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From Small Town To Big Navy
by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Evan Thompson
February 7, 2017

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In the Navy of old, leaders were viewed as distant and salty, with only one concern in mind: getting the job done. But, as the Navy evolved over the years, so have its Sailors. Leaders are just as human as the people that serve under them and have all dealt with their share of change.

One such Sailor is Senior Chief Gunner’s Mate James Hoppa. Currently stationed aboard the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5), Hoppa is in charge of maintaining the ship’s armory and the upkeep of the weapons within.

January 19, 2017 - Senior Chief Gunner’s Mate James Hoppa, from Waupaca, Wisconsin, with a rifle in the armory of the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5). The ship is underway conducting Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group in preparation for an upcoming deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Evan Thompson)
January 19, 2017 - Senior Chief Gunner’s Mate James Hoppa, from Waupaca, Wisconsin, with a rifle in the armory of the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5). The ship is underway conducting Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group in preparation for an upcoming deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Evan Thompson)

After a decade and a half of service to the Navy, Hoppa has become adjusted to operating in fast-paced workplaces like the ones present aboard Bataan. It wasn’t always smooth sailing for Hoppa, however.

As a native of Waupaca, Wisconsin, a community of roughly 5,000 people and raised in a small-town setting. Joining the Navy brought on rapid change for him.

“It was definitely a big adjustment,” said Hoppa about joining the Navy. “You’re used to knowing everybody, and going from that to even living in a bigger city is quite the change.”

Hoppa said after he graduated from high school, he didn’t see himself going to college, and thought the only way to break away from the small-town life was to join the military. After 15 years in the Navy, Hoppa still enjoys his job as much as he did when he picked Gunner’s Mate when he enlisted in June 2002.

My job is essentially maintenance and upkeep of all the weapons onboard the ship and making sure we can meet whatever mission is thrown at us,” said Hoppa. “I wouldn’t want to do any other job, I don’t see myself doing anything other than being a Gunner’s Mate.”

In addition to running Bataan’s armory, Hoppa is also in charge of overseeing the ship’s Small Caliber Assessment Team, which is an integrated team consisting of Hoppa’s nine Sailors and a number of Marines from the embarked 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit tasked with standing guard during operations such as strait transits.

Bataan is currently underway conducting Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX), a pre-deployment training exercise, known for having a hectic and fluid schedule. The ship’s crew of Sailors and Marines are out to sea, subject to constant drills and exercises to ensure all departments and divisions aboard are prepared for their upcoming combat deployment.

To add to the stress, Hoppa’s wife of nearly 5 years is home in Virginia with twins on the way.

“It’s been very difficult to be gone during this workup cycle while my wife is going through the pregnancy,” said Hoppa.
To relieve all that stress and relax, Hoppa took up surfing while stationed at his last command, Naval Air Station Oceana Dam Neck Annex.

“I really started surfing around 2007 or 2008,” said Hoppa. “I was stationed at Naval Base Dam Neck right on the water so I picked it up. I really enjoy it, and it’s kind of my way to get lost and forget the stress.”

When most Sailors reach the 15-year mark of enlisted service, they consider packing up their sea bags for the final time. Hoppa, on the other hand, submitted a Warrant Officer package this year, hoping to ascend the rank ladder once more.

“I have a Warrant Officer package in this year,” said Hoppa. “Depending on how that goes, that may take me to 20 years, or it may take me even further.”

By U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Evan Thompson
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2017

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