Everett Navy commander settles in

Naval Station Everett’s new “show me” skipper has had a lot to take in during his first three months as commander of the Navy base.

Capt. Eddie Gardiner took over as commander in late August, replacing Capt. Dan Squires, who retired and took a job in Snohomish County government.

Michael O’Leary / The Herald

Capt. Eddie Gardiner is the new Commanding Officer of Naval Station Everett.

Since taking charge, Gardiner, the self-described mayor of 117 acres of Everett’s waterfront, has faced a rapid-fire succession of notable events.

He’s seen the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and destroyer USS Shoup leave for deployment, as well as the homecoming of the frigate USS Ford. Add to that a visit to Panama City, Fla., to see the USS Momsen commissioned into Navy service, and return to meet Everett’s newest destroyer as it arrived at its home port.

Then there was the alarming but unconfirmed reports in newspapers outside the state that Naval Station Everett would be on the 2005 list of bases to be closed, plus the good news that the Coast Guard patrol boat Blue Shark will be stationed here.

When Gardiner, 56, joined the Navy in 1969, he was on the giving end of salutes. But he rose through the enlisted ranks and became an officer in 1979. Much of his 14-year career has been spent aboard aircraft carriers.

“I absolutely loved them,” he said. “When the Lincoln’s in port, I like to go down and smell it. It is something that gets in your blood.”

Gardiner grew up in rural Hillsboro, Mo., and his parents were blue-collar workers with an eighth-grade education. “There was a damn good work ethic, but there wasn’t a lot of money,” he said.

An aunt encouraged him to study business and helped pay for his schooling at the University of Missouri. But after a couple of years, he took a full-time job at the Ford Motor Co. plant in Hazelwood, Mo.

It was there, on the instrument panel line where he helped install fake wood grain pieces on radios, that Gardiner knew his life needed a different direction. Largely, it was due to Ray and Roy, his two-co-workers on the assembly line.

Ray was in his late 30s, a drinker with a heart of gold. Roy was a quiet guy, a former stockbroker from New York City.

Watching the pair, with Roy working harder whenever Ray came in after a few too many, made Gardiner think about his own future.

“I asked myself the question: When I got to be that old, an old man in my 40s, where did I want to be? And the answer was: Not Ford Motor Co. on the instrument panel line.”

Gardiner – whose father, Eddie Gardiner Sr., served on the battleship USS New Mexico in the early 1920s – enlisted and signed up for the Navy’s nuclear propulsion school.

The young sailor, along with his wife and 1-year-old daughter, shipped off to Bainbridge, Md., for a year’s worth of training.

He later went to sea aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Bainbridge, later moving to the aircraft carriers USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS George Washington.

The Navy has evolved during the commander’s career.

It’s evident at Naval Station Everett, Gardiner said. There’s the college campus-style barracks, for example, and the All American galley, which seems more like a restaurant than a mess hall.

Gardiner said his time in the enlisted ranks, the guidance from fellow chiefs and the emphasis that has placed on professionalism and hard work has helped forge his leadership style.

“Integrity is big with me,” he said.

Gardiner expects straight talk from the sailors in his command. But he’s also a look-under-the-hood type leader. Take the time he came in for a hamburger at the All American during his first week in Everett. When the captain heard there was a problem with a piece of kitchen equipment, Gardiner got up from the table.

“I said, ‘Show it to me.’ It helps me understand, to get to the questions that I need to ask,” he said.

Gardiner’s last job was commander of Naval Support Activity La Maddalena, on a small island off the coast of Italy.

While the view of Whidbey Island from Naval Station Everett may not compare with the scenes of Corsica, the reception Gardiner received here has been unmatched anywhere else he’s been in the world, he said.

Everett and the area supports its sailors.

“It is just tremendous,” Gardiner said.

Reporter Brian Kelly: 425-339-3422 or kelly@heraldnet.com.

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