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Why We Serve: Deployment Gives Sailor Message to Public

Sgt. Sara Moore, USA American Forces Press Service

Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Ralph Chavez. Defense Department

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18, 2008 – When Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Ralph Chavez volunteered for a deployment to Afghanistan, he didn’t really know what he was getting himself into. It ended up being one of the best experiences of his military career.

Chavez, a yeoman, or administrative specialist, decided to volunteer for an individual augmentation deployment in 2006 while stationed in California. He said it was important for him to volunteer because he knew soldiers and Marines who were on their second or third deployments. He felt it was his duty to go.

“I just felt that as a chief, in order for me to lead my sailors by example, I wanted to do my part,” Chavez said. “How can I tell my sailors one day that they need to volunteer if I had never done that?”

Chavez went to Afghanistan in February 2006 as part of a four-man civil affairs team supporting the 10th Mountain Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team. Initially, he didn’t know what civil affairs was, but four months of training with the Army prepared him. Once Chavez and his team got to Afghanistan’s Paktiya province and began working with local leaders and citizens to facilitate reconstruction projects, he was amazed at how fulfilling the mission was.

“Our goal was to try to build the trust in each village that we visited and just improve security. It was very rewarding,” Chavez said. “The locals welcomed us into their homes, shared their food, and we got to hear their stories.”

Chavez is now touring the country as part of the Defense Department’s “Why We Serve” outreach program. The program, now in its sixth iteration, takes servicemembers who have recently deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan and sends them to various community, business and veterans groups to tell their stories.

One message Chavez would like to convey to the American public is that there are many “good news” stories happening in the war on terror, and in Afghanistan, local citizens are very appreciative of the coalition’s mission.

“In each case, they always expressed gratitude and appreciation for the Americans being over there, far away from their homes, far away from their families, and helping them,” Chavez said of his meetings with Afghans during his deployment. “They knew why we were there, and they appreciated the sacrifices that we made to help them.”

The Afghan people also appreciated the sacrifices of the American public, Chavez said, as many of the humanitarian supplies his team distributed were donated from corporations and private citizens. His team helped rebuild water wells and schools, delivered supplies and set up temporary housing and aid after natural disasters.

Chavez, an 18-year Navy veteran, was raised in San Antonio, a city with strong military traditions. He had several relatives who served in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, and growing up hearing their stories instilled in him a sense of duty, he said.

After high school, Chavez went to college for about three years. Before he enlisted, he was working three jobs, but didn’t have a sense of job accomplishment, he said. Also, he was craving adventure and remembered his good experiences in junior Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and Air Force ROTC.

“I developed an affinity toward the structure and the discipline that the military offered,” he said. “So I went to talk to recruiters. I liked what the Navy recruiter had to offer, and 18 years later, I’m still enjoying it.”

Chavez has enjoyed the opportunities to move to different commands throughout the Navy and the military’s system of rewarding people for good performance. He’s also enjoyed the different challenges he’s faced during his career and the educational opportunities, such as finishing his bachelor’s degree and working on his master’s, he said.

Chavez plans to stay in the Navy and is hoping to be selected for a warrant officer program soon. He said he doesn’t know if he’ll have the chance to deploy again, but he is more than willing. For now, he said, he feels honored to be part of the Why We Serve program and hopes he can bring the American public a different perspective about the war on terror.

“It’s not all doom and gloom like they see in the news; there are a lot of success stories out there, and we are helping to change attitudes and perceptions of Americans, one generation at a time,” Chavez said. “I think that that’s going a long way toward winning the war against terrorism in Afghanistan.”

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