United States Navy Captain and Broad Run resident Jon C. Kreitz braves Interstate-66 traffic on the way to work. But for 20 months, he braved pirates and drug-runners at the helm of the USS New York.
Kreitz recently "handed over the keys" of the New York, a landing platform dock vessel wrought with steel salvaged from the World Trade Center, armed with missile launchers and 30-millimeter calibers. A California native, married man and avid equestrian, Kreitz is more than ready to trade the rolling waves for Fauquier tranquility.
All the men in Kreitz's Orange County, Calif. family pursued careers as police officers, but Kreitz's dad told him simply: it doesn't pay.
"I enlisted straight out of high school," Kreitz said. He was a machinist's mate back in 1982 on the USS Nassau .
When he was 19, his commanding officer asked him if he was willing to become an officer, so he went to the Georgia Institute of Technology and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Physics. He was commissioned via the University’s NROTC program in 1987. His initial tour of duty as an officer was on board the USS Bunker Hill.
The USS New York is a young ship, commissioned in November 2009. It is not the largest or the most formidable vessel in the Navy's fleet. But Kreitz said it was very important for him to be on it.
"I turned down two bigger ships. I asked for this one," he said.
The ship boasts seven and a half tons of steel from the World Trade Center in its bow stem. In every corner of the New York, there are tokens of remembrance: pictures of fallen New York City policemen, a New York Fire Department firefighter’s helmet, and others.
"When the days get monotonous and the crew becomes weary, sometimes all it takes is to look up," Kreitz said. "Instead of seeing only lagging, you see a symbol of something bigger than yourself. New York was not built to be a vessel of mourning, but rather a living, breathing symbol of what our country has come together to build in the days after."
Every nautical mile Kreitz and his crew traveled, he said, they shared not only the ship’s story, but the stories of the many Americans who either gave their lives or shared in the grief of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"You can sense it," he said. "The crew is so different. I called them my secret weapon. If you spend 30 seconds with a New York sailor you'll sense how proud they are," said Kreitz "I met with every sailor on that ship. I know everybody by name."
He was responsible for 400 sailors, and at times, an additional 700 to 800 U.S. Marines. Kreitz doesn't take the responsibility lightly. He and his wife Vernona don't have children, but those under his leadership tell a different story.
After he left the USS New York, a third-class boatsman approached him. "I look at you like my dad. I never had a dad," the young sailor told Kreitz.
Krietz said that is the exact reason he was in that line of work. He wanted to train and mentor the young men and women on the ship.
"It's like being a parent," he said. "More than anything you try to get them to respect you. The crew: that's the mission."
One of Kreitz's most memorable times was early in his command.
"We were in the Arabian Gulf. One day we got a radio call from the Kuwait Coast Guard. A Kuwait national was stranded for a few days on a jet ski, 25 miles from where we were," he said. "In the middle of the sea, international law states that if someone is in distress you have to help them.
"One of our lookouts, a junior sailor, spotted this guy. All these great sensors and capabilities, but it's always about people.
"He was OK, just dehydrated, and sunburned."
Kreitz also had a few brushes with pirates.
"In the Gulf of Aden in 2012, ships called saying they thought they were being attacked," he said. Kreitz and his crew were able to swoop in and the enemy, intimidated by the size and power of the ship, fled as quickly as possible.
Kreitz has been on the move for nearly his whole career, never living in one place for long. But he and "Vee" have finally found a home port in Fauquier County.
Kreitz celebrated his 25th anniversary with his wife last year. Now at home in Broad Run, he is able to take some time to unwind outdoors.
"It's my escape. We love to go ride our horses together, and we love to go fishing," he said.
Krietz said that was his last tour at sea. Next week he will report to the Secretary of Defense where he will be the Senior Miltary Assistant and Chief of Staff to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs.
Welcome home, Captain.
The crew and the USS New York in all her glory.