Petty Officer 2nd Class Ra Chhay is currently serving aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain. Chhay hails from Poland, Maine. (courtesy, Senior Chief Petty Officer Gary Ward)

YOKOSUKA, Japan — Petty Officer 2nd Class Ra Chhay, a native of Poland, Maine, was inspired to join the military because his godfather served in the Marines and his stepfather served in the Navy. He wanted to keep the proud family tradition going.

Now, nine years later and half a world away at Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Chhay 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 U.S. 7th Fleet, according to a press release by the U.S. Navy Office of Community Outreach.

“It’s very fast-paced here,” said Chhay.

“You pretty much have to be a jack-of-all-trades. It’s also important that we have a great team so we can all come together to help each other out.”

Chhay, a 2003 graduate of Poland Regional High School, is a logistics specialist aboard the Yokosuka, Japan-based ship, one of several in its class forward-deployed to the region.

“I work in the mail room” said Chhay. “I manage and inventory ordered supplies for the entire ship.”

He credits success in the Navy to some of the lessons learned in Poland.

“If you want anything in life you have to work hard for it,” said Chhay.

“My mom and grandparents were refugees who escaped Cambodia. They fought for their lives to get to this country to be free. What they went through and hearing their stories, it showed me that if you want anything and you want a second chance in life, you need to work really hard for it,” he said.

There are many ways for sailors to earn distinction in their command, community, and career. Chhay is most proud of being able to find the motivation to achieve a bachelor’s degree and that he is now pursuing a master’s degree all while serving in the Navy.

“I’m proud that I’ve showed maturity through this,” said Chhay.

As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most relied upon assets, Chhay 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 giving back to the country that has given my family so much,” said Chhay. “It’s good to know that, in the big picture of it all, I’m protecting the people back home.”

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. The 7th Fleet’s area of operations encompasses 36 maritime countries and 50% of the world’s population with between 50-70 U.S. ships and submarines, 140 aircraft, and approximately 20,000 sailors.

“Everybody knows everybody out here, so that’s cool” said Chhay.

“Also we kind of feel like we are on our own in this part of the world, so it feels like our decision-making is at stake more than anywhere else. We have to show a little more dedication, he said.”

With more than 50% of the world’s shipping tonnage and a third of the world’s crude oil passing through the region, the U.S. has historic and enduring interests in this part of the world. The Navy’s presence in Yokosuka is part of that long-standing commitment.

According to Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer, commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, “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.”

“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,” Sawyer said.

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.

The 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 Chhay 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.”


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