Air Force historian preserves Navy story

  • Published
  • By MSgt. Timm Huffman
  • 439th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Not many people get to live their dreams. Westover's wing historian, MSgt. Joseph Gluckert, is one of the lucky ones.

He's manned the 439th Airlift Wing history office since 2006. MSgt. Gluckert was recently given the opportunity to take the helm of the same role as a civilian -- at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, N.H.

The move to the Navy is not the first cross-service jump this history buff has made. He got his start in the career as a combat historian in the Army. It was 1999 when MSgt. Gluckert saw a military history detachment coming back from Kosovo. Already a former Army National Guardsman, he reached out to a recruiter to see what it would take to become a combat historian.

"I thought 'Wow, the National Guard has a military history detachment?' It was the first time since I had gotten out in 1989 that I got excited about a military job," he said.

It wasn't long before the former heavy artillery troop was once
again donning his battle gear, this time as a historian.

This Beverly, Mass., native says he inherited his love for history
from his father, who was a World War II veteran. He grew up
watching old war documentaries and talking them over with his dad.

"It was almost an oral history project in its own right," said MSgt. Gluckert. "Because he would put his own spin on it and since he lived it, you get more when you see these people that witnessed this history."

It wasn't until after he became an army historian, though, that the weight of his responsibility was driven home.

In September 2001, he was called to active duty and assigned to record the recovery efforts at Ground Zero. His first night in New York City, he witnessed truck after truck roll past, filled with dirt to build a makeshift road up the rubble of tower one so the heavy cranes could get in to start moving debris.

"It was very surreal and was a moment in time everyone knew they would never forget. It was the first time I really thought about what it meant to be a witness to history."

It was his experience at Ground Zero that further propelled him along the path of wanting to tell the story of military operations and facilities. He transferred to the Air Force Reserve and Westover in 2006 because, unlike the Army, the Air Force historian billet is an actual career field.

As an Air Force historian, MSgt. Gluckert would be tasked with providing leadership with accurate historical information for use in planning; researching and maintaining historical references; and preparing detailed narrative reports. He attended historian school at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, Ala., shortly after crossing into the blue.

As Westover's historian, he regularly compiles monthly squadron reports, handles Freedom of Information requests, reports to the wing commander and conducts oral history projects.

Since joining the Patriot Wing, the historian has deployed twice in support of documenting Air Force operations overseas.

In 2009, he deployed to the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Afghanistan. He deployed a second time in 2012, to the 386th AEW, Southwest Asia, where he earned the nickname History Joe and a Meritorious Service Medal.

In 2011, he found himself working a lot of man days at Westover, which is about a two-hour drive from his home in eastern Massachusetts. He was interested in finding something a little closer to home and a commute to the 214-year-old shipyard would cut his drive in half. So, he went into the employment services office there and got his foot in the door there as an administrative clerk.

Knowing his background as a military historian, and with the historian position on station vacant, shipyard leadership detailed him to help out with their maritime museum. When they officially announced the historian vacancy, Gluckert applied and was offered the job.
The shipyard, located on the Piscataqua River's Seavy Island, between Portsmouth and Kittery, Maine, is a treasure trove of history. Because of its legacy, MSgt. Gluckert says being an experienced historian in the making at the shipyard is a great experience.

"The shipyard was founded in June 1800, so it really is an example of 19th century industry that has literally gone from sails to atoms."

MSgt. Gluckert said his favorite aspects of the job are the endless stories that accompany the history of the shipyard and the sheer number of ships the yard has produced. Of particular note, he says, is the shipyard's World War II record of building nearly half the submarines used during that war, including 32 in 1944.

As the shipyard historian, he said he's a jack of all trades. He does everything from history lectures for newcomers, to tours around the shipyard, research and command history reports. He's also responsible for overseeing the shipyards museum, where his main office is located, and the room used during the sit pieces of maritime history. On one side, sits a 20-foot tall submarine rescue chamber and on the other, a massive torpedo rests on wooden blocks.

Once inside, you are greeted by 200 years of shipyard history. MSgt. Gluckert's collection includes relics from the shipyards past, including replicas of ships built in the 1800s, antique dive suits, preserved pieces of old ships and a cell door from the shipyards nowunused prison. Also in his display are more modern assortments from the shipyard's submarine-building days, such as replicas and even some German U-boat items from World War II when a few of those boats were brought there after the war.

He's particularly proud of the shipyard's leader board, which he keeps posted near the entrance of the museum. The wooden billboard is engraved with every ship built on the island, from the first 74-gun Ship off- the-Line, finished in the 1815, to the last nuclear submarine, built in 1971 - 176 in all.

Preserving the military's history is important to him. Particularly, he said, because the military hasn't done a great job of this in recent years. He said we know more about troop positions during the Civil War than we do from the Persian Gulf War.

"With the advent of digital documenta-tion, everything is so perishable," he said. "There is a need to have someone on the front lines, so to speak, of historical collection, to gather documentation, take pictures, collect archives and artifacts, as events happen, to preserve them for future generations to study and learn."
While MSgt. Gluckert can rattle off facts and numbers about his shipyard, and Westover, like a machine gun, he says it's a perishable skill he really has to stay on top of. He does this through constant reading and research, which he loves.

"When an avocation and a vocation meet, special things happen," he said.

The shipyard's building days ended in 1969, with the launching of the USS Sandlance, a Sturgeon Class sub, and is now tasked with the overhaul, repair and modernization of nuclear submarines. MSgt. Gluckert's focus is on recording the repair work done there and on further preserving the history of the yard. In addition to his work maintaining the museum, he has already secured funding to have restoration work done to the shipyard's peace treaty room.

This passionate cross-service historian plans to continue working his dream jobs well into the future. He will continue to provide accurate historical information to Air Force and Navy leadership and work to preserve the legacy of both services for future generations to discover and enjoy until they no longer allow him to do so.

"If you are a witness to history, I feel you actually have a duty to tell that story," he said.