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Houser heading back to Persian Gulf to top off 20 years of service

U.S. Navy Lt. John Houser and his wife, Tracy, recalled the anxiety when the lieutenant was trapped in Turkey as anti-American anger spilled over in 1992. Several civilian Turks were killed during an accidental U.S. attack. “We fled to the countryside, away from the radicals in the city,” said Houser, a 16-year Naval veteran and Old Stage Hills resident who at that time was doing “counterterrorism work wearing civilian clothes.” With the exception of his Turkish experience — in a country where Houser spent 4 1/2 months — counterterrorism “was kinda neat, there was a big NATO exercise going on, so we got to go in ahead of time and make sure terrorists weren’t targeting our troops,” he said.

A former pilot “flying jets off aircraft carriers,” Houser was a bombadeer navigator during his first 10 years in the Navy.

His most recent overseas service was as a navigator and Maritime Interdiction Officer in the Persian Gulf in charge of coordinating ship searches, overseeing 36 men aboard the U.S.S. Kauffman from December 2001 to “late” 2003.

Guarding the 20-mile Iraqi coastline aboard the U.S.S. Kauffman, “We were off the coast right before the war, stopping the ships going in and out, it’s called Maritime Interdiction,” Houser said. “I was in charge of all the teams.”

Following his duties in the Persian Gulf, Houser began his service as East Tennessee’s Naval Officer Recruiter — covering 35,000 square miles, which includes Middle and East Tennessee and parts of Virginia, Kentucky and Georgia.

His latest orders have the 45 year old leaving in early August for “six to nine months of training in Rhode Island, and two eighteen-to-twenty-one month tours” — beginning in the Persian Gulf — into 2009.

“I’m very excited to go back, but I’m really going to miss the family,” Houser said. “We’ll see each other during holidays, or if I can get a vacation, fly back for a week or so. They’re very supportive ...”

Joining the U.S.S. Carr and its crew of 250, “I’ll be a combat systems officer, [in charge of preparing] all the weapons [including automatic grenade launchers, torpedoes, belt-fed machine guns, rocket launching helicopters], all the radars on the ship and all the people that maintain them,” Houser said about his role as one of four “department heads” aboard the U.S.S. Carr, with “about fifty” men to be under him.

A self-proclaimed “Navy brat” who’s lived in “probably twelve states,” Houser, his wife, daughter, Hannah, and son, Joshua, came to Farragut in 1998.


“We stopped all the commercial vehicles going in and out, which could be anything from a very large container ship, oil tankers ... from one country to the next,” Houser said about his former Persian Gulf duties. “We’re looking for bad guys, weapons, drugs.”

As for controversial stops, “We’re always afraid someone’s going to come up to us with a boat full of explosives and blow themselves up and take us out, too,” Houser said.

“We pulled over a German freighter, and she had obviously four large patrol boats on board that they were going to give to Saddam Hussein,” Houser added. “Although they did not have weaponry on them, they had a large opening ... where they could easily put on a gun or a rocket launcher or something like that.

“They had a crew of about fifty, and we sent a twelve-man team over, so we were out-numbered four-to-one. They started pushing our kids around. [We] sent in eighteen-, nineteen-year-old kids. We came in within fifty feet of their ship, and it looked like a porcupine with all the guns we had pointed over the side.”

During the showdown, “I was actually standing next to the captain, I was using the radios to talk to the junior officer that was in charge of the twelve-man team,” Houser said. “I told the captain we had a problem; he armored us up and we got in right alongside of ’em and made a real slow pass, pointing our guns at the gentlemen that were being disruptive.

“We made ’em drop anchor and would not let them take the boats into Iraq,” Houser added. “The Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld ..., made the decision to purchase the boats from the German company. ... We gave them to one of the other countries over there to keep them out of Iraq.”

Houser, who has earned a Navy Commendation Medal and a Navy Achievement Medal for his service, served from 1984 to 1994, then re-enlisted in 1999.

“The opportunity came to go back into the Navy, and I went for it. ... They really needed people with experience back in the Navy.,” he said.

Houser said he had “just gotten off sea duty prior to the Gulf War” in 1991. During that war, “I was an intelligence officer, a targeteer in Washington, D.C., with the Defense Intelligence Agency ... I was finding really cool stuff to blow up,” he said.

Having earned the rank of lieutenant commander during his first 10 years of service, “I had to start over again as an ensign so I made my way back up to lieutenant,” Houser said. “I’ll be back up for lieutenant commander next year.”

Houser also served on the U.S.S. Wasp in the Mediterranean Sea in the deck department, first division, as a junior officer who “mostly took care of the young sailors” from 1999 to 2001. “Get them education, keep them out of trouble.”

Looking back, “probably the neatest thing is just to be able to go from flying jets to driving ships to intelligence work,” Houser said.

“The Navy’s got a lot of lateral movement.”

If a certain ship didn’t want to cooperate, “We had several teams of [U.S. Navy] SEALS over there, and given the opportunity you would definitely want us to come on board rather than have the SEALS come on board,” Houser said. “... By the time you even know they’re there you’re pretty much face down and got your hands behind you.”

This was part of a multi-national effort that included “Canadians, Dutch, French, Germans ... Polish, Japanese ..., there were forces from at least eight to ten other countries,” Houser said. “So we could have the French go and check out their own vessel, the British check out their own vessel.”

However, “We’re very much more motivated than some, certain countries like the French didn’t seem too much into getting the job done,” Houser said.

Houser said the U.S.S. Kauffman was capable of doing “ten to twelve boardings per day,” unless it was a “large ship, then you can do only one or two with a team.”

and then they have, similar to our semi-trucks, our 18-wheelers that are on the road here, they have a dhow, it’s a wooden ship, it can be anywhere from fifty or sixty feet long to over a hundred feet, and they use them like semi-trucks to haul everything — from tires, dry goods, livestock —

, adding that East Knoxville native First Class Petty Officer Rainwater was killed “when that happened. That was the first Navy man from Tennessee killed.”

“I got out and went to medical school, I was going to try and become a doctor,” Houser said. “I made it through two years but I couldn’t keep up the grades, so I didn’t graduate medical school. Without the degree I really didn’t have a fantastic job — I was selling surgical equipment here to local hospitals.


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