Plant Crist boasts 35 veterans representing all branches of the military
(EDITOR'S Note: This is the first story in a series of articles that will run through Veterans Day on Nov. 11 featuring Gulf Power employees who have served in the military.)
PENSACOLA, Florida – Whether a person has served in the military for four years or 20, the experience seems to imprint most veterans with a spirit of lifetime patriotism.
That’s certainly the case for Demarius Baines, Plant Crist materials specialist, and Cindy Haber, Plant Crist warehouse storekeeper, who both served their countries 4 ½ years right out of high school.
They are among the 35 veterans representing every branch of the military working at the plant. Their patriotism swells on Veterans Day, a day they set aside to celebrate fellow service members past and present, during a special celebration that a patriotic co-worker organizes each year.
“Once a Marine, always a Marine” is a truism that fits Baines.
He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1980-1984 and continued his service as a Marine Reservist in 1985-1986.
Today, nearly 30 years after he left the military, Baines still displays his pride as a Jarhead and in serving his country. He often sports a Gulf Power shirt with “Support our Troops” embroidered on his right sleeve, and his Plant Crist Warehouse office is decorated with a Marine coffee cup and other military related and patriotic items.
“All our branches of the military are special,” he said. “But Marines are really special because, except for the Navy Seals, they go in first, and make the way for everyone else to come in and they come out last.”
Baines, who joined Gulf Power 30 years ago, is keenly aware of the importance of everyone’s role in the military.
He served as a heavy equipment mechanic who was in charge of updating the mechanics’ books with the latest changes and ensuring the books were packed and ready to deploy with the troops. To be sure, when the cranes, 5-ton trucks and 10,000-pound forklifts arrived in the field, their mechanics depended on those books to keep the machinery critical to the mission operating, Baines explained.
He joined the Marines on a delayed entry program after graduating from Woodham High School and spent one year of his tour of duty on Okinawa Island, Japan and finished at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Baines always reserves Veterans Day as a time to celebrate the Marines and all the men and women who have served our country, even when he’s working.
“Just like we celebrate the birthdays of our spouses or children, to me, on Veterans Day we as a nation get to celebrate all the people who were in the military whether they were cooks or infantry men,” he said.
Eagerly following in the footsteps of her father and cousin, Haber joined the Navy on a delayed entry program after graduating from Tate High School in 1976, one year after the Vietnam War ended.
She served in 1977-1982. Her first duty station for two years was with Commander Submarine Group Eight in Naples, Italy, where she worked as an intelligence specialist for all the ships in the Mediterranean and was the Admiral’s duty driver.
She held one of the highest security clearances, reserved for the rank of Admiral, because she handled his messages.
She also worked on a top secret project called “Outlaw Shark.”
“That was the Tomahawk missile program,” she said. “That was the first of its type over-the-horizon-targeting technology. I was involved in tracking them from our computers. I got to run mock operations from startup and restart to completion. The idea of targeting a ship you could not see and be accurate within a quarter mile or less was pretty nice.”
After training to become a systems technician, she transferred to San Diego where she repaired equipment used to transmit decrypted and encrypted messages for U.S. military bases and ships in the Pacific.
She says she loves and supports the military and veterans.
“A lot of people don’t think of the sacrifices the military makes on a daily basis,” said Haber, who has worked for Gulf Power for 32 years. “They have to go when they’re told to go, where they’re told to go and they have to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. And their families have to be ready to pick up and go when they transfer to a new station.”
Both Demarius and Haber both said they were happy to have served their countries. They’re grateful Gulf Power celebrates its veterans.
“The Veterans Day celebrations the company gives for us now are tremendous,” Haber said.
Demarius used to take a vacation day on Veterans Day to go to the parade and participate in festivities.
“Now I work because, beginning a few years ago, we celebrate Veterans Day at Plant Crist.”
That’s thanks to Lisa Seriens, conditioned based maintenance specialist, who has been organizing events to honor vets at the plant every year for four years. She does it because she holds a special place in her heart for veterans.
“This started from the Great Place to Work committee that I served on,” she said. “I volunteered to plan the events for veterans. Last year we placed 75 red, white and blue carnations at the Veterans Memorial Park, and after that we went to lunch.”
This year, she’s organized a trip for the veterans to visit the National Museum of Naval Aviation at Pensacola Naval Air Station and lunch when they return to the plant.
Sierens honors veterans because her two brothers served in the Army during the Vietnam War, one in Germany and the other as a helicopter door gunner in Vietnam.
“I remember when my brothers came home and how (poorly) they were treated after serving our country,” she said. “We have veterans from the Vietnam War era who still work for the company. I know we are fighting a very different war now, but the loss, sacrifice and bravery are the same. We as a nation can’t thank the men and women enough for what they did and still do the keep us safe. It’s my honor to thank the veterans on Veterans Day.”
Baines looks forward to participating in the event Sierens is organizing this year. When he does, the married father of three children said he’ll take a moment to reflect.
I’ll be thinking about God first,” he said. “And then I’ll be thinking of my county and family second. My country and family go hand-in-hand because you are serving in the military for your family.”