At 64, the oldest sailor in the Navy prepares to walk offstage

By SANDRA JONTZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 18, 2006

NAPLES, Italy — Master Chief Petty Officer Doug Forziati says he’s as old as dirt.

That might be debatable.

But what isn’t in question is that the 64-year-old assistant director of the Allied Forces Band Naples is the oldest serving sailor in the U.S. Navy.

Bar none.

“Yeah, that’s me. I’m old as dirt and the oldest sailor in all the Navy, in all of the world.

“And at several formal functions, Adm. [Harry] Ulrich doesn’t miss a chance to say that and embarrass me,” he quipped.

The nearly 30-year veteran, who split his naval career with a 17-year hiatus between 1964 and 1981, loves being a mentor.

“I love to talk, and a benefit of being older is that people come to you for advice.”

When young military musicians ask whether they should continue their military service, he has them detail what he thinks are the benefits of serving: free medical care, travel and educational opportunities, a steady paycheck.

Then he has them list what they’d get out in the civilian world — and if they stay in music, a highly competitive civilian world. That column is usually much shorter.

“Some of the best musicians out there are driving taxi cabs.”

Some of his subordinates tap into his wisdom or poke good-natured fun.

“He’s been through everything and he’s really up to date, in spite of his age,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher Bourgeois, 24. “You can literally talk to him about everything.”

Well, barring technology and computer-related issues, for which he relies on others — younger others — for help.

“You do know he just started using an ATM this year?” Chief Petty Officer Scott Davis asked Bourgeois.

“Maybe, but just yesterday I saw him with an MP3 player,” the young French horn player responded.

Forziati, he continued, “has been to the bottom of the barrel and been at the top, and that covers everything for a young sailor, whether they’re being counseled or rewarded.”

There’s little romance behind the story of Forziati’s 50-plus years of playing the trumpet. As a youngster, he wanted to play in the school band. His elementary teacher needed a trumpet player.

Later, his trumpet teacher — who taught Forziati when the Massachusetts native first started playing when he was 7 or 8 years old — planted the notion of a military music career.

“He told me, ‘You’re a good musician and you need to join the Navy music program’ and he wrote me a letter of recommendation,” said Forziati, who still writes his former teacher Christmas letters.

Forziati enlisted in 1960, attending the Navy’s music school in the Anacostia section of Washington, D.C., before shipping out to his first sea duty tour aboard the USS Hancock.

“Then, I didn’t appreciate the job, and I figured I’d be like others and get out and make it big.”

That was 1964.

For five years, by day, he worked as a machinist making pistol parts for Smith & Wesson in a Chicopee, Mass., factory. By night, he played in rock and jazz ensembles. He later moved to Hartford, Conn., and worked for Pratt & Whitney building airplane engines.

Until 1981, when his marriage failed and he needed something better to support the family, which included three children.

One evening, while he played in a club, in walked a senior chief petty officer recruiting for the Navy. Forziati was sold.

Another sailor, Chief Mike Mitchell — later Cmdr. Mike Mitchell and a former head of the Navy’s music school — “spent many months getting waivers,” Forziati said. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

He re-entered as a third-class petty officer, one pay grade lower than when he’d left the service 17 years earlier.

After three tours in Naples, Italy, spent between the Allied Forces Band and 6th Fleet Band, Forziati and his wife of 21 years, Sally, are hoping to make it their home after he retires on March 1.

He’s looking for a supervisory job with the U.S. government “where I can manage my brains out,” said Forziati, who holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Westfield State in Massachusetts and a master’s in urban education from Norfolk State in Virginia.

Forziati has a leadership style “they don’t and can’t teach in any school,” said Davis, the band’s leading chief petty officer.

“Everyone who works for him … does what he says because they love him,” Davis said. “His retirement is going to leave a great void in NATO and in the band.”

His retirement ceremony is scheduled for Jan. 25 at Joint Forces Command Naples in Bagnoli.

Visitors to Master Chief Petty Officer Doug Forziati’s office usually will find him with his feet propped on his desk. “My door is always wide open,” said Forziati, who routinely dispenses advice to younger sailors.

from around the web