by Larry Greene
When Dennis Baptiste was 17-years-old, he saw the U.S. Navy as a good opportunity “to get out of town.”
The year was 1976 and, although the very unpopular Vietnam War just ended, Dennis was partly inspired to serve by a number of relatives who served in the military including his father, Edwin Baptiste, who was in the Army Air Corp during WWII.
“The reason I picked the Navy is I wanted to learn about nuclear power,” he said. This was an unusual pursuit for enlisted men and the Navy jumped at fulfilling Dennis’ request. Being on a missile-firing nuclear submarine, even during peace time, is enough to be considered a military veteran. Intense situations, like fires and floods, are always something for which Navy submarine personnel continuously train. “When it happens for real, it scares the hell out of you,” said Dennis. His submarine duty brought him to Spain, Scotland, Portugal and Jamaica. He soon became the submarine’s Engine Room Supervisor.
The military experience helped him land a job at Electric Boat, a job he’s held for 21-years.
In 1983, he went into the military Reserves but, shortly after 9/11, he was called back to active duty where he served in the Military Police until October 2003. “I loved the Military Police,” he said, “It’s the best job I ever had.”
As Chief Petty Officer stationed in Groton, he volunteered for his service to be extended. Part of job was issuing guns and live ammo to 18 and 19-year-olds just completing basic military training. Often, this was the first experience that young people had away from home and loved ones. “That was nerve wracking,” he said, “We’d ask ourselves, ‘Is there some reason this guy shouldn’t be carrying a gun?’” He ended his military police duty on a high note. “Our claim to fame: we didn’t shoot anybody else, we didn’t shoot ourselves and nobody died,” he said.
After completing his military research status in 2004, he considered pursuing a career in civilian law enforcement. He changed his mind after realizing that he would be a rookie in his mid-forties and many criminals would be half his age.
Three years ago, he joined the Taftville VFW, Post 2212 where he is now Senior Vice-Commander, a position he’s held for two years. The Taftville resident has been married for 19 years to his second wife, Lori, with whom he raised two of his children from a former marriage and two of her children from a former marriage. “All of which I’m very proud,” he adds. His son, Robert Schneider, served in Iraq at the Al Asad Airbase as a Marine helicopter mechanic working on twin blade CH46 helicopters. Robert is the Junior Vice-Commander at the Taftville VFW.
Dennis also works as Secretary of the Norwich Republican Town Committee. “My wife and I are busier than when we were raising kids,” he said.
He is considering using the GI Bill to continue his education possibly in a field such as, sociology or philosophy.