Ensign Theresa Erbach, a native of Huntsville, initially joined the military for the lure of a free education at the Naval Academy.
“As I went along, I liked the idea of a challenge, of doing something I was very unfamiliar with and having that be my introduction to the world,” she said.
Now, just a year later and half a world away, Erbach serves with Commander, Naval Forces Japan, supporting the Navy’s mission in one of the world’s busiest maritime regions and supporting U.S. 7th Fleet.
“It's hectic and volatile,” she said. “Because it can be a little crazy, the bonds you form with people out here are really close. I love the wardroom on my ship. It’s got some of the best people I’ve ever met,” said Erbach, who recently transferred from the USS Shiloh.
Erbach, a 2014 graduate of Virgil I. Grissom High School, is a surface warfare officer candidate forward-deployed at a Navy installation in Yokosuka, Japan, 43 miles south of Tokyo. Right now, she’s the command assistant training officer. On the Shiloh, she’s the electronics warfare officer who manages all the radars and maintains them.
Erbach credits part of her success in the Navy to lessons learned in Huntsville.
“Optimism has carried me a really long way,” Erbach said. “Along with that, empathy. It's such a team effort. If you don't understand the people you're working with, and times get tough, which they will, things will be difficult. Adaptability and the ability to react to change has really gotten me through.”
Commander, Naval Forces Japan, Navy Region Japan acts as the Navy representative and coordinator in the area of responsibility stretching from the southern tip of the Kamchatka peninsula to the northern tip of Taiwan and promotes operability and liaises with the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force. CNFJ/CNRJ delivers vital shore readiness capabilities to the fleet, fighter and family throughout the western Pacific and Indian Ocean by optimizing available resources.
“It's really cool that, you get here, and unless you speak the language, you’re kind of on your own culturally, and it makes the base tight-knit,” Erbach said. “We're kind of doing our own thing out here.”
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 Yokosuka 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."
Yokosuka boasts some of the largest and best of everything the Navy has to offer, according to Navy officials. More than 50 forward-deployed commands in Yokosuka support crucial operating forces, including military units from the United States Seventh Fleet, Commander Destroyer Squadron 15 and the only permanently forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76).
The challenge of providing extended service to the fleet overseas is met in a high operating tempo thanks to an exceptional U.S. and Japanese workforce, Navy officials explained. Yokosuka’s strategic location and support capabilities allow operating forces to be 17 days closer to locations in Asia than their counterparts based in the continental United States.
Serving in the Navy means Erbach 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. Erbach is most proud of her Naval Academy commissioning.
“I loved it but it was super tough. I struggled to find myself,” Erbach said. “The biggest thing for me was finding out what kind of person I was. Toward the end, as I accrued more responsibility and still wondered what I'd do with my life, I discovered that this is a necessary step I need to have in my life, because I’ve already learned so much from it.”
As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most relied upon assets, Erbach and other sailors know they are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes contributing to the Navy the nation needs.
“It's such a good idea to serve,” Erbach said. “It teaches so many important life lessons. You learn so much about yourself and come out a better person.”