What Happened to the EM Clubs

What Happened to the EM Clubs?

By Garland Davis

Don’t get me started… the absolute worst thing the Navy ever did was develop MWR. There isn’t a place on base where you can sit down and order off a menu. You can’t get a steak, much less Mongolian bbq.

The above statement by shipmate Bobby Patton on Facebook got me to thinking about the Navy Clubs, the Navy Exchange, and MWR. This is pretty much what I saw happen to the clubs during my thirty years in the Navy and being retired near Pearl Harbor.

The EM Club Norfolk Va 1955. Undress whites and I’ll bet they didn’t check ID’s.

In 1961 when I enlisted in the Navy, the Navy Exchange was a small store on base which sold essentials. Soap, shaving cream, toothpaste, shoe polish, and etc. Some stores also had a limited selection of civilian clothing although it was only permitted aboard ship for Chief Petty Officers and Officers. Most shore stations required Third Class Petty Officers and below to wear the uniform of the day unless transiting directly from the barracks to the gate with a liberty card in their possession. Most base Exchanges operated a restaurant where breakfast and sandwich meals could be purchased. They also operated a package store where alcoholic beverages could be purchased.

The Supply Department of each base operated a clothing and Small Stores where Navy Issue uniform items could be purchased. These stores were operated by active duty Ship’s Servicemen and had no civilian employees.

There was a Supply Corps Officer assigned as the Exchange Officer. Many employees were dependents or active duty sailors working part-time jobs for extra money. The buildings and facilities were provided and maintained by the parent command. In those days the exchanges were a shoestring operation providing necessities and were overseen by the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts.

On most bases, there were at least three Clubs. Officers Clubs, Chief Petty Officer Clubs, and EM Clubs. Some smaller bases set aside a portion of the EM Club for CPO’s. Many larger installations also had Acey Deucy Clubs (Second and First Class Petty Officers). Each of these clubs had a Senior Petty Officer or Chief assigned as Club Manager. They employed military dependents, part-time sailors or members of the local community as cooks, waiters, and bartenders. Most of these positions were minimum wage positions and prices were extremely low when compared to the civilian community. The club managers reported to the base Club’s Officer who was assigned the job as a collateral duty. All Navy clubs were operated under the auspices of the Bureau of Naval Personnel.

During the mid to late sixties, the Navy Exchange System, headquartered at the Brooklyn Navy Yard proposed to the Secretary of the Navy that management and operation of all Navy clubs be transferred from NavPers to the Exchange System as well as assuming operation of Uniform shops. The civilian managers of the NEX system saw an opportunity to increase their area of responsibility, increase their revenue, and add to the number of NEX employees. Consequently, all EM and Acey Deucy Clubs were turned over to the Exchange. NavPers retained control of the Chief and Officer Clubs.

Under the NEX, each club hired civilian managers and permanent staff. This resulted in an increase in prices to cover the cost of a manager and to pay Duty Managers and full-time employees. Suddenly prices weren’t so much cheaper than the surrounding community resulting in fewer patrons.

The act by Congress that created the Exchange system required that all facilities be self-supporting whereas the Bureau operated clubs could subsidize each other. This resulted in several unprofitable facilities closing. Those clubs that were left struggled through the 80’s and 90’s. The emphasis on curtailed drinking by Navy leadership rung the death knell for the clubs.

MWR was created to operate those functions once called Special Services which were usually operated by military personnel. Thus, another fully civilian staffed entity was created. The NEX transferred what was left of the unprofitable EM Club System to MWR. I am not sure about other bases in the Navy but in Pearl Harbor, the EM Club is now a Food Court and the historic Beeman’s on SubBase is also a food court and game room where the strongest drink you can buy is a Red Bull.

The evolving discouragement and career-ending results of drinking led to a demise of CPO and Officer’s Clubs. The Officer’s Club at Pearl was demolished and an on-base NEX and Uniform Shop was built in its place. The building that was once the CPO Club is now the offices of the Federal Firefighting System.

Some of the overseas clubs have survived.

The desire of the civilian managers of the Exchange system for more power and increased revenue and changing societal mores regarding alcohol ended the extensive club system.

Do sailors still drink? Of course, they do! But they don’t do it on base.

I daresay that within a few years it will be more permissible to get stoned smoking legal marijuana than it will to get drunk drinking legal beer.

And that Bobby is part of the reason why you cannot get a steak or Mongolian Barbecue in a Navy Club.