Seaman Apprentice Jaron Woods, a native of Gary, Indiana, wanted to see a different world and knew he didn’t want to go to college yet, so he made the decision to join the U.S. Navy. “I thought ‘why not,’” he said. “If I want to go to college later, they’ll pay for it!”
Now, two years later and half a world away at Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Woods serves aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain, patrolling one of the world’s busiest maritime regions as part of the leading-edge of the U.S. 7th Fleet.
“It’s pretty good here,” Woods said. “Everybody knows each other. It’s small, you get to know each other. You remember the things you do for each other and can hook each other up again in the future.”
Woods, a 2017 graduate of Merrillville High School, is a boatswain’s mate aboard the Yokosuka, Japan-based ship, one of several in its class forward-deployed to the region, where he said he prepares the ship’s deck areas for inspections and manages the tools and equipment needed to receive supplies while at sea.
Woods credits part of his success in the Navy to lessons learned in Gary.
“Look at the upside of everything, even if something bad happens,” said Woods. “You’ve got to remember it could always be worse.”
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.
“Nobody speaks the same language,” Woods said. “You see different things, riding different trains, meeting different people, I’ve been underway to Hong Kong, never thought I’d see that.”
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. It’s not just the ships and aircraft that have shown up to prevent conflict and promote peace,” said Vice Admiral 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.”
Destroyers are warships that provide multi-mission offensive and defensive capabilities. They are 510 feet long and armed with tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles, Standard Missile-3 and newer variants of the SM missile family, advanced gun systems and close-in gun systems.
Destroyers are deployed globally and can operate independently or as part of carrier strike groups, surface action groups, or amphibious readiness groups. Their presence helps the Navy control the sea. Sea control is the precondition for everything else the Navy does. It cannot project power, secure the commons, deter aggression, or assure allies without the ability to control the seas when and where desired.
John S. McCain has anti-aircraft capability armed with long range missiles intended for air defense to counter the threat to friendly forces posed by manned aircraft, anti-ship, cruise and tactical ballistic missiles.
Serving in the Navy means Woods 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 pro- cesses, and will be achieved by our focus on speed, value, results and partnerships,” said Secretary of the Navy Rich- ard V. Spencer. “Readiness, lethality and modernization are the requirements driving these priorities.”
There are many ways for sailors to earn distinction in their command, community, and career. Woods said he took a lot of pride in recent volunteer work he did at a nearby preschool.
“I just liked playing with the kids,” said Woods. “Helping out makes you feel good.”
As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most relied upon assets, Woods and other sailors know they are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes contributing to the Navy the nation needs. Woods said he’d encourage people back home to consider the same.
“You’ll get something out of the Navy,” Woods said. “If you’re doing nothing with your life, if you’ve got no plans, if you’ve got no future and you’re sitting at home in a dead-end job, why not? You might like it, you might find something out here that you’re good at.”