Because on Independence Day, patriotism bestirs our hearts, I wanted to take time to thank our service men and women for keeping our nation safe and to honor them all by sharing a story of one.
During high school, Ben Conway gathered with my son and their friends at my house to play video games and hang out. Fond memories of those days bring smiles a decade later. I’m proud of Ben and his contributions to keeping our nation safe. This is his story.
Ben began his service in the Navy in December 2010. He enlisted to serve his country and to see the world.
“I know that’s an old Navy poster,” he said, but he has enjoyed his time with the Navy so much that he plans to make it his career.
Ben’s job title is an Aviation Ordnanceman. “Basically “Aviation ordnancemen operate and handle aviation ordnance equipment. They are responsible for the maintenance of guns, bombs, torpedoes, rockets, and missiles. Their duties include the stowing, issuing, and loading of munitions and small arms. There are three different types of ordnancemen: ‘O’ (organizational) level, ‘I’ (intermediate) level, and ‘D’ (depot) level. O-level ordnancemen are attached to squadrons ashore and afloat. They perform loading/downloading operations on aircraft. I-level perform maintenance on bomb racks, missile launchers, and all other aircraft armament components, as well as store, inventory, issue, and assemble all ordnance. We are a very close knit group/family and we have our own association (one of the few in the military),” he said.
Ben explained his service so far: “My first command was in VFA-34, the Blue Blasters (we flew the F-18C), out of NAS Oceana in Virginia Beach, Virginia. We were attached to CAG-2 (carrier air group) which was attached to USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) and then to the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) when the Lincoln went into the shipyards after a world tour in 2011. I was with VFA-34 from May 2011 until November 2015.
“While with VFA-34, we did a deployment with the Lincoln from December 2011 until August 2012. (It was supposed to be a 4 month “world tour” from San Diego to Norfolk so the ship could get overhauled in the yard. But Iran started to act up, and we were sent to deal with them and ended staying in the Gulf for six of the eight months we were gone, providing close air support over Afghanistan. We visited Thailand, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, and Turkey). Then while with the Reagan, I participated in RIM PAC 2014 in Hawaii. There were also countless trips to the ship and Fallon, Nevada, for training.”
“In January 2016, I reported to VFA-101, the Grim Reapers, out of Eglin AFB in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. VFA-101 was the Navy’s first F-35 squadron, and we were responsible for training new pilots and maintainers and developing the program. VFA-101 was disestablished in 2019.
“In March 2019, I reported to VFA-147, the Argonauts, out of NAS Lemoore, CA. They are the Navy’s first operational (meaning we will be able to deploy and go where the country needs us) F-35C fleet squadron.
Ben enjoys camaraderie and a close knit community the most about the service. Many of his closest friendships developed from being deployed or stationed together. They know each other so well that they can sense when someone is having an off day or bad day. When someone has a crisis such as a house burning, a death, or grave illness, they rally together to assist.
Ben’s Navy experience has “tattooed itself” on his soul. He enjoys feeling the salty air on his face, walking the flight deck as the sun rises over the ocean, and working in/on awesome jets. He enjoys kneeling under the jets while they are in full after burner on the catapult ready to be sent off the pointy end of the carrier.
The hardest thing about being in the service is being away so much. Squadrons are always going somewhere for training or deploying. “It’s a lot of time spent away from the ones you love. Also it is rough when your friends get hurt or killed; it feels like it happened to your own family. Sadly both time away and death is something that happens for us.”
The military taught Ben about “being a leader and life in general. I don’t think I would be close to the same person I am today if I hadn’t enlisted.”
Suggestions for showing care
Saying thank you or sending a care package or card means a lot to those serving.
“I can’t tell you how good it felt to get a care package from back home, and it wasn’t my family. Cards from little kids at my local elementary school and some treats and socks. It really made my day.”
He also suggested donating time and money to many wonderful organizations like Dogs on Deployment (a group that watches service members’ pets while they are gone) or the USO.
“But it all starts with just saying thank you or sitting and talking with a veteran in my eyes,” he said.
Thank you, Ben, for sharing your story. Thank you to all your fellow servicemen and women! God bless you all!
Happy Independence Day!