A Veteran’s chest to commemorate 20 years of service

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Medals, ribbons and decorations are awarded to servicemen and women throughout their military tenure to recognize service and personal accomplishments. As a great source of pride, many members of the military prepare for retirement by having a shadow box made to display their esteemed achievements. Nearing his 20th Naval Anniversary and retirement, Victor decided to get a different sort of shadow box, made uniquely for him.

The inside of the whiskey barrel chest. The chest will hold a shadow box filled with Victor’s awards, and his dress uniforms from the Navy.

A modified sea chest is the typical commemorative box a sailor seeks. Victor, however, never felt like he truly aligned with the traditional notions of a seaboard member of the Navy. “I joined the military so I could fly,” said Victor. “I’ve only spent about 30 minutes on a carrier, so a sea chest doesn’t really seem to fit.”

Instead, Victor envisioned fusing his Tennessee roots with a nod to the Navy by creating a chest inspired by a Jack Daniels whiskey barrel, reminiscent of the sea chests that filled the original U.S. Navy ships. His idea was specific. Apart from the general concept, Victor wanted the chest to have an additional box to display military awards, space to hold and preserve his prized uniforms, and customized accent designs to make the barrel truly a reflection of himself.

After giving up on building the chest himself, Victor discovered a wine barrel ice chest made by CustomMade Maker Mark Norman. With some precise modifications, the barrel seemed to fit perfectly with what Victor was looking for, and Mark was more than excited to try a variation of his original design.

Victor and Mark immediately set to work exchanging ideas for the whiskey barrel chest. From building the base to represent an old crate that nests barrels in the belly of a ship, to maintaining an aged and distressed look with the right polyurethane, to sealing the inside to perfectly protect Victor’s uniforms, Mark continuously applied his expertise in meticulous woodworking to bring Victor’s ideas to fruition.

To make the barrel infinitely tied to Victor, Mark engraved the inside lid with Victor’s aircrew wings and text marking Victor’s name, rank as a Naval Aircrewman (Mechanical) First Class in the U.S. Navy, and the dates in which he will have served.

The lid of the chest engraved with Victor’s rankings.

Inside the barrel will lie Victor’s own shadow box holding all of his Naval awards and his American flag. Victor has received over eight personal achievement awards, but he’s most proud of the one awarded as a result of his service in Iraq in 2009. While Victor’s time spent stationed in Qatar and flying over high-activity war zones was no easy feat, he considers the work he did there incredibly rewarding.

The shadow box will hold all of Victor’s Naval awards. The box fits snugly in the chest, but can also be taken out and displayed on its own.

From February to May of 2009, Victor and his command supported troops stationed on the ground in Iraq. Due to the height of the buildings in Iraq, line-of-sight radio transmissions that allowed troops to contact other units’ radios were incredibly difficult to reach from the ground. 

In an E-6B Mercury aircraft, which is a gutted Boeing 777 that was transformed into a communications hub for the National Command Authority and U.S. forces, Victor and crew flew above the city for eight to ten hour shifts at a time to capture messages from American soldiers’ radios. Victor and his task force provided support for convoys and other patrols by relaying messages to other stations in the area, providing quick response to Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks, or any other critical needs.

Victor’s admirable achievements in-flight during that four-month period earned him his highest award, the Air Medal.

Knowing about Victor’s service and his achievements, Mark Norman was humbled to work with him on such a meaningful project. “Working with service members and their families brings me tremendous satisfaction,” said Mark. “To take their vision and make it a reality warms my heart and makes me feel as if I was able to contribute, if only in a small way.”

Victor will be finishing his tenure with the Navy in December of 2014. After 20 years of service, his hard work deserves to be appropriately showcased. In a manner truly his own, and thanks to the dedication of Maker Mark Norman, Victor will aptly be able to commemorate all of his accomplishments.

The completed whiskey barrel chest to commemorate Victor’s 20 years of service.[/caption

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