BATH, Maine – A 2012 Freer High School graduate and Freer, Texas, native is serving as part of the Pre Commissioning Unit for the future Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116).
Petty Officer 2nd Class Raymond Vela is a gunner's mate assigned to DDG 116 in Bath, Maine.
As a gunner's mate Vela is responsible for handling and managing missiles on the ship. He is responsible for maintenance and upkeep of the missile magazines.
“I like knowing that at the end of the day I'm doing the right thing for my future,” Vela said.
DDG 116 is currently undergoing tests and trials in preparation for delivery to the U.S. Navy from shipbuilder Bath Iron Works. Arleigh Burke class destroyers measure approximately 500 feet long and are powered by four gas turbines that allow the ship to achieve over 30 mph in open seas. Destroyers are tactical multi-mission surface combatants capable of conducting anti-air warfare, anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, and ballistic missile defense, as well as humanitarian assistance. Fast, maneuverable, and technically advanced, destroyers provide the required warfighting expertise and operational flexibility to execute a variety of missions.
“Thomas J. Hudner Jr., a naval aviator who retired as a captain, received the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman for displaying uncommon valor during an attack on his element leader, the first African American naval aviator to fly in combat, Ensign Jesse L. Brown,” said Cmdr. Nathan W. Scherry, commanding officer, PCU Thomas Hudner. “On 07 May 2012, Secretary Mabus announced that DDG 116 will be named in Captain Hudner's honor. Today, as the Navy's finest 300 Sailors crew the 66th Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer, they do so with a tremendous amount of honor, pride, and sense of duty. We are extremely honored to be able to carry Captain Hudner's values and legacy forward so that they are never forgotten. We are proud to be able to carry out our missions in defense of our country's freedom and values, and humbled to be part of the Hudner family.”
Vela has carried lessons learned from his hometown into his military service.
“Just because something doesn’t go the way you planned or expected doesn't mean you give up. Keep pushing forward and do what you need to do to get the job done,” Vela said. “It’ll get done, and you’ll feel better at the end of the day.”
With a crew of over 300 sailors, each crew member’s job is important to the smooth operation of the ship. The jobs range from weapon handling to navigation.
Vela has military ties with family members who have previously served and is honored to carry on the family tradition.
“My uncle served in the Air Force as a survival equipment specialist. He packed and tested parachutes,” Vela said.
Vela’s proudest accomplishment was a first deployment that took him to 10 different ports in seven countries.
“I was able to accomplish a lot of shipboard qualifications on that deployment and see a lot of different places,” added Vela.
Close living conditions build strong fellowship among the crew, Navy officials explained. The crew is highly motivated, and quickly adapt to changing conditions. It is a busy life of specialized work, watches, and drills.
As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s newest ships, Vela and other sailors know they are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes providing the Navy the nation needs.
“The Navy allows me to work with people from all walks of life, and to go to places most people can only dream of, while working with multi-million dollar, highly technical equipment,” Vela said. "I am also able to set a good example to others in my hometown, to include my little brother."
The construction of the ship is over 98 percent complete. The ship is scheduled for commissioning in late 2018 in Boston, Mass. For more information about the commissioning, visit http://www.usshudnerddg116.org.