By Jason Kelly
U.S. Navy Digital Media Engagement Director
Over the past eight months, more than 6,000 Carrier Strike Group 8 Sailors served in the 5th and 6th U.S. Fleet areas of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and missions in support of Operation Inherent Resolve over Iraq and Syria.
While we shared a variety of imagery from their deployment on our flagship social media sites, many of those images showed Truman’s flight deck because it is the most visual representation. However, there were so many more Sailors below the flight deck because each of our Sailors has a mission as they serve to protect and defend America.
We want to share two of their stories about their decision to serve and how they’re doing it. We encourage you to add your own stories in the comments at the bottom of this blog.
Everyone Has a Mission
By SN (SW/AW) Sasha L. Blair
USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75)
I was born on the Naval Base in Rota, Cadiz, Spain, in 1987. I came to the United States when I was 3 years old and graduated from North High School in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 2006. After high school, I worked various jobs successfully climbing up the chain in each one but was never satisfied. On August 17, 2014, I made the decision to join the United States Navy. Two months later, I graduated boot camp at the age of 27. I came in the Navy as an undesignated seaman, meaning I was without a rate for a long time. Coming in without a rating was the best choice I could have made in my naval career. I believe that everything happens for a reason and this has been the most amazing journey I have ever taken–and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
Getting orders to USS Truman (CVN 75) has proved to be a great start to my naval career. The first time I ever saw Trumanwas in the shipyards in 2014, after she had just come back from a nine-month deployment. She was massive and the feeling was overwhelming. I was lucky to have the opportunity to start my journey on a ship with a family member, because it meant I wouldn’t be alone. My cousin was also stationed on Truman as a boatswain’s mate (BM) in the Deck Department. Luckily for me, as an undesignated seaman I would be starting out in the Deck Department working with the BMs. Being in the Deck wasn’t the most glamorous job. It wasn’t even close to the job I wanted but I loved it. I chipped paint, sanded down rust and swabbed the decks. I painted everything from bits to chocks and chains and everything in between and learned how to complete maintenance throughout the ship. The maintenance is extremely important because doing that job helps preserve the ship and better enables it to complete its missions.
In November 2015, Truman started to get underway for another deployment and I was finally able to get my sea legs for the first time. This is my first deployment and I learned what it really meant to be a Sailor in Deck, while underway. I didn’t handle any aircraft, ordnance or deal with any top-secret information but instead I was part of a smaller department doing a job that was just as essential to support the mission. Deck Department is truly a team. Nothing can be done alone without the shipmate next to you. While underway we executed some of the most dangerous and mission essential evolutions as underway replenishment (UNREP) is just an example. During an UNREP, the ship takes on fuel that helps us complete our mission and takes on food that feeds the crew allowing our souls to feel connected to loved ones even when far from home. Deck Department is also in charge of the man overboard evolutions. We work as a team to man and ready the rigid hull inflatable boat to be dropped into the water within three minutes if a shipmate is in need. We ensure that the ship is moored properly and safely to the pier, whether it’s in a foreign port or our homeport. We even had the opportunity to drop the anchors, when we anchored out to sea. We stood watch 24/7 as lookouts when the ship steamed into stormy or hazy weather.
As a helmsman, I safely drove this great warship in every sea state and during flight operations. Of all the evolutions that we accomplished, the biggest one was bonding with my shipmates. This experience was built during this deployment and will forever be part of my naval career. My first Navy family and some of the best friends I’ve made were in Deck but this was only the beginning of my journey.
In December, the next chapter of my life started when I got picked up through C-Way and I applied to become a legalman (LN). I was so excited when I found out that I got the job. I now finally have the opportunity to have a rate. For the past few months, I have worked hard putting together my package and learning what it means to work in the legalman rating. This experience has been just as amazing as working in Deck and it has definitely been challenging. I am still learning and I have been working in the legal office to gain leadership skills and on-the-job training before heading to “A” School. I do not stand watch, drive the ship, paint nor man the boats anymore. Those tasks have been replaced with learning how to draft notaries and power of attorneys and provide legal assistance to Sailors. My new mission in legal is to help support good order and discipline and uphold naval standards.
Now my first deployment has come to an end. Although this journey was long and challenging, I was lucky that I didn’t have to do it alone I had my shipmates there with me through every challenge, as I was there for them. With the support of both Deck and Legal Department, I have seen the world and grown in my naval career. For me, this is only the beginning but it was a great beginning.
I’ve Always Been a Patriot
By PSSN Edwin Diaz
Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 140
I remember attending a Veteran’s Day ceremony at school when I was nine years old. All the classes gathered in the courtyard which was decorated with American flags, wreaths and countless other items. Several older men joined us; walking in they took their seats with a roar of applause from the teachers and staff. They were war veterans, many of them with disabilities.
I recall one man in particular who had difficulty walking. When the National Anthem played, he was instructed to stay seated to avoid the further pain and discomfort. But, as the National Anthem played, there he stood. No look of pain in his eyes, just pride.
Since both my parents both served in the Army I guess their patriotism rubbed off on me because that image stuck with me. From that point forward I knew I wanted to do one thing—serve my country.
Fast forward seven years later and it’s my senior year in high school. I’m sitting in math class as our teacher went around the room asking about life after graduation. All the students answered with the same response: “I’m going to college.”
Then it was my turn.
“What about you Mr. Diaz,” Mr. O asked. “What do you plan on doing?”
Without hesitation I responded, “I’m going to join the Navy.”
The class erupted with laughter. Some people even made nasty comments, but that was the norm for our high school. Lyman High rarely hosted military recruiters and most of the staff pushed the idea that going to college was the only way to be successful.
Time passed from that day and, once again, I’m approached by Mr. O.
“Edwin,” he said. “Why haven’t you submitted any college applications yet?”
Before the word “Navy” had a chance to leave my mouth, he cut me off.
“If you would have studied, you wouldn’t have to join the military,” said Mr. O.
“I don’t have to join,” I said. “I want to join!”
I kept my cool with Mr. O then called my parents and asked for a ride to the Navy recruiter’s office. They were so excited and supportive, I couldn’t wait to get there. When we arrived, the recruiters were welcoming and informative but they didn’t sugar coat what I would be getting into.
That night at dinner, I discussed my decision with the support of my family. They knew I had a long road ahead but they were proud and just wanted the best for me.
When it came time to sign my paper work, I was nervous. Looking at the jobs I’m thinking corpsman or ordnanceman, but neither was available. Seeing that didn’t help with my nerves, so I asked the Sailor helping me about his job.
He talked to me about his duties as a personnel specialist. It may not be the traditional job you think of when you think Navy, he said, but every rate contributes to the overall success – everybody has a mission.
In my time of uncertainty, he was there to help. It was at that moment I knew what I wanted to do.
Two days later, I graduated high school and soon after was off to boot camp with aspirations of becoming a personnel specialist. Standing there in my cap and gown, I’ll never forget my father’s words.
“This chapter’s closed,” he said. “Another one is immediately going to open.”
My parents are proud of me, my brother looks up to me and I can’t wait to see what my career holds.