Jeff Bacon: Navy Oceanographer, cartoonist, Broadside creator and military morale booster
WASHINGTON: In an exclusive interview with Communities Digital News (CDN), Captain, U.S. Navy, (retired) Jeff Bacon recounts his remarkable service as an Oceanographer as well as the genesis of his craft as a cartoonist and creator of the “Broadside” and “Greenside” series.
COMMUNITIES DIGITAL NEWS: Captain Bacon, we appreciate this opportunity to interview you.
Jeff Bacon: I’m glad to oblige.
CDN: You’ve had two prior other interviews or stories written about Broadside. Please give us an overview.
The earlier one was written by the Navy Times back in 2008. It covered my visiting the USS Peleliu, but I intentionally came aboard the ship incognito. When I finally revealed my identity to the crew, all of the Sailors and Marines aboard the Peleliu were pleasantly surprised. https://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=35882
The latter was an interview done by Ms. Wendy Polling, USAA in 2014. She provided a fair review of my work with the Broadside cartoon, and it was well-received by those who read it. https://milspousefest.com/an-interview-with-jeff-bacon-creator-of-the-broadside.
CDN: How did you get started as a cartoonist?
Jeff Bacon: Early in my naval career (on the USS Cook) I was doodling with cartoon ideas. But I thought that I’d have to choose between being a cartoonist, or my Navy career. It was then that I got great advice from Hank Ketchum (creator of the “Dennis the Menace” cartoon). Hank said: “Jeff, don’t quit your day job.”
However, he went on to explain that he was advising me to continue with my cartoon writing skills during my free time, and still pursue a career as a naval officer. I’m glad I took his advice! What started out as doodling has turned out to become a career. The Navy helped facilitate it, and my civilian jobs have helped open doors as well.
CDN: In more recent years you’ve been involved in outreach efforts to our troops overseas. How did that come about?
Jeff Bacon: Back in 2005, I was at the annual Cartoonists Convention and Mort Walker (creator of the Beetle Bailey cartoon strip) was in attendance. During the course of our conversation, I mentioned past efforts with the USO: WW2, Korean War, and Vietnam. For some reason, I asked, “What are we doing now?”
He said “Sadly, we’re not doing much right now.”
CDN: Was that conversation a catalyst of sorts?
Jeff Bacon: Yes it was. That same year I decided to get involved. With the help of a few others, I organized the Wyakin Foundation (of which I am Chairman of the Board). Individuals wanting to help with the foundation’s mission are encouraged to visit the website. My first outreach was in 2005 at the VA Hospital in Boise, Idaho which was in my hometown. I self-funded the first few visits to VA hospitals, including Brooke Army Medical Center (San Antonio) and the Naval Hospital (San Diego). Two years later the USO funded my efforts in 2007.
My first USO visits overseas were in 2009 to Walter Reed Army hospital (Washington D.C.), Landstuhl, Germany, and Iraq.
CDN: What inspires your creativity as a military cartoonist?
Jeff Bacon: I love the Navy and the military. Now that I’m retired, I love it even more! The humor is from the energy within the military culture. The colloquialisms, slangs, situations, and missions are a part of the day to day life.
CDN: As a Navy Oceanographer, was your background in meteorology or oceanography?
Jeff Bacon: It was oceanography, but that is not where I started as a Naval officer. After my initial commissioning in 1979, I was in the Surface Warfare Officer (SWO; surface Navy) community. My first ship was the USS Cook (FFG 1083), homeported in San Diego. It was there that I met my fiance’. I later became a Recruiting Officer in my hometown (Boise, Idaho) in ’83 and had a short-lived long-distance relationship. My wife Rebecca and I were married the following year. Not too long after that, I learned that the Navy’s oceanography community was opening slots for more officers. I took advantage of it and converted it to the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command (METOC).
CDN: How did that conversion work out for you?
Jeff Bacon: My first duty in the METOC community was the Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center (FNMOC). It is there that the U.S. Navy’s primary environmental prediction products are produced. A few years later I attended the Navy Postgraduate School (Monterey, CA).
From there, it was the aircraft carrier USS George Washington; Navy Oceanography Command Facility (NOCF) San Diego; staff duty aboard the USS Coronado, AGF11; Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, San Diego; Executive Officer (XO) of FNMOC Monterrey; Prospective Commanding Officer (PCO) school, Newport, RI; with my final tour of active duty as Commanding Officer, Naval Oceanography Operations Command (NOOC), Norfolk, VA.
CDN: In your Broadside cartoons, which naval community (besides METOC) do you tend to lampoon most often; or, is it an equal opportunity?
Jeff Bacon: (laughter) Yes, my own community (meteorology and oceanography) gets quite a bit of shade thrown on them. But I guess it would have to be a close call between surface Navy and the Supply corps. I probably jab the Supply corps more because they can’t seem to take a joke.
CDN: The Marine Corps counterpart to Broadside is “Greenside.” When & why did you have an epiphany to start Greenside?
Jeff Bacon: The Marines already had a cartoonist, but that individual decided to run for public office on short notice. Senator Webb (former Secretary of the Navy and former Marine Corps Officer) knew of my work with Broadside, approached me and asked if I would be willing to continue the cartoon series in the Marine Corps Times. I was more than willing to help.
CDN: Give your random thoughts of Senior Enlisted in the military.
Jeff Bacon: They are the absolute backbone of the military. My dad was a junior enlisted in WW2. He said “Take care of your troops.”
As a former Naval Officer, I went to school, and quickly discovered that it was the senior enlisted (the Chief, in the instance of the Navy) who knows what you need to do. Our senior enlisted know HOW to train and develop junior officers. The Chiefs have as close to esprit de corps as is in the Marine Corps that I’ve seen.
Without the senior enlisted your organization will have chaos.
CDN: How do you address serious issues with Broadside, if at all?
Jeff Bacon: Issues like Pearl Harbor, 9-11-01, Memorial Day, etc. are no laughing matter. Neither is the scene of one of America’s Finest on the tarmac in a flag-draped coffin. In the rare cases where I depict something relating to somber/serious situations, I do it without humor and with the highest degree of respect befitting whatever is being addressed.
CDN: What advice would you give to a civilian that just doesn’t get it with the Broadside or Greenside cartoons?
Jeff Bacon: Look for humor that translates outside of the military. Or, they may want to talk with another military person. By so doing, they may gain an increased understanding.
CDN: Captain Bacon, it has been an absolute pleasure to have you share your experiences in the Navy as well as the insights that inspire your creativity in Broadside and Greenside cartoons. On behalf of our COMMDIGINEWS readers, thank you very much.
Jeff Bacon: You’re welcome; it was my pleasure!
Social Media Links:
Wyakin Foundation: https://wyakin.org
The author Bill Randall is a retired Navy Command Master Chief and is a contributing writer for Communities Digital News (CDN).