Before Richard Perrin became chief chef and owner of RK’s Café at Bobcat Village Center, North Port, Fla. he was an air traffic controller aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson serving in the Gulf of Oman when Saddam Hussein marched his troops into Kuwait in 1990 launching “Operation Dessert Storm” which started the Gulf War in Iraq.
Perrin graduated from Sarasota High School in 1979.
“A buddy and I went down to the recruiting office and signed up for the Navy. The following year I went aboard the USS Saratoga, a carrier based in Mayport, as a jet engine mechanic. They were flying A-7s (jet fighter) and I worked on ‘em,” the 49-year-old former local sailor explained.
Perrin’s fighter squadron relocated to the carrier USS John F. Kennedy. It was aboard the Kennedy he took his first Mediterranean cruise. From there his unit was transferred to the USS America and took a second cruise to the Med.
“That’s when Omar Gaddafi, the leader of Libya, decided to pick a fight with the United States over air space. We were aboard the America off England and the USS Nimitz, another carrier, was off the coast of Libya when they shot down two of Gaddafi’s MIG jet fighters,” Perrin recalled.
“In 1983 I switched from being a jet engine mechanic to an air traffic controller aboard carriers. When ‘Desert Storm’ and ‘Desert Shield’ came along I was serving as a controller aboard the Carl Vincent,” he said. “I was on a scope helping get the planes airborne and guide them back to the deck of the carrier from 50 or 60 miles out. We also had a system where we could land the aircraft on the deck by computer without the pilot touching the controls.
“During ‘Desert Storm’ we were out of harms way aboard the Vinson a couple of hundred miles off the coast of Kuwait sending our F-14s and F-18s fighters 24-7,” Perrin said. “We didn’t have any problems; we didn’t lose anybody for the short period of time we were out there.”
Perrin’s last three years of his 20 years in the Navy was spent at as air traffic controller at Pensacola Naval Air Station.
“The Navy was wonderful. I went around the world twice aboard carriers. I’ve been everywhere: All over Europe, Thailand, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica, and Hawaii. I enjoyed traveling. I’d do it again,” he said with a big smile.
“I retired from the Navy in Aug. 1999. I went to work for a civilian company for six months as an air traffic controller in Antarctica. I got to see a lot of what the scientists do at the South Pole,” Perrin said. “When I arrived it was summer down there and the hottest it got was 38 degrees. It got down to -20 degrees before I left six months later.
“When I came back to the states I took a job as an air traffic controller at an airport in Jackson Hole, Wyo. I spent 3 ½ years there, but I finally got tired of the cold and wanted to come home to Florida where it was warm,” he said. “Before I left Jackson Hole I met Harrison Ford, who has a house there. He’s got a Harley and a helicopter he drives and flies around. He’s a real nice guy.
“I went to work as a controller at the Lakeland Airport where a friend of mine was in charge of the operation. He took a civilian air traffic controllers job in Afghanistan, that’s when I took over,” Perrin said. “A few months later I followed him to Afghanistan as a controller, too.
“I spent four years over there. It was really bad. I saw a lot of stuff over there I didn’t care to see,” he said. “For three years I was a civilian air traffic controller in Kandahar, Afghanistan and the last year I was stationed at the Kabul Center that controlled all the civilian air traffic in the country.
“We didn’t carry weapons and we couldn’t go off the base in Kandahar. For the first 1 ½ years we lived in tents and it snowed in the winter and was 125 degrees in the summer. It seemed like almost every day we had a rocket attack. An enemy rocket hit the chow hall and killed a Canadian soldier while I was there,” Perrin said.
Four years in Afghanistan as a civilian air traffic controller allowed him to be able to afford to open RK’s Cafe with his girlfriend, Kathy Rubolin. It’s located across Toledo Blade Avenue from Bobcat Trail Golf Course. Since last July 4th weekend they’ve been open 7 days a week from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. for breakfast and lunch.
Why a restaurant?
“I love to cook. When I was in the service I’d come home and cook for my family. They loved my cooking,” Perrin said. “Now that people are finding out about our place we’re getting more customers coming in here every week. Once they have some of my food they always come back.”
Former Petty Officer 1st Class Richard Perrin of North Port, Fla. received the following commendations during 20 years service in the U.S. Navy: Joint Meritorious Unit Award; Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation; U.S. Coast Guard Meritorious Unit commendation, Navy “E” Ribbon and the Navy Good Conduct Medal with five Oak Leaf clusters.
This story first appeared in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, March 22, 2010. Republished with permission.