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Monday, May 20, 2024

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Letters From the East China Sea: An Ocean City HS Grad on Navy Life

Petty Officer 3rd Class Alexandria Esteban
Lt. j.g. Forest Wan, from Upper Township, on the bridge wing of the USS Howard in the Philippine Sea.

By Karen Knight

Before Lt. j.g. Forest Wan’s best friend died in an aviation accident as a child, the friend wanted to attend the U.S. Naval Academy to be a fighter pilot for the Navy.

Wan, 25, who grew up in Avalon before moving to Upper Township in the third grade, felt “a strong need to carry his torch along with his own and live a life honorable enough for two.”

So he decided to join the Navy, graduating in 2021 from the Naval Academy as an oceanography major. As a first-generation American whose parents are from China, he also feels he owes this country in a big way.

“I joined the Navy for three main reasons,” Wan said in emails from onboard the USS Howard (DDG-83), an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, in the East China Sea. Honoring his friend was at the top of his list.

Forest Wan standing watch on the USS Howard during an exercise in the Philippine Sea. Photo Credit: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Alexandria Esteban

“I am a first-generation American and owe an incredible debt to this country for the opportunity it has provided myself, my sister, who is also a naval officer, and my parents,” he wrote. “I, as I am sure many do, want to explore the world. In that regard, my naval experience has not fallen short.”

Wan, a 2017 graduate of Ocean City High School, has found the Navy to be fulfilling both professionally and personally. Aboard the Howard, which is with the Theodore Roosevelt Strike Group, he is a division officer for the Combat Communications Division, responsible for the administration, training and discipline of division personnel and overseeing proper maintenance of equipment by those personnel with the help of his chief.

Balancing administrative work, along with training, other work and rest, to operate the ship safely can be a challenge.

Wan said everyone onboard is assigned some period of time in which it is their responsibility to safely operate the ship. His watch starts in the middle of the night.

“I am on the 0200-0600 (2 to 6 a.m.) watch,” he wrote. “I typically wake up at 0045 (12:45 a.m.) and start my pre-watch walk-throughs. These include reviewing any night orders my captain has issued, the status of the engineering plant, any tactical or operational considerations, and the navigational picture.”

Watch for Wan consists of supervising the watch team in the pilot house to ensure safe maneuvering of the vessel around traffic, execution of the plan of the day, training other watch-standers, and supporting the Combat Information Center’s tactical mission.

After his watch, he eats breakfast before a morning filled by various meetings and inspections. In the afternoon, there are more meetings for either planning or training, and periodic drills to test the readiness of the crew. Dinner is at around 5 p.m. After dinner, he will wrap up some additional work and then work out. Typically, he is in bed no later than 8 p.m.

So how does he manage on about four and a half hours of sleep?

“That’s a great question that I sometimes wonder myself,” he wrote. “I think a lot of discipline and recognizing that there are others on your team counting on you to be up and ready to go is a big part of it.

“At the Naval Academy there is a saying, ‘On the strength of one link in the cable dependeth the might of the chain. Who knows when thou mayest be tested. So live that thou bearest the strain,’ and I often think of that.

“All that being said, the Howard has a great culture where we take proper rest seriously and encourage people on any level of the command to speak up when they feel they have not had enough rest to safely accomplish the mission.”

Schedule unpredictability is another factor the crew has to deal with, along with the weather and “our competitors,” Wan wrote. “Onboard we pride ourselves in readiness to respond to the ship’s motto of being ‘Ready for Victory.’

“Communicating with home, operational restrictions, distance and time zones, none of which anyone anywhere has control over, all serve to add to difficulty of life at sea.”

Wan also has duties as an anti-submarine warfare coordinator, which involves operation of the Howard’s combat systems to detect submarines, as well as report to higher headquarters.

“The crew onboard the USS Howard, myself included, have surmounted challenge after challenge while answering our nation’s call,” he wrote. “I find myself surrounded by some of the brightest, most industrial and honorable people I have ever met.”

Life at sea is “arduous,” according to Wan.

“While beautiful, the sea is something to be respected,” he wrote. “Sometimes she may rock you gently to sleep, and other times she’ll try to throw you out of your bed.”

In order to resupply while at sea, Wan said ships often conduct underway replenishment, which involves being connected to another vessel while in motion and transferring food, parts and fuel simultaneously.

“The physics involved will act to suck these multi-ton behemoths together and, therefore, special attention is paid during these evolutions to prevent collision and loss of life,” he said.

“24/7 the USS Howard is a warship underway, and all the noises include the rush of the sea, the pings of active sonar, the howl of her 100,000-horsepower gas turbine engines, and the thumping of landing helicopters going on and off throughout the day and night. There is no cell service or Wi-Fi underway and the internet is, rightfully so, prioritized for mission-essential traffic.”

Wan, who has only been stationed in Yokosuka, Japan, will “probably be taking a nap or reading a book in the odd chance that I have free time. Every once in a while, I’ll bring out my ukulele and play.

“Very honestly, although the job sounds hard, I think my job is super fun and may be the best on earth. When in port, I’ll either explore Japan or I’ll catch up on some much-needed sleep.”

Base is only about an hour away from the sprawling Tokyo metropolis, and Wan can see Mount Fuji on a clear day from the base. “The food is amazing, and the Japanese people have been kind as well,” he wrote.

Although not married, Wan does have a “loving girlfriend” and considers himself “the luckiest man in the world because of her. My parents are often curious to my whereabouts and what I am doing, but they understand that there are restrictions that come with naval service,” he wrote.

“The Navy has excelled at giving my peers and I problems to solve with limited resources and time. What the crew does and what crews deployed around the world do is a constant reminder of the power of the human mind, spirit, and body.

“On that note, I am executing a ‘Fleet-Up,’ which is where I stay on the same ship for my second division officer tour, as the anti-submarine warfare officer, who specializes in the detection, tracking and destruction of enemy subsurface combatants. With regards to going on with my department head or even further with my Command Tour, I am not sure.”

Contact the reporter, Karen Knight, at kknight@cmcherald.com.

Reporter

Karen Knight is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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