NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — More than 327,000 men and women are active duty in the U.S. Navy. Many are stationed here in Hampton Roads or have passed through the area.
To celebrate our hometown heroes, all this month, 10 on Your Side is taking you “on deck” to give you a first-hand look at the Navy experience.
Serving in the Navy is a lifelong dream for Engsin Michael Zanti.
“I didn’t want to do anything else, it was this or nothing,” he said.
The Norfolk native and Naval Academy graduate is currently the comms officer onboard the guided missile cruiser USS Gettysburg.
“All the radios, any kind of communications on or off ship, even internal to our ship like the computers and our network, that’s all the responsibility of my guys, the ITs and they do a great job,” Zanti said.
The ship is currently pier-side, which means the day-to-day workload can be a grind.
“But when actually we get out to sea and we’re actually up on the pilot house driving the ship, it’s rewarding,” Zanti said. “It’s like okay, now I’m actually really doing my job, this is really what I want to be doing. Even if its 3 a.m. on the bridge, I’m like, ‘OK, I’m good, this is where I want to be. I haven’t slept in 2 days but it’s fun, it’s cool, it’s rewarding.'”
That’s also how Petty Officer First Class Christopher Wilson describes his time in the service.
“I absolutely love the Navy,” Wilson told 10 On Your Side. “I’ve got to experience a lot of different stuff. I’ve been to about 20 different countries, I’ve literally sailed in every ocean in the world, so it’s been a very cool experience.”
Wilson, a native of Ivor, Virginia, currently calls Virginia Beach home. He works on LCACs, or Landing Craft Air Cushions, which are based out of Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story.
“Their primary mission is to take Marines and their equipment from the ship to the beach, and likewise, from the beach to the ship,” Wilson said. “So we can fill those things up with Humvees, personnel, raptors, whatever the Marines’ equipment that they have.”
It’s an important task and one that takes a lot of work and preparation.
“When we have vehicles on the deck, what we do is we’ll chain everything down, so these holes right here, they’re for exactly that,” Wilson said. “So, we take the chains that are in that box over there, and we gripe everything down, so we’ll put a chain down here, and attach it to a part on the Humvee or whatever vehicle is on deck.”
We took a ride and saw why Wilson loves LCACs so much.
“It’s something I can’t even explain, its a whole different world,” Wilson said. “It is awesome being here, getting to work on these things and do what I do.”
Back on the pier, the USS New Hampshire subtly sits at Naval Station Norfolk.
“I don’t know what else I would rather do in the Navy,” said Chief Petty Officer Taylor Keys, a Virginia Beach native and the fire control technician chief on the submarine. “Short story is, I put the warheads on the foreheads, right, so I shoot the missiles and I shoot the torpedoes.”
He says subs are where he’s meant to be.
“The mission sets are fun, so they make the time go by pretty quick,” Keys told 10 on Your Side.
Inside the Submarine Training Facility, also at Naval Station Norfolk, sailors learn how to navigate these underwater vessels using simulations and model control rooms.
Training is essential.
“Unseen, unheard,” said Lt. Commander Leroy Ames III. “Doing things for the country that we can’t talk about.”
The Norfolk native, with Sub Group Two, has been in the Navy for 27 years. Of all the ships he’s been on, submarines are his favorite.
“Everyone on there is family and they treat each other as family,” Ames said.
We’ll have more on that family bond — and family legacy — next week on WAVY News 10 at 6. Later this month, we’ll take you on-board an aircraft carrier and onto the flight deck. Stay tuned every Wednesday for the month of November.