El Cajon native serves aboard USS Donald Cook
SPECIAL TO THE EAST COUNTY CALIFORNIAN
A 2012 Granite Hill High School graduate and El Cajon, California native is serving on USS Donald Cook, living and working at a Navy base in Rota, Spain.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Xochitl Eckley is a surface sonar technician on the Rota, Spain-based ship. Rota is located near the Strait of Gibraltar, the entryway into the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean.
“I use equipment to do underwater surveillance and look for submarines,” said Eckley. “I think it is fun and interesting because I enjoy oceanography. It is almost like playing a puzzle game.”
USS Donald Cook is 505 feet long, almost the length of two football fields. The ship is 66 feet wide and weighs more than 9,200 tons. Twin gas-turbine engines can push the ship through the water at more than 30 mph.
USS Donald Cook is an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer that has been outfitted with an Aegis ballistic missile defense capability that enables the ship to conduct long-range surveillance, tracking, and engagement of short and medium-range ballistic missiles. Only 15 other destroyers in the Navy have been outfitted with the Aegis BMD system.
As a sailor with numerous responsibilities, Eckley said she is learning about herself as a leader, sailor and a person.
“The Navy has helped me become more mature,” said Eckley. “I joined right out of high school and have become more responsible and have been introduced to the world.”
USS Donald Cook was commissioned in 1998 and is named in honor of U.S. Marine Corps officer and Medal of Honor recipient Donald Cook; a Vietnam prisoner of war who died in captivity.
With approximately 30 officers and 250 enlisted comprising the ship’s company, jobs are highly varied which keeps the ship mission ready — this includes everything from washing dishes and preparing meals to handling weaponry and maintaining the propulsion system.
Eckley also said she is proud of the work she is doing as part of the Cook’s crew, protecting America on the world’s oceans.
“I enjoy the opportunity to travel,” Eckley explained. “I have been to quite a few countries. I have seen many places that not everyone gets to visit.”
Assigned to U.S. 6th Fleet, USS Donald Cook sailors are on watch throughout the European region and are important assets supporting President Obama’s European Phased Adaptive Approach to enhance the security of that area of the world from ballistic missile threats originating in the Middle East.
In addition to USS Donald Cook, two other BMD capable ships are forwarded deployed in Rota: USS Porter and USS Ross. A fourth, USS Carney, will arrive in the fall. Having four destroyers based in Rota gives the U.S. 6th Fleet flexibility to send these ships to a variety of locations for a range of missions, while at the same time providing a large umbrella of protection for European allies.
“Our Navy presence has to be where it matters and we have to be there when it matters. I am so proud and amazed by the knowledge Cook sailors display and the work they do every day,” said Cmdr. Charles E. Hampton, the ship’s commanding officer. “Their professionalism, motivation and commitment to the Navy are genuinely inspiring.”
In addition to missile defense, the forward-deployed, BMD-capable destroyers conduct a myriad of tasks that include the full range of maritime security operations, bilateral and multilateral training exercises, and NATO operations and deployments.
Destroyers are one of the most versatile ships. Fast, maneuverable, and technically advanced, they provide the required war fighting capabilities and operational flexibility to execute multi-mission evolutions such as surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare and anti-air warfare. USS Donald Cook can operate independently or as part of carrier strike groups, surface action groups, amphibious ready groups, and underway replenishment groups.
As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most versatile combat ships, Eckley and other USS Donald Cook sailors know they are part of a forward-deployed naval forces team that is heavily relied upon to help protect and defend America on the world’s oceans.
“After a deployment, I feel like I’ve achieved something that not a lot of people can do,” said Eckley. “You are away from land for days at a time where you see nothing but water. But it is pretty cool.”