Marion native serves aboard “Floating Airport at Sea”, half a world away
YOKOSUKA, Japan— Airman Apprentice Christopher Townsend, a native of Marion, knew college wasn’t really for him. He said he didn’t want more school and didn’t want the debt. He knew he wanted to do something more, something that would help him improve as a person.
Now, nine months later and half a world away, Townsend 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.
“Life on a carrier is busy,” he said. “You’re always working, you’re always getting ready for the next deployment, always making sure the flight deck is at 100 percent.”
Townsend, a 2017 graduate of Richland Northeast High School, is learning his trade aboard the Yokosuka, Japan-based ship, the only forward-deployed aircraft carrier in the Navy.
“Right now, I’m cleaning, mopping, taking out trash, making sure condiments are put out for the sailors,” he said. “Everyone has to do it. You take your turn helping the food service personnel to clean and sanitize.”
Townsend credits his success in the Navy to lessons learned in Marion.
“My dad always said things always get harder before they get easier,” he said. “When I started boot camp, it was hard, and then it got easier. Being away from home was hard, and then it got easier. I’m learning to be independent from Mom and Dad. It’s me, myself and I now, and I’m learning to be my own person.”
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.
“So far, it’s different from stories I heard about other carriers,” Townsend said. “We see more, we venture out more, we explore different places on deployment. There’s always that one new place that we’re going to head to. It gives me something different, coming from a small town, to see different cultures.”
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.
“The Navy is forward-deployed to provide security and strengthen relationships in a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer, commander, U.S. 7th Fleet. “It’s not just the ships and aircraft that have shown up to prevent conflict and promote peace. 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.
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 Townsend 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, Townsend is just happy to have made it through recruit training.
“For me, it was tough to not have family to look to for advice,” he said. “Swimming was tough. There were four of us that had to keep going back and doing it. But I finally got the swim qualification. It was my Mom’s birthday when I passed. It made me feel great.”
As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most relied upon assets, Townsend and other sailors know they are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes contributing to the Navy the nation needs.
“I’m glad to help make it a safer place for people at home,” he said. “We’re making sure we keep the oceans neutral and keep things from escalating. We’re making sure no one’s able to hurt America in any way.”