Niles grad to retire as naval officer

Published 9:10 am Thursday, April 24, 2014

When Niles graduate Chris Lehner joined the U.S. Navy in June of 1984, he was looking for adventure and a way to make a living.

Chris Lehner

Chris Lehner

What he found, however, was something much more fulfilling.

“I never thought the Navy was a job. I thought it was more of a hobby — something I’d do for fun. I actually love the Navy,” said Lehner, who graduated from Niles High in 1984. “I think it became that big of a thing for me because I put so much effort into it.”

In September, Lehner will retire from the Navy as a chief warrant officer four. A retirement ceremony was held for Lehner April 4, celebrating more than 30 years in the service. Lehner said he’s been to 19 different countries and lived in five different states.

He never expected he would make a career out of the Navy.

“I was able to raise three boys and provide a stable life and income for them,” said Lehner when asked why he spent 30 years in the Navy. “There’s also a camaraderie amongst Navy divers that is hard to come by.”

Lehner, who is currently stationed in Port Hueneme, Calif., said he’s most proud of his ability to move up the ranks, from enlisted seaman to a boatswain’s mate chief petty officer to master diver to chief warrant officer master diver.

Lehner said he essentially went from scrubbing decks to leading units on major dive operations.

Career highlights include leading underwater repairs on the USS Philadelphia (SSN-690), USS Newport News (SSN-750) and overseeing salvage operations in response to USS Port Royal (CG-73) grounding near Honolulu, Hawaii.

His awards include Navy Commendations Medal (six awards), Navy Achievement Medal (two awards), Volunteer Service Medal and various unit and campaign awards.

Lehner is retiring because the law requires that a person in the Navy with the rank of chief warrant officer four must retire after 30 years of service. He isn’t certain what he will do next.

“I’m seeking something else of interest — searching for the next big adventure,” he said.

Lehner has three adopted children, Ricky, 34, Chris, 32, and Nathan, 29, and six grandchildren. All of his children attended the retirement ceremony in Oxnard, Calif.