SASEBO, Japan – Petty Officer 2nd Class Ashley Lacanilao, a native of Venice, California, wanted to help the world and travel more, so she joined the U.S. Navy.
“Serving here is great,” she said. “I've been volunteering for a lot of off-base orphanage and homeless shelter work, and I can't wait to go on a ship because I know there's lots of places to visit.”
Just three years after enlisting and half a world away, Lacanilao serves with Fleet Activities Sasebo, supporting the Navy’s mission one of the world’s busiest maritime regions as part of U.S. 7th Fleet.
“The people here are so respectful, they are so nice, and everything is so clean,” she said. “You can trust them."
Lacanilao, a 2015 graduate of Birmingham High School, is a personnel specialist forward-deployed to the installation in Sasebo, Japan, the second-largest city in Nagasaki Prefecture.
“I handle 4,000 sailors’ pay and personnel transactions and serve as supervisor of eight clerks,” she said. “I started as a seaman recruit, and becoming a supervisor is a really great learning experience.”
Lacanilao partially credits her success in the Navy to lessons learned since venturing out from Venice.
“One thing I've learned with the Navy is the need for communication and teamwork,” she said. “You have to build a lot of trust to work together and get the job done. Good teamwork can have an impact on morale and inspire the whole team to do better every day.”
U.S. 7th Fleet spans more than 124 million square kilometers, stretching from the International Date Line to the India/Pakistan border; and from the Kuril Islands in the North to the Antarctic in the South. U.S. 7th Fleet's area of operations encompasses 36 maritime countries and 50 percent of the world’s population with between 50-70 U.S. ships and submarines, 140 aircraft, and approximately 20,000 sailors.
“It’s my first duty station, so I can't really compare it to anything else,” Lacanilao said. “But this place is beautiful, it's a great experience. I know that families love it here. There's so much opportunity.”
With more than 50 percent of the world's shipping tonnage and a third of the world's crude oil passing through the region, the United States has historic and enduring interests in this part of the world. The Navy's presence in Sasebo is part of that long-standing commitment.
"The Navy is forward-deployed to provide security and strengthen relationships in a free and open Indo-Pacific. It's not just the ships and aircraft that have shown up to prevent conflict and promote peace," said Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer, commander, U.S. 7th Fleet. "It is, and will continue to be our people who define the role our Navy plays around the world. People who've made a choice, and have the will and strength of character to make a difference."
Fleet Activities Sasebo’s mission is to enable forward-deployed U.S. and allied naval forces while providing superior support to their families.
Serving in the Navy means Lacanilao 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.
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.”
There are many ways for sailors to earn distinction in their command, community, and career. Lacanilao is most proud of her volunteer work.
“We go two times a year around Thanksgiving and give gifts to the kids at Christmas to the middle school and high school orphan students,” she said. “I really think it's a good opportunity to do something for people.”
As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most relied upon assets, Lacanilao and other sailors know they are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes, contributing to the Navy the nation needs.
“Being in the military gave me a lot of experience and made me who I am today,” she said. “I've learned leadership. I can do anything as long as I set my mind to it. If you want to serve, go for it, there's so many opportunities, you can really build yourself in the Navy.”