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Big Boots to Fill

21 July 2021

From Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Gary A. Prill USS Gerald R. Ford Public Affairs

NORFOLK, Va. — As a U.S. Navy ship prepares to leave homeport, many Sailors say goodbye to loved ones on the pier. This is not an uncommon occurrence for Sailors, over the course of a 20-year-career; most Sailors have experienced the challenge of leaving loved ones behind on the shore as their ship departs to accomplish the mission.

Master Chief Logistics Specialist (LSCM) Tanya McCray, USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) supply department leading chief petty officer (DLCPO), has done this many times, leaving her two daughters and spouse on the beach as she answered the nation’s call. Only this time, as she got underway to execute the second explosive event of Ford’s Full Ship Shock Trials (FSST) – which occurred, July 16 - things were different.

Following nearly 30 years of naval service, LSCM McCray did something very few Sailors will ever do in their career. This underway her 25-year-old daughter, Logistic Specialist Seaman (LSSN) Racquel McCray, assigned to USS George W. Bush (CVN 77), was temporarily assigned to Ford for an at-sea training opportunity.
LSCM McCray joined the Navy as an undesignated seaman and was selected to the rate of store keeper (SK) prior to the rating merge in 2009 when SK and postal clerk merged to become logistics specialist (LS).

“I joined the Navy as an undesignated seaman, so I was a deck seaman,” said LSCM McCray. “I was stationed in Guam on USS Haleakala (AE 25). The ship was up for decommissioning, so I selected a rate to attend school, so I chose LS which was SK at the time. I went to SK “A” school, from there I came here to Virginia, and I have been here my entire career.”

During her first tour in Virginia, LSCM McCray married her husband and they had their first child. They rotated between sea and shore duties, facing the challenges of a dual-military family as they promoted through the ranks to ultimately both make master chief.

“I like challenges, I thrive off them actually. It was hard being dual military. I had two daughters, so I was juggling a career with the family life, and it was hard missing holidays, birthdays and all those celebrations,” said LSCM Mcray. “When I was away from them, away from home, I just put all my time and energy into my career. I was taking care of Sailors as well. There were places I was known as the ‘Sea Mama’. I took those opportunities, since I was away from my kids, to be able to provide that mentorship tutoring to other Sailors as well.”

Nearly 25 years later her oldest daughter, LSSN McCray, made the decision to follow in the footsteps of her parents and pursue a Navy career, initially wanting to be an information systems technician (IT) like her father.

“So I joined because it was something I wanted to do since I was 18, seeing both my parents doing it every day. It’s not all I know, but from growing up around it, it was something I could see myself doing,” said LSSN McCray. “I wanted to go IT, my dad was an IT. I wasn’t offered IT but LS was the option they gave me, and I knew I wanted to do something my parents had [done].”

Following LS “A” school LSSN McCray was assigned to Bush, which is currently undergoing maintenance in Norfolk Naval ship yard. As a new LS in the Navy she heard stories from her mom about Ford’s FSST and knew it was an opportunity for a once in a lifetime experience that she wouldn’t get on Bush, and she wanted to be a part of it. It is common for Sailors assigned to ship’s undergoing maintenance to seek opportunities to get underway with operational ships, and LSSN McCray set her sights on that goal.

“She actually asked me to come on the ship. She saw the pictures from shock one and thought it was so cool she wanted to do that. She joined the Navy to get those experiences,” said LSCM McCray. “She said she wished she could get underway, she talked to her DLCPO and they made it happen. Next thing we know she had [temporary] orders and was walking aboard with me Monday morning.”

This opportunity afforded LSSN McCray the chance to experience the day-to-day operations of the Navy from two points of view. First, as a junior LS aboard an operational aircraft carrier she is able to learn her craft and responsibilities to the crew, as well as to herself to be the best Sailor she can be. Additionally, while transiting the ship alongside her mother, she is able to see the respect 20 plus years of service - and the rank of master chief - can afford a Sailor, and how rewarding a Navy career can be.

“I enjoy the LS job, I look forward to the customer service in my job. I worked customer service before while I was in school, so I already feel like I’m good with customers. So when people come down to order their parts and they aren’t here but there’s something I can do to help, I like that part about it,” said LSSN McCray.

“It’s pretty cool walking with her. ‘Everyone says good morning master chief’, and she greets them and I’m just smiling the whole way. I feel like a proud daughter,” LSSN McCray added.

For many parents serving in the military, a career of service for their children is always a thought in their mind. They wish the best for their children but hold certain expectations. Many are proud to have their children follow in their footsteps to reach the same heights they have reached or even higher.

“Every mother and daughter has their moments,” said LSCM McCray. We love each other, but I hold her to certain expectations and I expect her to follow those, but that’s only because I love her and want the best for her. I want her to succeed in her personal life and her career. She has huge shoes to fill, and I remind her of that. I want her to be better than me; I want her to set her goals higher than mine were. I know she can do it.”

Outside of a tiger cruise or a family day aboard the ship, this underway was possibly a once in a lifetime opportunity for the McCrays. Sailors rarely get the opportunity to immerse their family and children into their day-to-day routine.

“It’s great, this could be her last underway and it’s my first. For us to be able to spend it together, it’s awesome,” said LSSN McCray. “She’s kind of bringing me in and I appreciate that a lot. I hope I can fill her shoes, as I hope to make it a 20 year career.”

Ford is in port Naval Station Norfolk conducting preparations for FSST. The U.S. Navy conducts shock trials of new ship designs using live explosives to confirm that our warships can continue to meet demanding mission requirements under the harsh conditions they might encounter in battle.

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