Houston native serves aboard ‘floating airport at sea,’ half a world away
YOKOSUKA, Japan - Petty Officer 1st Class Lonnie Stafford Paul Jr., a native of Houston, was inspired by his mom to join the Navy. His mother served in the Army.
Now, fourteen years later and half a world away, Paul 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.
“Its difficult work here but it’s extremely rewarding to see young people come here to defend their country and work alongside the best people I know,” said Paul. “As an older person and a leader, it makes me feel good to be a part of other sailors’ accomplishments.”
Paul, a 1995 graduate of Alief Elsik High School, is a personnel specialist aboard the Yokosuka, Japan-based ship, the only forward-deployed aircraft carrier in the Navy.
“I’m the leading petty officer in the personnel department,” said Paul. “I’m responsible for sailors personal affairs like pay, leave, and liberty and also help families with relocation.”
Paul Jr. credits success in the Navy to many of the lessons learned in Houston.
“I wanted to take care of my family like my dad did for me,” said Paul. “My mom also inspired me. She opened her doors to a lot of people. We didn’t see it before but it has proven to be a positive part of our lives. I was also taught by my family to always be respectful, work hard, try your best, but most importantly treat people the way you would want to be treated. I try to live that way in the Navy.”
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.
“The places you get to travel and see while stationed here is great,” said Paul. “Not only do I enjoy the Japanese culture, but just seeing how it affects the young sailors who come here with a better attitude in life. It’s good to see people coming together as a command as well as a community. It feels great to be a part of 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, 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.
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 Paul 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, Paul is most proud of being a mentor for his younger sailors.
“I enjoy mentoring the young people coming in,” said Paul. “I feel like it’s my duty to pay it forward to try to enhance the Navy. When you see them succeed that mean they have buy-in to trying to make the Navy a better place.
As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most relied upon assets, Paul and other sailors know they are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes contributing to the Navy the nation needs.
“I feel like I’m keeping my family safe and secure,” said Paul. “It feels like I’m part of something bigger than myself. It feels good to know that I am a part of a small group of people who are special, who serve our country. This is something that will last for the rest of my life and even when I’m gone, so it feels good to know I’m contributing.”
Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Robert Zahn is with the Navy Office of Community Outreach.