EVERETT — The airplane landed in Bahrain at nearly 2 a.m.
Petty Officer 3rd Class James Swann stepped outside into the 106-degree air to gather his belongings. At 18, he was about to spend the next few months on a Navy warship.
“I wouldn’t have changed that experience for nothing,” he said. “It helped me become who I am.”
Swann was deployed soon after arriving here.
Now 20, he’s one of thousands of sailors who have come through Everett to serve their country.
Monday marks 25 years since Naval Station Everett opened.
Work started about 40 years ago to bring a Navy installation on Everett’s shore. There were setbacks from the beginning, mainly because of environmental concerns and priorities in the federal budget.
The station was in jeopardy even during construction. Soon after work began, the Department of Defense started a program called base realignment and closure after the Cold War. Hundreds of military posts were eliminated through the process, commonly known as BRAC.
Most but not all people who lived in the area wanted the Navy to move here. Local leaders fought for the base.
One reason was for the economic benefits. Naval Station Everett generates about $340 million each year and provides nearly 4,000 jobs between the waterfront base and the support complex at Smokey Point. It’s a top employer in Snohomish County.
Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin travels to the Pentagon a couple of times a year to advocate for the base. She began lobbying to anchor an aircraft carrier here soon after taking office.
“We tend to make that case repeatedly, because the Navy typically moves its leaders up the chain of command every couple of years,” she said.
The Port Gardner site was mainly chosen because of its naturally deep water to support an aircraft carrier.
There’s enough room for the giant ships even at low tide, which is a rare advantage. The Navy owns one other deep-water port on the West Coast.
Each carrier has a crew of at least 3,000. So far, two have docked in Everett.
The USS Abraham Lincoln stayed for more than a decade. It was replaced by the USS Nimitz. That ship left in 2015 for what was expected to be temporary maintenance. It was announced last year that the ship would not return.
Sailing into Everett
It all began in the early 1980s.
Jeff Moore was in high school at the time. He remembers his father, former Mayor Bill Moore, entertaining high-ranking Navy officials in their living room.
“With him it would be, ‘Come out to my house, wear jeans and I’m going to barbecue some salmon,’ ” said Jeff Moore, who nearly four decades later is on the Everett City Council.
U.S. Sen. Henry M. Jackson was one of the first to suggest that the Navy come to Everett.
He grew up in the city and became the Snohomish County prosecutor at age 26. He later became the youngest member in Congress before serving in the Senate for 30 years.
Former Navy Secretary John Lehman gave Jackson credit for a concept called strategic homeporting. The idea was to improve security and increase the number of ships by introducing more bases. It’s why Naval Station Everett was built.
Bill Moore continued to crusade for a base after Jackson’s death in 1983.
The timber industry was slowing down, and the mayor thought the station would bring the economic boost the city needed.
The military announced the next year that it was focused on 13 locations around Puget Sound, before narrowing its list to Everett and Seattle.
The Navy met first with the big city to the south. Seattle representatives were nearly an hour late for the meeting, said Pat McClain, who back then was in charge of Everett’s governmental affairs. He retired in 2016.
“We gathered everybody in town they would conceivably want to talk to,” McClain said. “There was a buffet of interests.”
The room was full of people from local agencies, including the school district, public utilities and the port.
“That’s kind of how we set the tone for how we did business,” McClain said.
Former Congressman Norm Dicks, who represented Washington’s 6th District, was a key member of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense and military construction subcommittees. Paul Roberts was his chief of staff. He later became Everett’s planning director, and is now on the Everett City Council.
Part of their job was to suggest which city to choose.
“I went back and said on a technical basis, Everett is the best site because of the natural deep water,” Roberts said.
Groups who opposed the station had begun to form around this time. Their biggest concerns had to do with how the base would affect its surroundings.
“When we finished, this was the most environmentally sound base in the nation’s inventory,” Roberts said. “And to my knowledge remains so. Of course there haven’t been any new bases built.”
The Tulalip Tribes worried about their fishing rights. The tribes and the Navy later came up with a $3.4 million agreement to avoid a lawsuit.
“Others were afraid it would be disruptive,” said Jim Haley, a reporter who covered the military during his 42 years at The Daily Herald.
Some thought the city would be overwhelmed by tattoo shops, prostitution and drunks staggering through city streets.
Both the city and The Herald took polls to see how people felt.
“It showed that about 65 or 70 percent of folks were in favor of the naval station,” Haley said.
He started to cover the military after Jackson proposed the naval station. His reporting led to assignments in Washington, D.C., and Norfolk, Virginia, among other places. He sailed on some of the largest ships in the world before he retired in 2008.
“It simply was a lot of fun covering the military,” he said. “There was always something different, dealing with environmental and congressional stuff, and family life and the way the military works. It was just a constant learning process.”
Everett was chosen as the new homeport on April 7, 1984. The next few years were filled with planning, negotiations and setbacks.
Construction finally began on Nov. 9, 1987, at the site along Marine View Drive. The property once was home to port activity and to Western Gear Corp, a heavy-machinery manufacturer.
