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Using skills learned in the military every day

How Navy training changed the life course of Denver Water radio engineer.
Scott Ludwig cares for the equipment that helps Denver Water’s people communicate across miles of sometimes rugged mountainous terrain. Photo credit: Scott Ludwig.

When Scott Ludwig graduated from high school, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do next. However, he definitely he knew what he didn’t want to do.

“My dad came from a large family. I had two uncles who were farmers, one who was a general contractor, another who built cabinets and then Dad was a mechanic,” said Ludwig, an IT industrial controls technician who works on Denver Water’s radios and radio network. 

“So, by the time I graduated from high school, I knew how to haul hay, raise cattle, farm, shingle a roof, build a house and rebuild motors. I didn’t want to do any of that.”

Ludwig also knew he didn’t want to go to college, because he wasn’t sure what he would study and didn’t want to spend money on a degree he might not use.

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But he did know he wanted to travel, to move on from Okarche, his small hometown about 40 miles northwest of Oklahoma City.

“I was an 18-year-old kid who wanted to go see the world,” Ludwig said. 

So, he enlisted in the military, and not only did he get to travel, he also set out on a career. 

Ludwig, like all recruits, took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test, called the ASVAB. 

The test helps recruiters determine if a candidate will be a good fit for military service, which military branch would be the right fit and the type of jobs the candidate might be well suited to do.

Ludwig’s test results showed a high proficiency in electronics, earning him interest from the Air Force and the Navy. 

A Navy recruiter suggested Ludwig check out aviation electronics training, kicking off a decadeslong career. Photo credit: Scott Ludwig.

“The Air Force liked my mechanical background, but I didn’t like the job options they were offering me,” Ludwig said. “Then the Navy recruiter saw my test scores and suggested I look at aviation electronics, a job I’d never considered.”

Following Navy boot camp, Ludwig was trained in aviation electronics, kicking off a decadeslong career caring for radio communications equipment for the U.S. military, the Colorado Department of Transportation, private companies — and since 2012 — Denver Water. 

But in 1992, the newly minted Aviation Electronics school graduate had to pick his first post. 

The assignment options included naval air squadrons and aircraft carriers — and one post with a seemingly random name: Naval Station Roosevelt Roads

“No one knew what it was, so no one selected it. I didn’t know either, but I asked and found out it was a Naval Station on the coast in Puerto Rico. My initial reaction was … 'what?' Immediately followed by … 'great!'” Ludwig said. 

Named after Franklin D. Roosevelt when he was Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Naval Station Roosevelt Roads started operations in 1943, becoming one of the largest naval facilities in the world before its closure in 2004. 

Beaches and the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean can be seen in this aerial view of the U.S. Naval Station Roosevelt Roads on the east side of Puerto Rico that was taken May 19, 1997. The naval station closed in 2004. Photo credit: U.S. Navy.

“It was classified as sea duty, the same as if you were on a boat, instead of shore duty, because the post was overseas. As soon as I realized it was Puerto Rico, I immediately said 'I’d take it.' It was the best option of all of them.”

His class instructor, who had been assigned to the station earlier in his career, came over with a smile and advice. 

“He told me where I would work, what beach I would hang out at and about how amazing it was to live in Puerto Rico. It was awesome.”

Arriving at the station as an enlisted Third Class Petty Officer, Ludwig spent three years working on the communications and navigation systems for several types of planes and helicopters, including the TA-4J Skyhawk and the P-3 Orion planes and the Sikorsky H-3 Sea King helicopter that supported units assigned to America’s War on Drugs.

Ludwig loved working on the planes, particularly the P-3 Orion, which were used to scan large portions of ocean to look for boats carrying illegal drugs to the United States. 

Because the planes could stay airborne for 10-12 hours, they were used heavily by the Navy for operations. When spotters would see a drug boat, they would alert the Coast Guard to intercept the vessel.

A U.S. Navy P-3C Orion approaches the landing area at Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe, Hawaii, during naval exercises in 2004. Photo credit: U.S. Navy.

Contrary to what most people would think about a military career, Ludwig’s experience in the Navy was very much like having an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job. 

