Seven find camaraderie far from home on the South China Sea
Michigan is well represented on the USS Blue Ridge, the flagship of the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet.
Seven Navy and Marine officers from the Great Lakes State are serving on the command and control ship, which boasts a crew of 52 officers and 790 enlisted men and women.
The officers maintain a connection to their home state as they sail throughout the Indo-Pacific, an area that spans two regions of the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean.
“It’s great to be from Trenton, Michigan, and to know that all my family and friends from back home support me in my career,” said U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Stacey S. Kandas, a 2006 graduate of Grand Valley State University and now a communications planner for 7th Fleet. “The level of support that I receive from them makes doing what I do that much better.”
Despite their distant travels, Michigan is still home for these sailors and Marine. For some, their Michigan upbringing even influenced their decision to join the armed forces.
“Cool Midwestern values, which include a dose of healthy patriotism balanced with a sincere curiosity about the world,” said Navy Lt. John Foley from Dearborn, a 2006 graduate of Albion College. “Interestingly, I’ve noticed a higher-than-expected incidence of Midwesterners in the Navy, specifically. Perhaps we from the heart of America yearn for sea.”
Even though they are more than 11,000 miles from their home state, they feel closer to home when among shipmates from the Mitten. Kandas said when she meets another Michigander in the service, it makes her feel at home away from home. From talking about the state’s food and sports teams to showing each other where they’re from using their hands as maps, such encounters always put a smile on her face.
Lt. Cmdr. Adams Kushner, who grew up in Brighton, said it is nice to come back to Michigan.
“It’s a comfort to know I have somewhere to go back to,” said Kushner, a 2003 graduate of Western Michigan University. “My daughters are always on the move with me now, but I hope to be able to share the same feeling of belonging with them some day. Community is important.”
USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19) was put in commission in 1970 at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. It was the first of the Blue Ridge-class command ship, built to accomplish the mission of command and control coordination. In the 1970s the ship saw action in the Vietnam War, accepting refugees during the fall of Saigon in 1975. Five helicopters crashed on the Blue Ridge that day, not counting ones ditched or abandoned overboard.
Blue Ridge also performed a nine-month deployment as flagship for the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command during Operation Desert Shield, and Operation Desert Storm
U.S. 7th Fleet provides security alongside allies and partners throughout a free and open Indo-Pacific. As the U.S. Navy’s largest forward-deployed fleet, 7th Fleet operates roughly 50-70 ships and submarines and 140 aircraft with approximately 20,000 sailors.
SOUTH CHINA SEA (May 14, 2019) – Sailors and a Marine assigned to COMSEVENTHFLT show off their Michigan hometown pride on the main deck of the 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19). From left to right; (back row): from Flint, LT Adam Brophy, USN, Mt. Morris Elizabeth Anne Johnson High School, 1998; from Kalamazoo, LCDR Kevin Mejeur, USN, Michigan, Kalamazoo Christian High School 1999 and Calvin College 2003; from Dearborn, LT J. P. Foley, USN, Michigan Detroit Catholic Central High School, 2002 and Albion College, 2006; from Rochester Hills, LT Kyle Sanders, USN, Rochester High School 1998 and Western Michigan University 2003; (front row) from Brighton, LCDR Adam Kushner, USN, Brighton High School 1998 and Western Michigan University 2003; from Saginaw, LCDR Michael Borja, USN, Heritage High School, 2003; from Trenton, Capt Stacy Kandas, USMC, Trenton High School 2002 and Grand Valley State University 2006. Blue Ridge is the oldest operational ship in the U.S. Navy and, as 7th Fleet command ship, is operating in support of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Leonard Adams)