“I think it says something that Everett was not a military town,” McClain said. “We were going up against communities who have decades of military background. They knew what the language was. It was clearly a disadvantage in that we were true newbies.”
Building the base
Retired Rear Adm. Gary Engle helped design Naval Station Everett. He was the base’s first public works director.
Naval Station Everett was made to look like a college campus. The team chose the light rust-colored brick with green roofs to reflect the Evergreen State.
Engle worked here for a few years until he was moved to another assignment. He and his wife later returned to Seattle.
“Of all the places we lived in 28 and a half years, when we retired in Hawaii we decided to make the Pacific Northwest home,” he said. “It was based on that Everett tour.”
He’s visited the base through the years, once for a ceremony honoring his friend and colleague, retired Master Sgt. Gary Grayson.
Grayson started as the director of planning and engineering on the base. He retired as the station’s deputy public works director about 15 years later.
“It was a tremendous opportunity to be involved with something as important as Naval Station Everett,” he said. “It was a labor of love.”
Some of his fondest memories from that time star those he worked with. Grayson often was teased for being an Army guy during the annual Army-Navy rivalry football game.
One time, Capt. Paul Bontrop put Grayson’s Army hat on top of a flagpole. Bontrop was the base’s first commanding officer.
“I looked all over the place for that hat,” Grayson said.
Later during the games, the captain’s car was decorated in signs that read, “Go Army! Beat Navy!”
“I don’t know who did it, and I would never admit it,” Grayson said.
Opening the station
More than 1,000 people gathered for opening ceremonies at Naval Station Everett on April 8, 1994.
The base was a patchwork of completed buildings and a construction zone. About half a dozen structures were finished at that time. Now there are almost 80 buildings.
Former Petty Officer 2nd Class David Warburton spent the ceremony waiting in a car for an admiral who never arrived.
He turned on the radio and listened to the news that musician Kurt Cobain’s body had been found in his Seattle home earlier that day.
Warburton has worked on base since the beginning. He’s now the environmental protection specialist.
“I remember this base before there were ships homeported here,” he said. “There was no recreation facility and there was no mess hall, so we ate boxed lunches from Sand Point.”
Puget Sound Naval Station Sand Point in Seattle was shut down during the base realignment and closures. Many workers from there moved to the installation in Everett.
The sailors would eat in the fire station. It was among the first finished buildings.
Jennifer Foster also has worked there since opening day. She’s the director of the fleet and family readiness program.
“It was a tight-knit group of coworkers and military who worked on base in the early ’90s,” she said. “Everybody was working toward the same goal of supporting the ships and growing the base.”
She’s been stationed elsewhere and has never seen another community as supportive as Everett.
One of the largest-ever city celebrations took place on May 10, 2003. That’s when the USS Abraham Lincoln came home after nearly 10 months touring the Persian Gulf during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
About 30,000 people lined the streets downtown. Red, white and blue confetti floated from the rooftops. Sailors marched between Colby and Wetmore avenues with signs that read, “Thank you, Everett, for your support.”
Former Petty Officer 1st Class Sean Joyce remembers those long trips back from deployment when he was a sailor in the 1990s. He’s now the base intramural sports coordinator.
There’s a certain yellow buoy in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
“That’s when you know you’re in the home stretch,” he said. “We call it channel fever.”
The ship makes its way toward Port Angeles, and then winds through Puget Sound. Eventually sailors can see the ferry leaving Mukilteo. It usually would be a sunny trip until about that point.
“We would go around the corner and see the rain coming down,” he said. “We would call it ‘Ever-wet.’ ”
Cmdr. Mo Efimba joined the Navy more than two decades ago. He’s moved 16 times.
“I’ve gotten to live in all four corners of the country,” he said. “That’s sort of the beautiful thing. You get to see a different slice of America each place you go, and when you’re on deployment you get to see a different slice of the world.”
Efimba, 44, and his wife have two young sons.
The last change was easiest on the 7-year-old. He’s made more friends at school than in other places, and keeps busy playing for the Seattle Junior Hockey Association.
Efimba has been a commanding officer twice now. His favorite part is watching those around him succeed.
Yeoman 2nd Class Courtney Matthew works with Efimba in the operational support center. They take care of reservists in the area.
She likes how diverse the Navy is.
“We all have different backgrounds and ethnicities. It’s just awesome seeing people come together,” she said. “We all bring different ideas to the table.”
Matthew, 22, recently married and moved out of the barracks. She’s transferring to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
Instead of working in an office there, she may be deployed for the first time. She’s excited for the change.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Benjamin Weatherby enlisted after working retail. He wanted a more stable career.
He, his wife and their two children live in a Lake Stevens neighborhood reserved for Navy families called Constitution Park. It’s some of the newest housing built by the Navy. The development opened in 2010.
He knows there are friends around to help his wife and kids when he’s deployed.
“I didn’t join for myself,” he said. “I joined for my family.”
Naval Station Everett has been here for a quarter-century.
Towering ships have come and gone. Young sailors have left the piers here for their first assignments. Others are familiar with the long journey home.
Someone is always on shore to welcome them back.