When Joseph F. Fender was in the Navy, he was assigned to the USS Pearl Harbor while it was being built at the shipyards in Avondale, Louisiana, and was tasked with helping to outfit the ship.
“I thought I was just going to show up and do the job, but I found myself assisting in purchasing the equipment,” he said. “The lines, the ropes, the communication equipment — all the things that I thought I was going to learn how to use, not only did I have to use them, but I had to figure out how to purchase them.”
Fender describes it as having to build a house before ever living in one. “Not only do you not know how to live in it, you don’t know how to build it.”
“So, we had to build the ship, just so I could figure out how to use the stuff,” he added, chuckling.
Though challenging, these tasks gave him a good perspective on working backward, which is now helping him in his new tasks as a lieutenant at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.
“It’s unique because now that we’re building the new sheriff’s station, one of the collateral duties that I just took over is being the liaison for the new station, and I’ve never done that before,” Fender said.
Now, he’ll be instrumental in figuring out what equipment and certifications they’ll need before they even move into the building, which is set to open next year.
“That Navy experience gave me a little bit of perspective that, hopefully, I’ll be able to use when I take on that new job,” he said.
Fender was born on June 5, 1975, in Forestville, Maryland. “My dad was in the Marine Corps and he was stationed at 8th & I in Washington, D.C.”
Fender, the oldest of three, was only there for about a year until his family moved back out to California, which is where both of his parents are from.
First, they moved to Sylmar as his father started work with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, then to Palmdale, where he attended elementary school, and finally to Lancaster, where he spent the remainder of his childhood.
“I was one of those kids that went to school every single day,” he said. “From kindergarten to high school, I think I missed three days of school, but when it got towards the end of high school, I really didn’t have an idea what I wanted to do.”
Fender decided to attend Antelope Valley College, which he thought would help him figure it out, but after two semesters he still hadn’t chosen a path.
“My dad was in the Marine Corps, both my grandfathers served in the Korean War, all the way back to the Spanis- American War with my great grandfathers, so I knew I wanted to do something with service, and I knew I didn’t want to stay at home, so I picked the United States Navy.”
In September 1994, Fender was sent to Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois, for boot camp.
“I initially went in to be a sonar tech on submarines, but I changed my mind in boot camp,” he said, adding that after he was exposed to some of his shipmates’ choices, he better understood his options. “I chose the rate of boatswain’s mate, which is the oldest rate in the Navy.”
He spent his first three years stationed in Groton, Connecticut, working on 688 class fast attack submarines at the Naval Submarine Base New London, which is known as the “Home of the Submarine Force.”
Fender worked on the dry dock of a shipping port, where they were charged with the preservation and maintenance of the submarines while they were out of the water, which would last anywhere between two to eight months.
“I joined the Navy to see the world, but I spent the first three years on shore duty,” he said. “I wanted to be on a ship, so I could go see something.”
He left Connecticut headed for Louisiana where the USS Pearl Harbor was being built. “Eventually, when the ship was done, we sailed it back to San Diego where it was homeported. After I had spent three years in the Navy, it was the first time I got to be on a ship.”
While on its way to San Diego, the USS Pearl Harbor made a stop in Hawaii. “We did the actual commissioning ceremony where they slam the champagne bottle into the ship and a parade, all in Pearl Harbor, which was nice because I had never been there before.”
Fender spent the next three years at 32nd Street Naval Station with the USS Pearl Harbor, a landing ship dock, or LSD, used to transport Marines and equipment from place to place.
“The back of the ship will fill up with water and the ship will actually sink in the water, so we can take on hovercrafts or some of the other amphibious crafts,” he said.
Much of that time was spent preparing the ship, going on shakedown cruises where the ship’s performance would be tested to make sure it got all of its certifications. “It was lots of training, lots of drills.”
By the time the ship was situated and ready to deploy, Fender’s enlistment was nearing its end, and he was honorably discharged in February 2000.
Again following in his family’s footsteps, Fender decided he wanted to work in law enforcement and tested for five different departments in the local area.
