NEW CUMBERLAND, Pa. –
Sgt. Jeffrey LeMasters’ federal employment began when he joined the military at age 17. Thirty-five years later, LeMasters, now a sergeant with Defense Logistics Agency Installation Management Susquehanna Security and Emergency Services Police, is being recognized by leaders of his organization for 35 years of service.
LeMasters left his hometown of Fairmont, West Virginia, shortly after graduating high school in 1980. Self-described as a churchgoing Methodist but not particularly religious, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a religious program specialist where his duties included, among other things, protecting chaplains.
“According to the Geneva Conventions, chaplains aren’t allowed to carry weapons,” he explained. “In Vietnam the enemy began shooting anyone with a cross on their helmet, so to protect them they started the RP rating and that was the job I chose. The Navy sent me to combat training down in Camp Lejeune with the Marines, then I was stationed with them for five years out at Camp Pendleton, California.”
But providing personal security to clergy was only a small portion of LeMasters’ job. Most of his time, he said, was spent with filling out forms and making travel arrangements for sailors in times of crisis.
“If they were on, say, a ship in the Mediterranean and something were to happen to a close family member of one of our guys it was up to us to arrange for flights to get them back to the states,” LeMasters said. “I had to make sure they had flights from the ship to a base and then from that base back to the states so that they could be with their family in times of dire straits. I did that for 20 years, then got out as an E-6.”
Not long after it started, though, Sgt. LeMasters said his career (and life) nearly ended abruptly when a military aircraft crashed on the flight deck of a ship he was stationed aboard.
“It was around 1982 and we were gearing up to deploy to Lebanon,” he said. “It was my first cruise with the USS Nimitz and we were training off the coast of Fort Lauderdale when a Marine pilot crashed on our deck and killed 14 of us and injured about another 48. When the initial teams went out to fight the fires they got sprayed with JP5 (jet fuel) and a lot of them caught on fire, so they were pulling us to go up and fight fires on the deck. The next day we were picking up F-14s and just dropping them in the ocean because they were destroyed.”
LeMasters was stationed in New Jersey when he retired from active duty. Thanks to his security qualifications and weapons training, he soon found work in base law enforcement, first as a civilian contractor, then as a government employee. But, when his installation was closed due to budget cuts, LeMasters was forced to look elsewhere for work.
“I just started looking for jobs in Pennsylvania,” he said. “It was closer to West Virginia and there were more jobs out here, so I just started looking here. I still have brothers in West Virginia.”
After a decade-and-a-half in New Cumberland, LeMasters said he’s glad things worked out the way they did.
“Out of the jobs I’ve had, this is the one I’ve been enriched by the most because of training,” he said. “We receive specialized training for things like active shooter, drug enforcement and traffic enforcement. Just different aspects of our job we get to go to training to make us better honed at our profession.”
With four more years until he plans to retire from his current job, LeMasters is looking to a relaxing future full of hunting and fishing. For now he’s proud of what he continues to do for a living.
“Our job here is taking care of the people—their security, their welfare,” said LeMasters. “Making sure that people coming on the installation are vetted and make sure that they have a reason to be on the installation and that they’re not here to do any harm to our employees or anything like that. We do law enforcement, we do traffic, but it’s for the safety of the residents here on the installation.”