USS Mahan, At Sea (NNS) -- A former United States Naval Academy football player currently serving aboard USS Mahan (DDG 72) who leads the ship's visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) team as part of Combined Task Force (CTF) 151's counterpiracy operations reflects on his achievements to date.
"I was 18 years old and had never heard of the Naval Academy, nor did I have any wishes to be a naval officer," said Ensign Ian Townsend, a 2007 graduate.
Like his many of his high school friends, in 2002, Townsend scouted out colleges, hoping for a football scholarship. During the search, he spoke to Jeff Monken, a former Navy football coach, who attempted to convince Townsend to join the midshipmen team.
"This is funny, I had never heard of the place," said Townsend. "Many people would have seen this as a great opportunity, but all I wanted to do was play football."
The conversation with the coach led Townsend to enroll in the U.S. Naval Academy and down a challenging road in pursuit of a naval commission.
"While at the Academy, I found pursuing a commission and actually being a naval officer as a challenge, so I felt the need to step up to the plate," added Townsend.
"I found being a naval officer to be an opportunity for me to do something I could brag about to my brother and sister."
After graduation, the Toledo, Ohio, native reported to guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72). Upon arrival, the ship's weapons officer asked if he wanted to be the ship's VBSS boarding officer. Townsend immediately accepted the job and began all the necessary training to become fully qualified.
"Leading a VBSS team in the Combined Task Force 151 mission is exciting and scary at the same time," explained Townsend. "You always wonder what is next, but you never actually know what you are getting into."
As the ship's boarding officer, Townsend ensures Mahan's VBSS team is ready to execute the mission when called upon -- like on Feb. 12 when it worked with the USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) VBSS team to apprehend pirates.
The responsibilities require constant training, keeping up with the latest intelligence and incessant coordination.
"By no means do I do this alone," added Townsend. "I've got a great chief and a well-trained team to make it happen."
Mahan has been part of Combined Task Force 151 since its establishment in January. CTF 151 is a multinational task force conducting counterpiracy operations to detect and deter piracy in and around the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Red Sea. CTF 151 was established to create a lawful maritime order and develop security in the maritime environment.
This deployment marks the first its kind for the ship's boarding team.
"I think the 151 mission is definitely applicable to the bigger picture due to the fact that we protect a great amount of the world's trade coming through the Gulf of Aden," said Townsend. "Naval forces operating under this task force contribute greatly to the support of our maritime strategy."
He said his father's speeches on leadership and his experiences on the grid iron helped prepare him for this mission.
"Eventually, my father's speeches on leadership started to make sense, and I still follow his advice today," said Townsend. "I think the most important part of my upbringing that has helped mold me as a leader today is my parents' unyielding support for their children.
"My parents' support was not always appreciated, but I must say I am very thankful for it today."
For more news from Combined Task Force 151, visit www.navy.mil/local/CTF-151/.