For the members of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 117, participating in the 2012 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise offered multiple professional and personal opportunities; for five “Wallbangers” it offered the chance to re-commit to their Navy service on hallowed ground: the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
The memorial straddles the remains of the USS Arizona, which sank during the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, killing 1,177 people aboard. A wall of names memorializes the fallen, 1,022 of whom are buried at sea with the ship beneath the memorial.
“One of my family members’ names is on the wall,” said Aviation Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Charles McCray, referring to Mess Attendant 1st Class Samme Willie G. McGrady.
“Knowing I’m re-enlisting in the place where he died for his country makes me really proud that I’m part of this tradition,” McCray added, noting his family’s long history of military service.
Other Sailors re-enlisting with McCray initially joined the Navy for a variety of reasons: to find direction, like Aircrew Survival Equipmentman 2nd Class George Lewis; or to improve their lives, like Avionics Electronics Technician 2nd Class Ashley Schubert.
“I came from a rough background,” Schubert said. “I wanted something better for myself.”
But when it came time to re-enlist, Schubert wasn’t sure she really wanted to do it. Her fellow Sailors helped change her mind.
“I mentioned it to one of my Sailors, and he got really upset. That’s when I realized that I didn’t want to leave my family,” she said, referring to her brothers and sisters in the Navy.
Family, both blood and of bond, factored strongly into all five Wallbangers’ decisions to re-enlist.
Aviation Structural Mechanic 1st Class Jose Barrientosclimaco did it to make his kids proud.
“My eldest took me for show-and-tell,” he said. “They’re so proud of me. Knowing that makes it easier to deal with the distance and the time apart.”
Aviation Structural Mechanic Safety Equipment 3rd Class Rebekah Smith’s mother, Arlene, joined her at the memorial to witness her re-enlistment.
“My mom was there beside me, just like she’s always been,” Smith said.
After re-enlisting, each Wallbanger received a flag that had been flown over the USS Arizona memorial, a gift from their Navy family to remind them of their commitment to the service and to one another.“Re-enlisting here, being in the midst of our heritage puts the next four years into perspective,” Lewis said. “I’m not alone on this journey.”