When Willie Hawk left Covington in 1976 at the age of 17 after signing up with the Navy, he hadn't intended to make it his career.
But more than three decades later, the stocky Commander retired with a decorated career at a ceremony that was attended by about 200 family and friends.
"I don't how far out I thought it out," said the Newton High School graduate. "I had no idea I'd be around for 30 years."
Hawk even had a day officially named after him by the City of Covington in a Feb. 28 ceremony.
While Hawk had various jobs, most of his career has been in the personnel and administrative fields.
"Anything human resources and personnel related, I've done it," he said.
He said the most enjoyable aspect of his career has been being able to help thousands of young sailors get promoted and commissioned. He had been an enlisted sailor for 10 years before becoming commissioned, and he told himself if he ever had an opportunity to reach back and help enlisted sailors, he would.
"The Navy is like a family," he said. He described how it was not uncommon to receive a call out of the blue from a young person who wanted to thank him for helping them.
"That's what's made everything so special. That's probably the primary reason I ended up staying around as long as I did. I was in a position to help and I love doing that," he said.
But being in the Navy, having been stationed in 16 different places and seen at least 36 different countries, has been challenging for him and his family.
"The backbone of this family has been my wife, Connie," who often had to be both mother and father to their son and daughter he said. Though they've been married for 30 years and have known each other even longer, having grown up together as kids, they spent more than half of those years separated. "My career is as much about her as it has been about me."
"The big thing I've learned over the years, I come home and don't stir the pot and let her continue to do her thing," he said, of his secret to a successful marriage. "I do what she tells me to do and that's worked."
He said being retired has been a little strange. Hawk, who will soon be working as human resources for a private company, after he and his wife get settled into their new home in Duluth, doesn't anticipate much of an adjustment into the civilian world. He had overseen 60 civilian employees in his last command and has experience with everything from union agreement to arbitration and negotiating.
"People are people, everywhere you go," he said.