KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — From Gatlinburg to Japan, the Navy has taken Neel Patel across the world.

The Gatlinburg native graduated high school in 2017. He joined the Navy in 2022 and now he serves as an operations specialist aboard USS Ralph Johnson.

“I joined the Navy for financial aid for college and because my family members had a dream that I would join the Navy,” said Patel.

Patel serves in Japan as a part of the Forward Deployed Naval Forces. This naval force works with allies and partners “to preserve a free and open Indo-Pacific region” according to a release from the Navy.

“I learned the importance of having discipline in Gatlinburg,” said Patel.

The ship he is stationed on is a part of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, which has the largest area of responsibility in the world.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson (DDG 114) in the Philippine Sea on 12/21/2020 (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Markus Castaneda)

“As the largest force in our nation’s front line against revisionist actors, U.S. Pacific Fleet meets this great responsibility with strength, resolve and confidence,” said Adm. Samuel Paparo, U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander. “Together with our joint and combined partner operations, we are positioned to defend – across all domains – any attempts to threaten our nation, our allies and partner’s security, freedom and well-being.”

Patel shared that as he continues to train and perform missions, he takes pride in serving his country.

“Serving in the Navy means that I am part of something way bigger than me,” added Patel. “I feel I am part of serving the country that has helped me. The country adopted me and now I’m doing my duty to give back.”