Oak Lawn native protects U.S. Navy Forces in Middle East
By Erica R. Gardner
Chief Mass Communication Specialist, Navy Office of Community Outreach
Photo By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jackson Brown
Lt. Cmdr. Erich Grawunder, an Oak Lawn, Illinois, native, joined the Navy to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
“My grandfather served in WWII and my father served aboard USS Independence and worked with naval aviation, specifically during the invasion of Grenada and the American intervention in Syria,” said Grawunder. “Growing up I heard a lot of sea stories. My earliest memories are of taking Navy fighter planes to show and tell and my favorite movie is Top Gun.”
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Now, 18 years later and half a world away at Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bahrain, Grawunder serves as the leading-edge of the Navy the nation needs.
“The exciting part is being in a fully operational environment where you get to see the first-hand planning operations for Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan,” said Grawunder. “It is a privilege to work with certain leadership most Americans only see on the news.”
Grawunder, a 2001 graduate of Oak Lawn Community High School, is a training officer at NSA Bahrain, forward-deployed to the Arabian Gulf region in the Navy’s U.S. 5th Fleet.
“As a Navy lieutenant commander I am responsible for directly leading 10 officers and overseeing over 800 personnel in the force protection or security of the following installations in the middle east: Naval Support Activity Bahrain, Cooperative Security Location Jebel Ali, and Cooperative Security Location Fujiarah,” said Grawunder.
Grawunder credits success in Bahrain, and in the Navy, too many of the lessons learned in Oak Lawn.
“I credit Oak Lawn Community High School as well as the Oak Lawn public library with giving me the foundation I needed to become a staff officer,” said Grawunder.
U.S. 5th Fleet directs naval operations to ensure maritime security and stability in the Central Region, which connects the Mediterranean Sea and the Pacific Ocean through the western Indian Ocean. They work with partner nations to ensure freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in international waterways.
NSA Bahrain enables the forward operations and responsiveness of U.S. 5th Fleet and allied forces in support of Navy Region Europe, Africa and Southwest Asia’s mission to provide services to the fleet, warfighter, and family.
The Navy’s U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations encompasses about 2.5 million square miles of ocean and includes the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean. This expanse, comprised of 20 countries, includes three critical choke points; the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab al Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen.
Serving in the Navy means Grawunder 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 the 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.”
Though there are many ways for sailors to earn distinction in their command, community, and career, Grawunder is most proud of being an officer in the Navy.
“This has been a dream of mine to be in the Navy and I am living my dream to the fullest,” said Grawunder.
As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most relied upon assets, Grawunder and other sailors know they are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes contributing the Navy the nation needs.
“Simply put, my service is living a childhood dream,” said Grawunder. “I could have told you when I was in kindergarten when I brought in model fighter planes for show and tell, that I would be joining the Navy.”