“My dad, my grandfather and my great-grandfather all worked for this department,” he said regarding the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. “And they were the first ones that called me.”
He knew it’d be similar to what he was accustomed to in the military as law enforcement is portrayed as a paramilitary organization. “And it was. I absolutely believe my military service helped me get hired at the department.”
Many of his classmates while in the Sheriff’s Academy were veterans, and leadership tasked them with being platoon sergeants because of their military experience. “I like doing that stuff. I don’t mind being in charge and taking the handle.”
After graduating, he spent two years working in maximum security at Pitchess Detention Center. “My dad worked court services up in the Antelope Valley for 20 years, so I had seen the inside of jails and lockups before, but to be working inside a jail was a different experience — I enjoyed it.”
Fender worked in the dormitories as a dorm officer, escorting inmates back and forth, as well as in the gang unit for awhile.
“I think there’s a lot of benefits to working the jails before you go out to patrol, because you’re literally meeting and speaking with the people you are going to contact out in town.”
He knew from the first few months working with the gang unit that he enjoyed it. “I just found myself drawn to that. I was very interested in learning about the gang members and the culture inside the jail.”
He then transferred to the Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster, which was closer to home for him, and spent another two years there doing the same job until he was ready to go out on patrol.
“Then I transferred to Palmdale, which is where I started my patrol time,” Fender said. “It was nice because I got to patrol the area I was familiar with because I grew up out there, and it was still fairly close to where I was living, so I loved it — I loved everything about patrol.”
He spent just over four years patrolling, working as a field training officer, then as part of the gang enforcement team, before he being promoted to a gang detective.
Around the same time, Fender decided to join the Navy’s active reserves, serving as a military police officer at China Lake. “There’s not a drop of water out there. You’re out in the middle of the desert, testing military aircraft and weapon systems, so for my boatswain’s mate rate, that I was in, it didn’t really translate.”
After about two years, he was promoted to sergeant in the Sheriff’s Department, and decided to retire from the Navy once again to focus on the department.
Fender spent the next few years working in various departments, including gang crimes, narcotics and operations.
“I’ve kind of been all over the place … but I liked them all,” he said, adding that each position had something different to offer. “All the different places give you a different tool set to use in the department, because as you move through the department and you promote, you want to have as many tools — it makes you more well rounded — and is probably helping me be a better lieutenant.”
His family had moved to Santa Clarita by then, but once he was promoted to lieutenant, he was assigned to Lancaster station, where he spent the next four years. “I loved Lancaster … it’s a growing community, so it is by far the busiest station in the department from my perspective in terms of call for service.”
Though he was the operations lieutenant, second in command at the station, the commute was taking time away from his family, so he transferred to the SCV Sheriff’s Station just a few months ago, where he is now working as a watch commander.
As operations lieutenant, Fender didn’t have as much contact with his deputies, so he welcomed the new assignment.
“It’s nice to be able to talk to them on a one-on-one basis and give them advice, not just career advice, but life advice — that’s really rewarding,” he said. “I want them to make smart choices … I want them to have a long, lengthy, happy career so they can go off and enjoy retirement.”
Fender is looking forward to being more involved in the Santa Clarita community. “I’m trying to give back to every community that I’m a part of.”
Fender met his wife while in the Navy as she, too, was assigned to the USS Pearl Harbor, and now is a nurse. Together, they’ve got three sons, who they’ve also raised to know the value of public service.
His two older boys were both Eagle Scouts. “(They’re) very service-oriented, always giving back to the community.”
His oldest son is in the Coast Guard. “I didn’t know anything about the Coast Guard. It was always looked at like the Navy’s little brother, but the more I learned, the more impressed with the service I was.”
“He’s a boatswain’s mate just like his dad,” he added with a big smile.
His middle son is also very patriotic. “I’m excited to see which branch he goes into.”
And his youngest is only 10, excited to join Scouts next year. “He’s just happy being 10 — he’s got lots of time.”