The very first gathering of Aviation Boatswain's Mates was in December 1971 with ABCM Mike Hickman contacting as many senior ABs as possible and having an informal get-together.
This first gathering was held at the Norfolk, Virginia, Chief Petty Officer's Club. Due to the interest shown by the attendees and the overall success of this get-together, it was decided to make this an annual event. On 22 June 1972, the second reunion was held at the North Island, California, Chief Petty Officer's Club. That year, over one hundred senior ABs got together to tell sea stories and rekindle friendships with old shipmates. A decision was made at this meeting to select a committee to coordinate and arrange the succeeding year's reunion.
The committee members appointed were:
ABFC JOE BOYLE
ABCM WILLE GANN
ABCM MIKE HICKMAN
The third AB reunion was held at Naval Air Station Memphis, Millington, Tennessee, on 28 March 1973.
June 22, 1974 found the ABs gathering at Mayport, Florida, for their fourth annual function. At this reunion it was decided to form an association. In the ensuing year, Commander Bob Gillen (LDO AB) supervised the development of and wrote the charter and by-laws for the Aviation Boatswain's Mates Association. After many hours of hard work by the few original founders, the by-laws were voted on and accepted by the ABs in attendance at the fifth annual reunion held in Alameda, California, on 15 July 1975. The ABMA charter was finalized on 16 December 1975.
The following signatures appear on our charter:
CWO3 (RET) ALBERT BLOOMFIELD
CDR ROBERT BRACE
ABCM (RET) WILLIE GANN
ABEC (RET) NICK GARRETT
CDR ROBERT GILLEN
ABCM BERT GORCZYCA
The ABMA was chartered in the state of New Jersey due to the AB school being located in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Commander Bob Gillen was voted in as the first President and Commander Bob Brace as Vice President. The first Secretary/Treasurer was ABCM (RET) Willie Gann. The first Board of directors consisted of Lieutenant Commander (RET) Harry Claar, Lieutenant Commander Skip Lopez, Chief Warrant Officer (RET) Al Bloomfield, and ABEC (RET) Nick Garrett.
This same year, 1975, Commander (LDO AB) Jack Carleton proposed that an "AB of the Year" be selected. Commander Bob Gillen, the ABMA President, thought it best to select one from each coast. A committee was established to select the first two AB's of the year, and at the 1976 convention banquet in Norfolk, Virginia, Commanders Carleton and Gillen presented the first two AB's of the year, ABE1 Robert Whelan from the East Coast and ABH1 Robert Buscher from the West Coast with their blazers. The ABMA has continued to select an AB of the Year from each coast and present them with their prestigious blazers at the annual banquet. In 1976, Commander Bob Gillen proposed an annual scholarship be awarded by the ABMA to a deserving ABMA dependent. This was voted in and the amount has gradually increased from it's original amount of $400.00 to $600.00 in 1978, to $800.00 in 1983, to $1000.00 in 1989 and to $1250.00 in 1994 and as of August 1997 it has been raised to $2,000.00.
Our annual symposiums have continued to be a huge success. Not only is there old friendships rekindled and new ones made at these reunions, but most importantly, they are professionally oriented with the main emphasis placed on the "symposium workshops". These workshops are attended by shore-based and shipboard fleet personnel, along with system command level technical specialist, in-service engineering agents, and manpower management directors. Workshop results are forwarded to the office of Chief of Naval Operations for review.
No other group has this "avenue to the top brass" as does the AB community. Successfully campaigned for an increase in flight deck hazardous duty pay. Awards a college scholarship to a deserving ABMA dependent each year. Acts as a direct liaison between the fleet and the office of the Chief of Naval Operations. Direct liaison with detailers who attend the annual symposiums. Annually selects an AB of the Year from the Pacific and Atlantic Fleets and honors them at the symposium banquet. Establishing an AB Hall of Honors at the AB School in Pensacola, Florida, to recognize individual AB achievements and perpetuate our rate.
Jack Carleton Technical Consultant
Willie Gann Technical Consultant
Robert Gillen Technical Consultant