GREENVILLE — After spending 22 years in the U.S. Navy, Chief Petty Officer Jay Durnell, 40, is retiring and returning home to Greenville to spend time with his family.
When Durnell was 18 years old, he enlisted in the Navy as an E1 seaman recruit and over the years worked his way up to the seventh highest in command — chief petty officer.
It was the 1960s movie “The Gallant Hours” that inspired Durnell to go into the Navy.
“My grandfather was in the Army,” Durnell said. “It seemed like everyone in my family was about the Army and I wanted to do something different.”
One night while Durnell was staying at his grandparents’ house, he awoke as “The Gallant Hours” was coming on TV. He stayed up to watch it.
“That was it,” he said. “That is what I wanted to do.”
Lt. Cmdr. John Loiselle worked with Durnell for two years while in the Navy. He said Durnell always gave 100 percent when it came to his work.
“The guy was great,” Loiselle said. “The Navy is going to miss him.”
Loiselle said Durnell really cared for the sailors he worked with and was someone who did his job professionally and with confidence.
While serving in the Navy, Durnell said many things changed over the two decades. The things he remembers most about the changes he saw was how the uniforms changed and how Navy culture changed. Through the years, like any job, rules changed and certain aspects of the job became stricter.
“We worked hard to play hard,” Durnell said.
During the early part of his career, Durnell would always say he was going to get out of the Navy and move on to the next chapter in his life. However, he re-enlisted every four years.
“I found I really loved it,” Durnell said. “The Navy always made me feel important.”
Through his Naval career, he was able to travel to unique places and meet people he might not have in a different career. Some of the highlights included being a part of flight demonstration squadron the Blue Angels — which is difficult to achieve — and being reenlisted on stage by classic rock band REO Speedwagon.
Loiselle said there are many people who choose to sacrifice, take on the responsibility and serve in any branch of the military.
“They are the real heroes,” said Loiselle of the thousands of men and women serving. “And Chief Durnell is one of the best.”
Out of everything though, Durnell said he is going to miss the people the most.
“It was never about the planes or the ships,” he said. “I am going to miss the pleasure of leading the people over the decades. It’s bittersweet.”
One of Durnell’s colleagues, Chief Petty Officer Jason Ferrell, described Durnell with kind words, referring to him as family.
“He is the most generous friend anyone can ask for,” Ferrell said.
Ferrell has known Durnell for about 10 years and said Durnell has treated him like a brother. There were times Ferrell would be stationed away from Durnell, but when he came back to Durnell’s station for training, Durnell’s family took him in, feeding him and treating him like family.
“First and foremost, Durnell is a family guy,” Ferrell said. “His family comes first.”
Now that he is retired from the Navy, Durnell said he looks forward to being home and spending time with his wife and children. He will also be looking for a new career while he starts his next chapter.
“I am too young to sit at home,” he said laughing.
Because of his professionalism, Loiselle said Durnell would be an asset to any employer who gives him a chance.
Looking back over the years, Durnell said he is very humble and honored about his time in the Navy.
“I am thankful the Navy allowed me to serve,” he said.