29 years in the Coast Guard for me (as of 20 January) and still going.
I'm doing the full 30 (actually I have authorization to do two years
after that, but they're not offering me any good jobs, so probably will
be retiring this year with terminal leave). I am/was a snipe (now CWO).
About 33 years ago the CG combined a lot of the engineering ratings
(Engineman, Machinist Mate, Boilerman, etc) into one rating Machinery
Technician (MK). Unfortunately when they did that we lost a lot of our
expertise. Very few folks active duty in the CG know how to use machine
tools (lathes, milling machines, etc) other than simple drill presses
and bench grinders. Even with simple machine tools we don't know how to
properly use them (I've got a bench grinder at work right now that I've
got tagged out because someone used it for aluminum. I've got a new
wheel, but I won't put it on until I give the guys some training.).
Most of our machining needs are either contracted out, or we have
civilians at some of our bigger units that are machinists.
I was on isolated duty on Kure Island, Hawaii and had a relatively new
Craftsman (I assume Atlas) lathe. No one, including me, knew how to use
it. So it sat there unused. Probably for years. After that tour, I
took a shop class in Alaska and learned the basics of using a lathe
(even used a mill). At the time I was running the vehicle maintenance
shop in Ketchikan. I ended up making some parts for some government
vehicles (door hinge pins and bushings for example) and forklifts, and
for my Harley. From there I went to the CGC Sweetgum, an old 180' buoy
tender built sometime around 1943. Had a pair of old straight eight
Cooper Bessember engines (quietest diesel engines I'd ever heard. You
could have a conversation between them with them running <until you
started the ships service generators - 6-71 Detroit Diesels>. They
drove generators that ran the single propulsion motor. To start the
engines you would motorize the generators). In the auxiliary shop in
the main motor room we had a 9" South Bend lathe that was very similar
to the lathe I have now (honest I paid for mine, I have a receipt!!!!).
We had to rebuild a couple of heads underway on the Coopers but we
didn't have the tools to pull out the valve guides, nor push them back
in. The engineers were amazed when I went back to the lathe and turned
the stuff we needed and we were able to rebuild the heads. My next unit
was a 210' WMEC (medium endurance cutter) as the Auxiliary Chief. With
the lathe I bought for the cutter (The EO didn't think we'd use a lathe,
but I pestered him until he gave in), I built replacement clutch dogs
for our port anchor windlass and a new pump shaft for the condensate
cooler pump for the boilers. We had tested the anchor windlasses just
before going to REFTRA. When we tried to raise the anchor the windlass
"slipped". The command was upset as the windlasses had to work as it
would have been a restrictive and not allowed to go through the
mandatory training. I took off an inspection cover and found that the
part the clutch dog went into would raise about 1/2" under load which
caused the mechanism to slip preventing the anchor from raising. The
week before I had been over at the scrap bin at the Navy base we tied up
at (Panama City, Florida) and picked up a piece of 2" or so round stock.
With this round stock I built longer clutch dogs that allowed the
windlass to work properly. When we got back we rebuilt the windlass and
replaced the stock dogs, but it did allow us to finish REFTRA. My EO
later told me that listening to me about buying that lathe was one of
the smartest things he'd ever done.
I'm not trying to brag here, but just show how important it is for us to
keep our skills. Last year I jumped at the chance to buy a South Bend
lathe that I mentioned earlier. I don't even try to call myself a
machinist, but I do have fun with it.