By Lt. Jake Joy, Navy Office of Community Outreach

SASEBO, Japan – Petty Officer 3rd Class Samuel Welch, a native of Natchitoches, wanted to do something that would better him as a man. He chose to follow that pursuit in the U.S. Navy. “It has instilled core values that will go with me the rest of my life,” he said. Now, four years after enlisting and half a world away, Welch serves aboard one of the Navy’s most advanced amphibious ships at Fleet Activities Sasebo, patrolling one of the world’s busiest maritime regions as part of U.S. 7th Fleet. “It’s amazing,” he said. “The ship is a friendly atmosphere. I’ve got a place to sleep and food to eat. I’ve got nothing to complain about.” Welch, a graduate of Natchitoches Central High School, is an air traffic controller aboard the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Wasp in Sasebo, Japan. “I’m responsible for the safe and expeditious launch and recovery of all aircraft aboard the ship,” said Welch. He credits some success in the Navy to lessons learned since moving on from Natchitoches.

“You learn how to live by the core values of honor, courage and commitment,” Welch said. “Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal, take pride in what you do and have integrity.” 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.

“Serving here is awesome,” said Welch. “When you’re forward deployed, I don’t know how to explain it, but you feel like there’s a lot more importance to the mission here, of maintaining strategic locations and waterways.” 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 Sasebo is part of that long-standing commitment.

“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.” Wasp, one of the Navy’s most advanced amphibious ships, is designed to deliver Marines and their equipment where they are needed to support a variety of missions ranging from amphibious assaults to humanitarian relief efforts. Sailors’ jobs are highly varied aboard USS Wasp. More than 1,000 men and women make up the ship’s crew, which keeps all parts of the ship running smoothly, from handling weapons to maintaining the engines.

An additional 1,200 Marines can be embarked. USS Wasp is capable of transporting Marines and landing them where they are needed using helicopters, vertical takeoff and landing aircraft and other water-to-shore landing craft. These ships support missions from sea to shore, special operations and other warfare missions. They also serve as secondary aviation platforms. Because of their inherent capabilities, these ships have been and will continue to be called upon to support humanitarian and other contingency missions on short notice, according to Navy officials. Serving in the Navy means Welch 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.” There are many ways for sailors to earn distinction in their command, community, and career. Welch is most proud of recently getting his authorization as amphibious air traffic control center supervisor. “Now, I can basically supervise everyone in the control center, all the positions,” he said. “It’s a huge accomplishment for someone of my rank to earn that qualification.

As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most relied upon assets, Welch and other sailors know they are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes, contributing to the Navy the nation needs. “I’ve gotten to explore the world and I’m making a difference,” Welch said. “I’m part of something bigger than myself.”