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Gist traveled the world with the Navy

When 34-year-old Tony Gist was 21, he decided he needed a change in his life and found it. The Cloquet native signed up for the Navy when he was 21 and traveled the world during his eight years in the military, serving five years active duty.

He spent 28 months total on a ship with about 6,000 others during three deployments over his five years of service. There was not much personal space on the ships. There were about 200 Navy men, with three men sharing one small room on stacked bunks.

The longest time Gist spent on a ship was seven months.

"We went into the Persian Gulf for Operation Iraqi Freedom," Gist said. "We were in the Gulf for three months and we were supposed to go home. We got out of the Gulf and were called back in because our replacement couldn't get there in time."

Gist was an aircraft structural mechanic and worked on F-18s while serving in the Navy.

Gists said the job on the 3.5-acre flight deck is a very dangerous one.

While working on the flight deck, there was a constant danger of being blown overboard when a plane landed. There was a 6-foot net around the edge of the ship to catch anyone who did get blown over.

"I saw one guy get blown into the nets, but not overboard," Gist said. "There was certain aircraft that blew their exhaust down so it washed your feet out from under you and you would fall. I saw people getting hit by wings from moving aircraft because it's very tight and very noisy and it's hard to keep an eye on everything."

He traveled to many countries, including China, Japan, Guam, India, Korea and Singapore, his personal favorite.

"I would love to bring my family to Singapore," Gist said.

The visit to India was for humanitarian purposes. The sailors helped improve an all-boys boarding school.

"We spent five days plumbing, painting, tile work, doing basic repairs and a little bit of mentoring with the boys," Gist said.

They were also deployed to Haiti after the earthquake and were some of the first ones to help the devastated island. The sailors distilled salt water to make fresh drinking water, triaged the injured and brought them onboard and do whatever they could to help.

After he finished his time in the Navy, Gist served in the Air National Guard from 2014-2017. He worked on the F-16s at the 148th Fighter Wing at the Duluth base.

Gists favorite memories are the friendships he made during his years in the military.

He still visits with those friends today.

"Those friendships just don't go away," Gist said.