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Thursday, July 25, 2013 05:48 am

Interview with a sailor at sea

Springfield native serving on aircraft carrier in Pacific Ocean

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Navy IT1 Chris Jackson (inset) is currently serving aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which is shown here with Japan’s Mt. Fuji in the background. Jackson is a Springfield native who lives in Japan, where the ship’s home port is.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF U.S. NAVY.

Somewhere in the Coral Sea, off the northeast coast of Australia, a U.S. aircraft carrier is conducting training exercises with the Royal Australian Navy. Aboard that 1,092-foot carrier, named USS George Washington, a young Springfield native serving in the U.S. Navy is working through the night, making sure the ship can communicate with other vessels.

Chris Jackson, 24, is originally from Springfield, but now lives with his wife, Amanda, in Yokosuka, Japan, USS George Washington’s home port. Jackson, whose official rank is Information Systems Technologist First Class or simply “IT1,” spoke with Illinois Times by phone from the ship last week about his experiences abroad, offering a small glimpse into the life of a Naval officer.

Jackson grew up in Springfield and graduated from Springfield Southeast High School in 2007. Asked why he joined the Navy, Jackson recalled the influence of his grandfather, Bob Jackson, who served in the Navy during the ’70s, and whom Jackson called “the greatest man I ever met.”

“He told me the Navy is what made him a man, so it felt like a wonderful option for me,” Jackson said.

Navy IT1 Chris Jackson
PHOTOS COURTESY OF U.S. NAVY.
Jackson left Springfield for Navy boot camp in Chicago a few months after graduation, then was sent to Florida for Navy “A” school, a technical training program. That’s where he learned his current specialty of information technology, with which he helps maintain the external communications systems on USS George Washington.

After technical school, Jackson was stationed in Norfolk, Va., with the U.S. Command Second Fleet, which oversaw part of the Atlantic Ocean from the North Pole to the Caribbean and extending about halfway to Europe. The fleet was disbanded in 2011, and Jackson was reassigned to USS George Washington.

Unlike the nine other active aircraft carriers in the U.S. Navy’s fleet, USS George Washington is the only carrier stationed in another country. All of the other carriers operate out of U.S. ports.

Jackson said being stationed halfway around the world didn’t take much getting used to. While he says he misses the friendliness of people in Springfield, he says the presence of his wife and the camaraderie of other service members stationed in Japan made the transition easier.

“As long as she’s with me, adjusting to a new country is easy, but every time we leave port, leaving her behind is the worst part,” he said.

Living in the tight quarters of a crowded ship doesn’t bother Jackson, either.

“It’s actually not too bad of an adjustment, living in such small quarters,” he said. “As long as the people are friendly and nice, the adjustment goes pretty well. … Most of my life growing up, I lived in an apartment with my parents and my brother, so I’m pretty used to small quarters.”

A comic book fan who enjoys DC Comics characters like Green Arrow, Jackson spends what little free time he has while at sea studying for further Naval training or mentoring other sailors in the same specialty.

When he’s back at home in Japan, Jackson enjoys exploring new places with his wife.

“We try to get to as many places as we can,” he said. “Tokyo is actually amazing – all of the different districts in the vicinity of Tokyo. We try to explore some of the historical sites.”

Jackson isn’t sure whether he’ll make the Navy his career, but he says his dream job is developing open source software.

“I’ve always been obsessed with programming,” he said.

Asked what he thinks about when he’s out on the open ocean, Jackson said he mostly admires the beauty of the water and concentrates on the task at hand.

“After we’ve completed a cruise, I do look back, but while we’re in the middle of it, it just feels like you’re another cog,” he said. “You push forward, hoping that you did what you could to help out, and hope that you actually did contribute something. At the end, when you look back and look at how amazing what you’ve done is, it kind of catches you off guard sometimes.”

Despite the feeling of accomplishment, Jackson says he’s still like anyone else.

“Yes, I’m in the military, but at the end of the day, I’m still just another guy who wants to go home to his wife.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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