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From her command at the naval hospital in Naples, Italy, on Friday, Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Williams watches as her mother, Senior Chief Petty Officer Rhonda John, retires an ocean away in Athens, Ga. With her is Master Chief Petty Officer Kevin Kesterson, command master chief of the hospital.

From her command at the naval hospital in Naples, Italy, on Friday, Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Williams watches as her mother, Senior Chief Petty Officer Rhonda John, retires an ocean away in Athens, Ga. With her is Master Chief Petty Officer Kevin Kesterson, command master chief of the hospital. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

NAPLES, Italy — Senior Chief Petty Officer Rhonda John can leave behind her 22 years as a sailor because she knows her daughter is there to fill the void.

“I’ve left you with the military, something you know very well,” John tearfully told her daughter, Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Williams. “I know you will go far.”

As John made the ceremonious walk between two lines of sailors whom the Navy calls “side boys,” marking a passage from military life to civilian, her daughter uttered powerful, ritualistic words: “Senior Chief John, you stand relieved. I have the watch.”

Family, friends and co-workers gathered Friday at two spots separated by an ocean for a “time-honored naval tradition — [but] with a twist,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Steven Jones.

John’s ceremony is the Navy’s first known video teleconferenced retirement, broadcast from the Center for Service Support in Athens, Ga., to the naval hospital in Naples.

Williams’ father, retired sailor Cleveland Dilworth, died in January, and the young dental assistant had used all her leave so was unable to attend her mother’s retirement in person.

“I couldn’t miss this,” Williams said. “My mom has been in the Navy for 22 years. I’m 20. For most of her military career, I’ve been by her side.”

John was a single mother raising three children, of which Williams is the oldest.

It was Williams who made John such a success in the Navy, the mother said during her retirement speech.

“She’s the best inspiration and motivation any sailor could have,” she said, choking back tears, “for I was not about to let her down.”

Williams took charge of caring for her brothers while her mother deployed.

“She became a chief at home while I was a chief at work,” John said.

In Naples, Master Chief Petty Officer Kevin Kesterson, command master chief of the hospital, presented Williams with a chief’s coin.

“Mom, I am so proud of you,” Williams said.

“I know now as a sailor, you sacrificed a lot for me and the boys,” Williams read from a speech she wrote moments before the start of the ceremony.

“I know that today is the hardest day for you in your military career, but you still have us, and I will carry on your military tradition.”


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