“For me, I had a pretty normal job like most civilians,” Ludwig said. “I’d be at work at 7 a.m. and go home that night for dinner, but the difference with my job is that I was behind secret doors on a military base.” 

Life in Puerto Rico was exactly what Ludwig had hoped for and wanted.

“I remember my first Christmas there, when I called my mom and dad and told them I was going to the beach to play in the ocean, and then sit in the sand and drink a beer before we came back home,” Ludwig said. “My mom just sighed. It was such a great experience.”

The base offered access to three, spectacular white-sand beaches for swimming and snorkeling. 

And as part of his job, Ludwig did pressure tests in the calibration lab on the scuba gear used by the Navy SEALs teams who trained at the base.

“At one point when I was working on their gear, I asked one of the guys on the SEAL team about all the equipment they were using,” Ludwig said. 

“He immediately said that I had to come out with them and asked me three questions: Did I have a wet suit? Did I have fins? Was I a good swimmer? I said 'yes' to all, so they took me out into the open ocean where they did their training and showed me how they used the gear. It was unbelievably cool.”

Meet other veterans who work for Denver Water in this collection of TAP stories

While stationed in Puerto Rico, he also had other duties where he served as a gate guard, base military police and traffic duty. 

When he wasn’t working, Ludwig traveled the island, fishing, diving, sightseeing — and working a side gig as a rodeo clown.

“In addition to my Navy duties, I was a rodeo clown for a year and a half,” Ludwig said. 

“I grew up with a rodeo background in Oklahoma and, one night when I was hanging out with a guy from Tennessee, he said he was a former rodeo clown, was starting a rodeo in Juncos, a town nearby, and asked if I wanted to join in? I did it until I got transferred out.”

After three years in Puerto Rico, Ludwig was assigned to Naval Station Mayport, located east of Jacksonville on Florida’s Atlantic coast.

“Interestingly enough, I spent seven years in the Navy. And I spent zero days at sea,” Ludwig said. 

One of the perks Ludwig loved about his time in the Navy was his proximity to excellent, fresh seafood.

“Of course, you’d get lobsters right out of the ocean in Puerto Rico, and though I wasn’t scuba certified, I was very well trained and could snorkel when I’d go fishing,” Ludwig said. 

“I’d use a Hawaiian sling, which is a rod that has a band on one end you’d put your hand around, slide it and then it would shoot out and spear the seafood with these sharp points on the end.” 

In Florida, he’d head down to the docks at the end of the day as the shrimp boats were landing their catch. 

“I’d go to the docks with a big cooler and $20 would fill the entire thing with shrimp,” Ludwig said. 

“I’d come back home, sit in my garage with my neighbors and head shrimp while drinking beer for hours. That cooler would be enough to do a shrimp boil for three families.”

Discharged from the Navy in 1999, Ludwig moved back to Colorado to be closer to family. 

Ludwig checks radio equipment before heading out into the field. Photo credit: Denver Water.

He joined the Colorado Department of Transportation’s radio shop, where he worked on state trooper vehicles and communications equipment. 

Ludwig also worked in the private sector, for one company handling all its computer building, calibration, electronics and communications equipment. 

In the private sector, an acquaintance who worked at Denver Water mentioned the utility was looking for a radio technician. Tired of dealing with layoffs and job uncertainty, Ludwig applied for the job, and he’s been at Denver Water since 2012.

And for more than 30 years, he’s been using the skills the Navy said would be a good career option for him. 

“With the exception of one job I worked at for a couple of years before I came to Denver Water, I’ve used my radio and communications training in every job since the Navy taught me these skills,” Ludwig said. 

“If I didn’t have my military training, I wouldn’t be here. Before the military, I never thought about electronics, and then my life took a right turn.”

Ludwig loves talking with students about his work and military experience.

“People don’t realize that not every job in the military involves being a soldier,” Ludwig said. “I literally had an 8-5 job, and then basically had to be on call, and these jobs are still out there.”

One of the things Ludwig loved most about the Navy was the comradery he had on his base.

“Now, I have that same comradery in my group at Denver Water and that’s what I like about my team,” Ludwig said. 

“More than 30 years later, I’m still doing what the Navy said I should do after I took that test,” Ludwig said. “It went from ‘You should take a look at this’ to being my entire career.”