This article was submitted by MIDN 3/C Michaela Bailie.
At the Port of Albany sits the USS SLATER (DE-766), a small museum ship and the last floating member of the Destroyer Escort class. A remnant of World War II, the SLATER was once in a grave state of disrepair after being returned from the Greek Navy in 1993. Since then, a mostly volunteer effort comprised mainly of retired Navy sailors has been slowly restoring the ship to its former glory while maintaining all possible World War II authenticity at every turn.
Over 15 years ago, a Rensselaer NROTC midshipman volunteered for the restoration, and as more began to follow suit, the unit began regular trips there as a community service and training opportunity. These future officers were able to learn firsthand the inherent difficulties and importance of the maintenance they would later oversee by performing similar maintenance themselves, doing everything from running electrical cables and painting to fishing dropped tools and bolts out of the bilge.
Today, the RPI midshipmen who venture to the USS SLATER every Saturday work on a wide variety of tasks. Many smaller points of maintenance, such as painting, hanging insulation, and removing rust, are always available. Occasionally, damaged hardware needs replacement, which often turns out to be more difficult than is initially apparent. These projects frequently challenge the midshipmen’s problem-solving abilities, leading to increasingly creative solutions. The midshipmen who volunteer are frequently trusted with more demanding tasks. For example, last year midshipmen led by the recently commissioned Ensign Tulsa Scott ’16 succeeded in restoring the ship’s firefighting system to the point that it could hold pressurized water. Currently, they are assisting in renovating the USS SLATER’s aft berthing compartment into a museum space for the variety of World War II artifacts on board.
Guiding the midshipmen every step of the way is Barry Witte, a retired nuclear surface warfare officer. A volunteer on the ship since before the first midshipman arrived, White has been the NROTC unit’s liaison from day one, and coordinates the midshipmen during their time on the ship. His wealth of knowledge from his time in the Navy and his technical mastery, especially in the electrical field, have proved invaluable to the quality of training these midshipmen receive. With the help of the RPI NROTC midshipmen under his guidance, the volunteers may one day allow the USS SLATER to set sail once again.