NORFOLK, Va. – An Albany native is serving in the U.S. Navy aboard the service’s newest aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford.
Lt. Donny James is the advanced weapons elevator officer aboard the carrier homeported in Norfolk, Virginia, and is responsible for maintaining all the engineering programs and systems aboard the ship. He also leads sailors who work together to complete their mission.
James credits success in the Navy to many of the lessons learned growing up in Albany.
“I learned from my hometown that hard work and vision can take you anywhere you want to go in this life,” he said. “I apply that concept each day that I serve.”
Commissioned in 2017, Ford, or “Warship 78” as she is known by the crew, is 1,106 feet long, longer than three football fields. The ship, a true floating city, weighs more than 100,000 tons and has a flight deck that is 256 feet wide.
Powerful catapults slingshot aircraft off the bow of the ship. The planes land aboard the carrier by snagging a steel cable with an arresting hook that protrudes from the rear of the aircraft.
Ford is the first of a class of aircraft carriers that offers significant performance improvements over the previous Nimitz-class carriers.
The ship is equipped with the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System to launch aircraft, rather than steam catapults currently used aboard other aircraft carriers, eliminating the requirement to generate and store steam for catapults, which frees up space. EMALS and other new systems and operating concepts will allow the Ford to accomplish 25% more aircraft launches per day than its predecessor while requiring 25% fewer crew members, resulting in an estimated savings of $4 billion in operating costs over a 50-year life span.
The ship is named after the 38th president of the United States and U.S. Navy veteran Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Ford enlisted in the U.S. Naval reserve, serving from 1942 to 1946. While serving at Navy Preflight School in 1942 in Chapel Hill, N.C., he taught seamanship, ordnance, gunnery, first aid and military drill.
At sea, Ford served aboard the light aircraft carrier, USS Monterey, which saw action in the Pacific throughout World War II. After the war, Ford left naval service, achieving the rank of lieutenant commander.
Continuing the traditions of those who served in World War II and since, a key element of the Navy the nation needs is tied to the fact that America is a maritime nation, meaning that the nation’s prosperity is tied to the ability to operate freely on the world’s oceans, according to Navy officials. 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.
James is playing an important part in America’s focus on rebuilding military readiness, strengthening alliances and reforming business practices in support of the National Defense Strategy.
“Our priorities center on people, capabilities and processes and will be achieved by our focus on speed, value, results and partnerships,” Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer said.
“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, James said he is most proud of serving honorably for 16 years. He started his career as an enlisted gas turbine systems electrical technician and later earned a commission as a naval officer.
“I am very proud and humbled to have been selected for commissioning to the rank of officer after serving 11 years as an enlisted sailor,” the Albany native said. “Maintaining sustained superior performance every single day is what got me to where I am today.”
Serving in the Navy is a continuing tradition of military service for James, who has military ties with family members who have previously served. James said he is honored to carry on the family tradition.
“My dad served in the Navy, and now, my younger brother is currently serving in the Navy,” James said. “My dad played a part in influencing my decision to join the Navy. I’m proud to be the first person in my family to earn a commission as a naval officer.”
Sailors’ jobs are highly varied aboard the carrier. Approximately 2,600 men and women currently make up the ship’s crew, which keeps all parts of the aircraft carrier running smoothly — this includes everything from washing dishes and preparing meals to handling weaponry and maintaining the nuclear reactors. Another 2,500 men and women will form the air wing responsible for flying and maintaining the aircraft aboard the ship.
“Sailors are the lifeblood of any warship, and the men and women of the USS Gerald R. Ford are the absolute best that our Navy has to offer,” said Capt. John J. Cummings, commanding officer of the Ford. “Because of the work they do, Warship 78 sailors will take our ship over the horizon and answer our nation’s call in ways that have never been done before. Our sailors are strong, resilient and truly embody our ship’s motto of ‘Integrity at the Helm.’”
Ford, like each of the Navy’s aircraft carriers, is designed for a 50-year service life.
When the air wing is embarked, the ship will carry more than 70 attack jets, helicopters and other aircraft, all of which take off from, and land aboard the carrier at sea.
All of this makes Ford a self-contained mobile airport and strike platform, and often the first response to a global crisis because of a carrier’s ability to operate freely in international waters anywhere on the world’s oceans.
As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most relied-upon capital assets, James and other Ford sailors know they are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes providing the Navy the nation needs.
“Serving in the Navy means that I have the opportunity to fully develop my personal and professional leadership skills,” James said.
“I enjoy the excitement of serving aboard the world’s most technologically advanced super carrier, and I’m humbled to play a part in molding the young sailors who will lead our Navy and our nation in the future.”