Like so many young men and women before him, Joe Vincent wanted to learn a trade and see the world as a sailor.
The Arizona sailor’s wish came true many times. During his 14 years in the U.S. Navy, the mass communications specialist deployed two times to the Persian Gulf, served an overseas tour with NATO near Brussels, developed into a proficient writer and photographer, documented many of the Navy’s training exercises at sea and on land including the warfighting associated with Operation Enduring Freedom.
After completing his last tour in Southwest Asia more than three years ago, Vincent returned stateside and reported to Naval Air Station Fallon in September 2014 to become the right-hand man for Zip Upham, the air station’s public affairs officer.
“Fallon has been my favorite duty station so far,” said Vincent, a Phoenix native who enlisted out of high school in 2003 shortly after the U.S. military stormed into Iraq but attended his basic and specialized training the following year.
Vincent said NAS Fallon has given him the opportunity to document and disseminate news on a multitude of activities that have occurred at the sprawling base southeast of Fallon. He has photographed active-shooter and earthquake drills, sailors jumping out of search and rescue helicopters during water-rescue exercises and news events such as change of command ceremonies. He loves the variety in his assignments and isn’t shy about letting former shipmates know about his current work in Nevada.
“I’d be on the flight line or in a helicopter, and I would take a photo of myself. Then I would say another rough day at the office,” he said, slowly forming a Cheshire cat grin.
Like his civilian counterparts, Vincent, though, relies on instinct and planning no matter how challenging the assignment as a Navy journalist. Because of NAS Fallon’s high profile and with the day-to-day operations at the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center, Vincent has met with visiting groups such as delegates from August’s American Legion national convention held in Reno, politicians who want tours and updates and inquiries from the national media. In 2016, a pair of F/A-18 Super Hornets crashed in two separate incidences, the first in January and the other in August. He said national media automatically seeks information on why the Navy lost a multi-million-dollar aircraft.
Although Vincent is in his early 30s, he seen much as a sailor. After graduating from both basic training and 10 weeks of advanced schooling at the National Geospatial Institute at Fort Belvoir, Va., he received orders for his first assignment: he was deploying aboard the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis to run the print shop for three years. Vincent said the print shop produced all the printed material for the Stennis, which included leaflet bombs, and he became editor of the ship’s daily newspaper, “The Statesman.”
Once he reported to the Nimitz-class, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, he and thousands of sailors left on a seven and a half-month deployment, arriving at its first port call — Dubai — after 62 days at sea.
“I was also sent to the USS O’Kane (a guided-missile destroyer in the carrier strike group) to cover their change of command,” Vincent said, adding he stayed on the smaller ship for six weeks. “On the O’Kane, I documented search and seizure in the Persian Gulf for contraband. I would document that from the deck of the ship.”
Vincent said being a 19-year-old on his first deployment was amazing. He visited locations he never would’ve toured as a civilian.
“I was really young and getting up close and personal,” he said of his photographic images. “It was humbling and awesome.”
Yet, it wasn’t the photographic duties that Vincent remembers the most.
“You will never beat the night sky at sea on a destroyer,” he added.
Vincent also experienced the ongoing tension between the United States and Iran, especially when the Stennis sailed through the Strait of Hormuz between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. The Strait of Hormuz, considered a strategic choke point in the region, provides the only sea passage from the open ocean to the Persian Gulf. Every time the Navy sends a ship through the strait, Vincent said Iran wants to know what the ship and its crew are doing.
“During transit, the MCs (mass communications specialists) would document any encounter,” Vincent explained. “Small boats would come near us and we were buzzed by Iranian P-3s.”
Vincent added the transit lasted up to 10 hours, a time that continually tested sailors.
In between sea duty, Vincent received orders to report to NATO headquarters near Brussels from January 2008 to September 2011. He began his duty assignment as a print reproduction technician but because of his prior experience on the Stennis, he ran the print shop and did graphic design. Being stationed in Belgium also gave Vincent the opportunity to travel around Europe in three years.
“I saw a lot of Europe, but I never made it the United Kingdom,” he said. “The pound was too strong to the dollar.”
After his NATO tour, Vincent learned he was being assigned to the USS George HW Bush, one of the fleet’s newest aircraft carriers that was commissioned in 2009. On the Bush, Vincent deployed two different times to the Gulf.
“I had a traditional journalist’s job. My people were documenting day-to-day activities, putting out a paper and any other projects we had,” he said.
An aircraft carrier has been described as a small city with more than 5,000 sailors and aviators on it. Because of that, Vincent said the Bush had four sections responsible for different mass communications activities. He said the photo shop documented most of the flight operations, the video section shot B-roll, the print section met the daily demands of the ship and the newspaper section produced a weekly newspaper.
When the Bush finished its first deployment and returned to its homeport of Norfolk, Va., Vincent spent the next nine months on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt working with sailors assigned to the print shop.
“We had four ‘first classes’ (MC1s) in our shop, and the Theodore Roosevelt was coming out of the yard after a period of a deep overall,” Vincent explained. “The Navy sent me to get the shop ready.”
Once Vincent completed his work, the Bush was ready to deploy again from Norfolk to the Persian Gulf and returned in November 2014. Vincent, though, had received his orders to report to NAS Fallon and left the Bush in August and arrived in Nevada the following month. Not only has Vincent excelled with his profession, but he wiggled in time to earn an associate’s degree and then a bachelor’s degree through the University of Maryland’s University College. Before he retires from the Navy, he would like to earn his master’s degree.
On the home front, he’s an involved husband and parent with three children ages 12, 8 and 4.
Time for Vincent has passed quickly. Vincent’s tour at NAS Fallon, though, is ending soon as he will report to the USS American — the first of the America-class amphibious assault ships — sometime in early 2018. Like any good sailor, however, he will report to a new assignment, but his heart will remain in the Nevada desert, the people at NAS Fallon, the PAO shop and Upham, who has been a steady mentor and supporter of Vincent’s professionalism and creativity.
“I love it here,” Vincent said, trying not to become philosophical about change. “If the Navy gave me the paperwork (to stay at NAS Fallon), I would sign it.”