By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class David Finley, Navy Office of Community Outreach
Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jackson G. Brown
Petty Officer 3rd Class Jaxon Cook, a Laguna Hills, California, native, was looking to make a better life for himself.Now, two years later and half a world away at Naval Support Activity Bahrain, Cook serves aboard an avenger-class mine countermeasures ship (MCM), USS Gladiator, tasked to search and dispose of enemy mines in the world’s most dynamic maritime region as the leading-edge of the Navy.
“It is such a dynamic environment and things can change in an instant,” said Cook. “It really keeps you on your toes and is what I like about serving on this platform,”
Cook, a 2016 graduate of Laguna Hills High School, is a mineman aboard the Manama, Bahrain-based ship, one of four MCMs forward-deployed to the Arabian Gulf in the Navy’s U.S. 5th Fleet operating under Task Force 52.
“As a mineman, we are responsible for searching, identifying, and neutralizing mine threats in the water,” said Cook. “As a main technician, I build, operate, and maintain our underwater mine neutralization vehicle.”
Task Force 52 plans and executes mine warfare operations in support of U.S. 5th Fleet’s operational objectives.
Cook credits success in the MCM force, and in the Navy, to many of the lessons learned in Laguna Hills.
“Coming from a diverse town has helped me acknowledge that there are many different types of people and a wide range of world views out there,” said Cook. “The key to connecting with people is proper communication.”
USS Gladiator is 224 feet long, 39 feet wide and weighs over 1,300 tons. Four diesel engines, designed to have very low magnetic and acoustic signatures, help push the ship through the water at 16 miles per hour.
As mines threaten maritime traffic indiscriminately, the U.S. and partner nations are committed to taking all action necessary to reduce the risk of mines to support the continuous free flow of commerce and freedom of navigation throughout the region. MCMs are outfitted with the means to detect and disable them, ensuring sea lanes remain open for military, commercial and civilian vessels. These ships use a variety of novel and conventional sweeping measures, including sonar and video systems, cable cutters and remote control mine-detonating devices.
“What I do is the bread and butter for our mission,” said Cook. “We are here to keep the seas clear and trading routes open.”
The Navy’s mine countermeasures in the U.S. 5th Fleet are divided between three separate legs, consisting of airborne, surface and underwater methods. These consist of the MCMs such as USS Gladiator, MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters from Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron (HM) 15, and unmanned underwater vehicles, as well as expeditionary explosive ordnance disposal teams. All three legs work together to hunt and neutralize mines.
The Navy’s U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations encompasses about 2.5 million square miles of ocean, and includes the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean. This expanse, comprised of 20 countries, includes three critical choke points; the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab al Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen.
“Coming from America you always hear about the Arabian Gulf, but you don’t understand what it is really like until you get here,” said Cook. “There are some major differences in culture, but at the end of the day they just normal people like you and me.”
Serving in the Navy means Cook is part of a world that is taking on new importance in America’s focus on rebuilding military readiness, strengthening alliances and reforming business practices in support of the National Defense Strategy.
“I’m incredibly proud to serve with each of our Sailors, Coastguardsmen and Marines forward-deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations,” said Rear Admiral Paul Schlise, deputy commander for NAVCENT/ U.S. 5th Fleet. “They represent the very best of our country and serve as volunteers in a complex and dynamic region that’s vital to our security. I am honored to work alongside these warriors.”
A key element of the Navy the nation needs is tied to the fact that America is a maritime nation, and that the nation’s prosperity is tied to the ability to operate freely on the world’s oceans. 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.
“Our priorities center on people, capabilities and processes, and will be achieved by our focus on speed, value, results and partnerships,” said Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer. “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, Cook is most proud of serving his country.
“You learn a lot about yourself in the Navy,” said Cook. “I am very proud to be a part of this organization.”
As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most relied upon assets, Cook and other sailors know they are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes contributing to the Navy the nation needs
“To me the Navy means service,” said Cook. “It isn’t always glamorous, but it is a job that needs to be done.”