YOKOSUKA, Japan – Airman Phillip Donelson, a native of Alvin, was inspired by his grandfather’s stories when he finally decided to join the Navy. His grandfather was in the Army, but would share his stories of travel and the different types of jobs he had. Phillip’s grandfather would tell him that if he wanted to travel a lot and see the world, then the Navy would be the best fit for him.
Now, two years later and half a world away, Donelson serves aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, patrolling one of the world’s busiest maritime regions as part of the leading-edge of U.S. 7th Fleet.
“Living on a carrier is a busy and fast-paced life. You need to learn to adapt and learn,” said Donelson. “I like how it’s such a close-knit family here on the ship.”
Donelson, a 2016 graduate of Assets Academy, is an aviation boatswain's mate (handling) aboard the Yokosuka, Japan-based ship, the only forward-deployed aircraft carrier in the Navy.
“My job on the ship is to ensure the movement of aircraft safely across the flight deck and hangar bays,” said Donelson. “I also make sure that they expeditiously put out a fire on the flight deck.”
Donelson credits success in the Navy to many of the lessons learned in Alvin.
“My dad taught me to have pride in my job, and no matter the job, to do the job the best you can,” said Donelson. “My mom taught me to never give up faith on anything, even if it is tough. You always should put your heart and mind into everything you do.”
The U.S. 7th Fleet spans more than 124 million square kilometers, stretching from the International Date Line to the India/Pakistan border; and from the Kuril Islands in the North to the Antarctic in the South. U.S. 7th Fleet's area of operations encompasses 36 maritime countries and 50 percent of the world’s population with between 50-70 U.S. ships and submarines, 140 aircraft and approximately 20,000 sailors.
“It’s tough being out here in this part of the world because of the rapid deployments, but it also gives me the opportunity to visit all of these countries,” said Donelson. “Being from a small town and seeing a county like Japan takes my breath away.”
With more than 50 percent of the world's shipping tonnage and a third of the world's crude oil passing through the region, the United States has historic and enduring interests in this part of the world. The Navy's presence in Yokosuka is part of that long-standing commitment, explained Navy officials.
"The Navy is forward-deployed to provide security and strengthen relationships in a free and open Indo-Pacific. It's not just the ships and aircraft that have shown up to prevent conflict and promote peace," said Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer, commander, U.S. 7th Fleet. "It is, and will continue to be, our people who define the role our Navy plays around the world. People who've made a choice and have the will and strength of character to make a difference."
Named in honor of former President Ronald Reagan, the carrier is longer than three football fields, measuring nearly 1,100 feet. The ship, a true floating city, weighs more than 100,000 tons and has a flight deck that is 252 feet wide. Two nuclear reactors can push the ship through the water at more than 35 mph.
Sailors’ jobs are highly varied aboard the carrier. Approximately 3,200 men and women make up the ship's crew, which keeps all parts of the aircraft carrier running smoothly — this includes everything from handling weapons to operating nuclear reactors. Another 2,500 men and women form the air wing responsible for flying and maintaining more than 70 aircraft aboard the ship.
The Ronald Reagan, like each of the Navy’s aircraft carriers, is designed for a 50-year service life. When the air wing is embarked, the ship carries more than 70 attack jets, helicopters and other aircraft, all of which take off from and land aboard the carrier at sea.
Serving in the Navy means Donelson is part of a world that is taking on new importance in America’s focus on rebuilding military readiness, strengthening alliances and reforming business practices in support of the National Defense Strategy.
A key element of the Navy the nation needs is tied to the fact that America is a maritime nation and that the nation’s prosperity is tied to the ability to operate freely on the world’s oceans.
More than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water; 80 percent of the world’s population lives close to a coast; and 90 percent of all global trade by volume travels by sea.
“Our priorities center on people, capabilities and processes and will be achieved by our focus on speed, value, results and partnerships,” said Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer. “Readiness, lethality and modernization are the requirements driving these priorities.”
Though there are many ways for sailors to earn distinction in their command, community and career, Donelson is most proud of having that overwhelming sense of responsibility and reliability.
“I’m most proud when other people who rely on me to get the job done,” said Donelson. “There are a lot of people who get insight from me, and it feels good to be able to be relied on like that.”
As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most relied upon assets, Donelson and other sailors know they are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes contributing to the Navy the nation needs.
“Serving in the Navy means doing the right thing for the country,” said Donelson. “I’m proud of serving, and I feel I accomplished a lot for myself because of the Navy.”