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St. Cloud Native Serves aboard “Floating Airport at Sea,” Half A World Away

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Airman Apprentice Ryan Sokolovic - Photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Gary Ward

By Lt. Jake Joy, Navy Office of Community Outreach

Airman Apprentice Ryan Sokolovic, a native of St. Cloud, Florida, knew he wanted to travel, so after his older brother joined the U.S. Navy, he decided he’d serve, too.

Now, just a year later and half a world away, Sokolovic serves aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, patrolling one of the world’s busiest maritime regions as part of the leading edge of U.S. 7th Fleet. 

“It’s very busy, there’s a lot of people onboard,” he said. It gets very hectic sometimes, but when you hit ports, it’s great. It’s very interesting to work on the flight deck, at 20 years old, with the pilots and flight deck crew – it’s an experience not many people will ever get.” 

Sokolovic, a 2017 graduate of St. Cloud High School, is an aviation boatswain’s mate (equipment) aboard the Yokosuka, Japan-based ship, the only forward-deployed aircraft carrier in the Navy.

“I’m maintaining equipment, launching and recovering aircraft, working with jet blast deflectors,” he said. “Working topside is pretty exciting, also very dangerous – you have to keep your head on a swivel. Life on top is definitely different than below decks.” 

Sokolovic credits part of his success in the Navy to lessons learned in St. Cloud. 

“Doing Boy Scouts when I was younger – it’s like earning qualifications aboard the carrier,” he said. “You learn specific tasks, get experts to sign off on your knowledge, and then demonstrate your understanding in front of a board of chiefs. Very similar.” 

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.

“You’re always in a different country – different food, different cultures – forward deployed means you’re always away from home.,” said Sokolovic. 

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 Yokosuka 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.” 

Named in honor of former President Ronald Reagan, the carrier is longer than three football fields, measuring nearly 1,100 feet. The ship, a true floating city, weighs more than 100,000 tons and has a flight deck that is 252 feet wide. Two nuclear reactors can push the ship through the water at more than 35 mph. 

Sailors’ jobs are highly varied aboard the carrier. Approximately 3,200 men and women make up the ship’s crew, which keeps all parts of the aircraft carrier running smoothly — this includes everything from handling weapons to operating nuclear reactors. Another 2,500 men and women form the air wing responsible for flying and maintaining more than 70 aircraft aboard the ship.

Ronald Reagan, like each of the Navy’s aircraft carriers, is designed for a 50-year service life. When the air wing is embarked, the ship carries more than 70 attack jets, helicopters and other aircraft, all of which take off from and land aboard the carrier at sea. 

Serving in the Navy means Sokolovic 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.” 

Though there are many ways for sailors to earn distinction in their command, community, and career, Sokolovic is most proud of working on the flight deck, where he said the jets are always moving and the Navy “trusts me to work with million dollar equipment.” 

“I went straight from high school to defending my country, working on high tech equipment and being trusted in a way that few ever will,” said Sokolovic. 

As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most relied upon assets, Sokolovic and other sailors know they are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes, contributing to the Navy the nation needs.

“It’s all about defending our country so others can enjoy the liberty they have,” he said. “I hope I’m letting my family sleep better at night knowing I’m out here helping keep our country safe.”