it."

Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Jason Andrada, who works under Van Scoten, has developed his own jokes and canned responses during his three years in the Navy.

"People say, 'If you fell in the water, we could barely see you'" because of your blue uniform, he said.

"I tell them they could because my uniform will turn orange because of the salt. And we always tell them that our ship is in the Pueblo Reservoir."

As for his inability to blend in while in uniform: It's not all bad, he said.

"The thing about standing out that's really cool is that there's a lot of retired Navy out here," said Andrada, who mainly hangs out with fellow sailors. "They come up to us and ask us where we're stationed. One time they paid for our meal at a restaurant. That's a plus."

Kidding aside, serving "shore duty" on an Army base has its perks - especially at Fort Carson.

Van Scoten's sailors have had the chance to benefit from convoy training and weapons qualifications run by soldiers - training they likely wouldn't receive on a naval base.

"They provide training to my guys who may or may not get to Afghanistan, but may be called at any time," Van Scoten said.

"And when you're sitting next to the guys in charge of North American air defense," he added, nodding toward Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station.

"We like it here on base. There's not enough ships, but hey. What are you going to do?"

Soon, Van Scoten will return to the ocean. He expects to report to the USS Winston S. Churchill, a destroyer in Norfolk, Va., this summer.

He misses the water.

"I think it's just part of being a Floridian and being tied to sea service for so long," he said.

"You come out here and enjoy the mountains. But west of Denver, there are a couple of large lakes, and I do find myself driving every once in a while and looking over at the lakes."

He paused.

"It's different here, but it's OK. It's not like I need to feel the need to pull over and spawn."

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