Thursday, May 11, 2006

Self-help project brings antique sub back to life


The Dolphin
By Ira J. Elinson
May 11, 2006

Sailors from the Base Telecommunications Center unload rocks that will surround the base of the World War II era Japanese Katen I submarine, which is on display in front of Building 83 in Dealey Plaza.

The stones will be painted and used to simulate the sea floor. The long-neglected piece of history will receive a face-lift, thanks to the Self Help Program and one Sailor's gratitude.

Machinist's Mate First Class (SS) John Schepis has enjoyed his Navy career and was looking for a way to say, "Thank you. The Navy has always been there for me."

Schepis said, "I saw the sub, recognized its potential as a gem rather than an eyesore, so it was logical for me to do something about it. It's my way of showing the Navy my gratitude, to give something back."

Schepis has a history of making the Navy look better. While stationed on the West Coast, he was involved in restoring a Navy F8 Crusader in NAD Park in Bremerton, Wash. When he arrived at Naval Submarine Base New London, he learned of the Self Help Program, and how it was possible to make positive changes in his surroundings.

"This is a great program," said Schepis. "There are so many possibilities for Sailors to take initiative and do things to improve their quality of life. I had no idea how easy it was."

The renovation of the sub, unfortunately, was not as simple as painting a building at Naval Submarine Support Facility. Schepis ran into a long list of qualifications, training and screenings when the sample of paint he submitted for analysis was determined to contain lead. He began this process five months ago.

"There was a phenomenal amount of paperwork, schools and safety training required for me to remove this much lead paint," said Schepis. "It was difficult, but not impossible. This project needs to be done, and I couldn't drop the ball just because the Navy wants to keep me safe."

The project, when completed, will include a stone walkway to the sub, viewing panels cut into it, and a plaque explaining the sub's mission and dimensions.

"I will bring this as close as possible to its original state," said Schepis. "The clear vision ports will allow visitors to see inside, and I think it's important for people to understand what they are looking at, and how important a role it played in our history.

As if that's not enough, Schepis is working on the two 5-inch guns in front of the base gym, Morton Hall.

"I thought it would be easier to do both at the same time," said Schepis. "Since they are essentially across the street from each other, I could shuttle back and forth between them, saving time and materials."

Schepis estimates both projects will take from eight months to a year. He is not asking for help, nor is he asking for recognition. He just wants to inspire people, and to have them understand that they have a valuable tool in the Self Help Program.

"I want people to know that they have the ability to make things happen, and that SUBASE is there to support them," said Schepis. "I want to encourage people to pick a project of their own, and that Self Help will meet them more than halfway."



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