Newton, N.C. native serves aboard USS Stethem
​171102-N-HI376-038 WATERS OFF THE COAST OF JAPAN (Nov. 02, 2017) Fire Controlman 2nd Class Justin Sanders, from Newton, N.C., poses for a photo on the aft missile deck of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63).  Stethem is operating as part of the Ronald Reagan Strike Group in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations, a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interests of its allies and partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jeremy Graham)

WATERS OFF THE COAST OF JAPAN — A Newton native and 2012 Maiden High School graduate is serving in the U.S. Navy aboard the guided-missile destroyer, USS Stethem.

Petty Officer Second Class Justin Sanders is a Fire Controlman aboard the forward-deployed Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer operating out of Yokosuka, Japan. Stethem is one of eight destroyers forward-deployed to Yokosuka.

Approximately 300 men and women serve aboard the ship. Their jobs are highly specialized and keep each part of the destroyer running smoothly, according to Navy officials. They do everything from maintaining gas turbine engines and operating the highly sophisticated Aegis weapons system to driving the ship and operating small boats.

A Navy Fire Controlman operates and maintains ship’s combat and weapons direction systems, surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missile systems, and gun fire control systems.

“Being a Fire Controlman is one of the best things I could have ever asked for in the Navy,” said Sanders. “I get to help a lot of other rates do their job, but also I get to work with missiles and different types of guns. It’s just all around an amazing experience for me.”

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.

“Our alliance is rooted in shared interests and shared values,” said Adm. Harry Harris, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command. “It’s not hyperbole to say that the entire world has benefited from the U.S.-Japan alliance. While our alliance helped stabilize the region after the Second World War, it also enabled the Japanese people to bring about an era of unprecedented economic growth. And for the last six decades, our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen have worked side by side with the Japan Self Defense Force to protect and advance peace and freedom.”

Forward-deployed sailors are crucial to the success of the global navy mission and earn high praise from their leaders.

“Being forward deployed essentially makes you the best at your job,” said Sanders. “If you’re forward-deployed and you’re out as much as we have been on USS Stethem then you have a lot of hands on experience. There is rarely a day that we don’t operate on our equipment.”

Sailors serving abroad in Japan are highly motivated and quickly adapt to changing conditions, explained Navy officials.

“Initially there was a culture shock of being away from home and being away from the United States for really the first time ever,” said Sanders. “But getting to immerse myself in a whole new culture and getting the opportunity to work with all of the other countries that we have the fortune of working with is great.”

A navy destroyer is a multi-mission ship that can operate independently or as part of a larger group of ships at sea. The ship is equipped with a vertical launching system, tomahawk missiles, torpedoes, guns and Phalanx close-in weapons systems.

Sailors play a vital role in the overall military mission around the world.

“The U.S.-Japan alliance remains the cornerstone for peace and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific,” said Harris.

Stethem is operating as part of the Ronald Reagan Strike Group in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations, a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interest of it’s allies and partners in the region.

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