November 06, 2013 - Mark Doolin retired recently as a Command Master Chief after 30 years in the U.S. Navy, with a diverse career in peacetime and war around the world, including frigates, aircraft carriers, and the Pentagon.
"Not bad for a punk from Clarkston," Doolin said. "I kept pretty busy. It was a great career. I loved every minute."
When he enlisted in December 1983, the United States was still facing off against the Soviet Union in the Cold War. He hunted Russian submarines with Patrol Squadron 93 and the frigate USS Jack Williams – for surveillance, not combat.
"They'd watch us, we'd watch them," he said.
The '90s started with a bang – he served in combat on the Williams during the First Gulf War in 1991. The decade also heralded the fall of the Soviet Union. For Doolin, that meant anti-drug operations with the U.S. Coast Guard on P3 Orion planes, providing aerial surveillance of drug smugglers.
"We'd find them from the air. It was interesting," he said.
He was on duty during terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, as well as anthrax and DC sniper cases. On Sept. 11, he was working in his Pentagon office about 50 feet from impact.
"That wasn't a good day, I can tell you that. You never expect one day go to work and a plane hit the building," he said. "After the attacks, it was war, game on with everything."
After 9-11, he served several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Returning from his first deployment, local and national news were on hand, with cheering crowds to welcome them.
"It was a good feeling. It's a shame every veteran doesn't experience that," he said.
"It's great to hear, people thank me and us for our service. I always thank them for caring."
He later served as wing command master chief with Electronic Attack Squadron 209 VAX-209, in charge of hundreds of sailors, pilots, and their carrier-based electronic warfare jet aircraft.
"I'll remember the people I served with, they're the most important," he said. "I never thought I'd have the opportunity for 30. I've been very fortunate, in the right place at the right time, with great people to work with."
Doolin graduated from Clarkston High School in 1978.
"Clarkston was a neat town to grow up in, everybody knew everybody," he said.
He would hang out with friends downtown. A popular spot was the stoop in front of The Clarkston News office next to Rudy's, as well as the hardware store on the corner and Dick Morgan's auto shop.
"I was pretty lucky to grow up in an environment like that," he said.
As a teen, he grew his hair long and was a founding member of Pontiac-based rock band "Topper," and was a member of "Risin High."
They performed throughout the Detroit area, including as featured house band during the 1982 Super Bowl in Pontiac.
"I did that, but then it was time to grow up and get a real job," he said. "I still mess around with the guitar. It was a great chapter in my life."
Looking to enlist, he intended to talk to a Marine recruiter, but he wasn't in his office. The Navy recruiter was, though.
"He asked what I was doing, and I said I was there to talk to the Marines, and he said, 'why do you want to do that? Come over here, and let me tell you about the navy."
Asked what he likes to do, he said, "drink and fight," and was told he would make a great sailor.
"That's how I got into it," he said. "But I applied myself."
At his retirement ceremony, he was surprised on stage when his captain presented him with an American flag, video, and letters.
"I would take that flag into combat. It's been everywhere," Doolin said.
But now that star-spangled banner had been flown in Joe Louis arena, Ford Field, and Comerica Park, taken to locker rooms with the Detroit players, as well as DTE Music Auditorium and on a 5K cancer-survivors' run.
"I'm a cancer survivor myself, " Doolin he said.
The video featured congratulations for his service from pro athletes, and rock stars like Kid Rock, Bob Seger, Alice Cooper, and Ted Nugent.
"Everyone was, 'oh my God,' no one could believe it," Doolin said. "It was really neat."
The flag, along with the video and letters, now rests in a shadow box over his fireplace.
After his retirement, he took a job employing veterans to help veterans, get them ready for life after the service by training them to work, get jobs, and into schools.
"The opportunity fell into my lap. It's interesting and rewarding," he said.
Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.