PHILIPPINE SEA (NNS) -- Quartermaster 3rd Class David Butler spends his night gazing at the stars -- and the Navy pays him to do it.
Born in Wisconsin, Butler spent time in Indiana, Japan, and Illinois growing up. He joined the Navy at 24, and chose the quartermaster rating over his other option of boatswain's mate.
"The essence of the rate is the safe navigation of the ship," Butler said. "You're working on the bridge, in the pilot house, constantly."
Butler says his life on his second home aboard guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63) is usually busy, but noiseless.
"Do you hear that?" Butler said, raising his eyebrows. "Quiet. This is what it's like up here most days."
Indeed, besides the occasional order or navigational information relayed by the bridge's crew, the only noises are the hum of electronics and the sound of waves breaking on the bow. The crew is focused, intent, and silent.
"One thing that keeps me going on patrol is being out here, surrounded by the ocean," Butler said. "We're up here with the officers, XO (executive officer), and CO (commanding officer), so we know where we're going and when we're getting there."
This is a busy time for Stethem's crew; the ship is participating in MultiSail 17, a bilateral training exercise improving interoperability between the U.S. and Japanese forces. Stethem is one of seven ships, five U.S. and two Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), participating in the exercise. Each ship is testing capabilities ranging from maritime security operations to more complex anti-submarine and air defense exercises.
Butler says he sees the exercise as chance to test and hone their skills.
"More movement means more navigation for us," Butler said. "Operating around other ships is always a challenge."
The quartermasters aboard Stethem agree the best thing about their job happens while most Sailors are below decks.
"My favorite part of the job is celestial navigation," Butler said. "We chart by the moon and stars. How many other people can say that?"
Quartermaster 3rd Class Katrina Hernandez shares her shipmates' sentiments.
"We saw the Andromeda Galaxy one night," Hernandez said. "There was no light pollution. It was simply amazing."
After MultiSail 17, the crew will complete its 2017 patrol before returning to Commander Naval Facilities Yokosuka.
"The best part about being a forward-deployed ship is the culture you get to experience," Butler said. "I've really enjoyed my time in Japan."
Some aboard Stethem maintain its engine; others feed its crew, or man its guns; it is the quartermasters, though, who provide the eyes for the ship, plotting its path through blue waves day and night.
Stethem is on patrol in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
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