Maine man reflects on Navy service off coast of Western Africa

Chief Warrant Officer 5 Roger Hooper

A Maine native and resident of Lyman will soon return from testing the capabilities of the U.S. Navy’s latest line of joint high speed vessel off the coast of Western Africa.

A 1982 graduate of Massabesic High School in Waterboro, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Roger Hooper graduated from Southern Maine Community College in 1997 and has served in the U.S. Navy for 30 years – 12 years on active duty and 18 years as a reservist.

In Hooper’s early days in the Navy, communicating with family back home was mostly done through letters. But thanks to the new technologies, he can email with his wife and three sons on a daily basis – and conduct interviews via satellite telephone.

In a recent interview, Hooper said it was exciting to visit several African nations, including Senegal, Ghana, and Liberia, and witness part of the broad array of activities the Navy is engaged in.

On March 6, Hooper began his deployment aboard the USNS Spearhead, a 338-foot-long aluminum catamaran with a 20,000 square-foot mission bay area. He compared the Spearhead to The Cat, a fast ferry that used to transport tourists and gambling enthusiasts from Bar Harbor and Portland to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. “It’s based on the design of a commercial ferry, modified for military purposes,” he said.

ROTA, Spain (Jan. 27, 2014) The Military Sealift Command joint high-speed vessel USNS Spearhead (JHSV 1) is moored pier side in Rota, Spain, during a scheduled port visit. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jeff Atherton/ Released)

The Spearhead is the first ship in the Navy’s planned class of 10 joint, high-speed vessels (JHSV).  She is on her first deployment to support partnership-building and maritime security efforts in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of West Africa and in the Gulf of Guinea. The vessel can be reconfigured to permit adaption to a wide-range of operations and missions, from carrying containerized portable hospitals for disaster relief to transporting tanks and troops.

“I think a lot of people back home don’t get a good picture of the versatility of our military,” said Hooper. For him, the Spearhead exemplifies the full range of duties the Navy performs on a regular basis.

Hooper is part of a team that is evaluating this new ship concept. “Our function primarily is asses the capabilities and function of the JHSV class of ships,” he said.  As a naval communications expert, Hooper will be testing the ship’s capabilities to provide communications and information technology network support to forces deployed in the field.

“With anything new, on paper the concept is one thing, but when you get it built and you get it working things change,” he said. “We’ve assessed things like its ability to launch small boats and provide communications support. By and large, the ship is well equipped for it was designed to do.”

“As far as some of the short comings, using it as a command and control point – it’s really probably not well equipped for that,” he said.

Part of Hooper’s work involves the Africa Partnership Stations. “For a number of years now the Navy has been deploying different types of ships to work with West African nations,” he said. Through that partnership, the Spearhead crew is working with West African nations on fishery boundaries enforcement, maritime awareness, and law enforcement, he said.

“The idea is that if we can help these countries enforce their own fishing regulations, for example, then we’re empowering them to manage their own economies, create their jobs and fend for themselves,” said Hooper.

As a reservist, the Navy is a part-time job for Hooper. In his civilian occupation, he is the Fire Chief of the Goodwins Mills Fire-Rescue, serving the towns of Dayton and Lyman. He will return to his wife and three sons at the end of April.



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