PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – When one member of Paktika Provincial Reconstruction Team joined the U.S. Navy as a submarine culinary specialist, an engineering shop in a land-locked country was the last place he expected to be.
U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Neng Yang, a culinary specialist who was born and raised in Sheboygan, Wis., found himself somewhere unexpected when it came to his Afghanistan deployment.
“I worked on a nuclear submarine, the USS Pennsylvania SSBN 735, being a day-cook to night baker,” Yang said.
Yang may be a fish out of water, but according to his supervisor, U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Bill Evans, PRT engineering officer-in-charge, from Pensacola, Fla., Yang is excelling in his new position at Forward Operating Base Sharana, Afghanistan.
“Like myself, he was brought into this office with no training or directly relevant experience,” Evans explained. “Given a task, he repeatedly reads into the ‘why’ and expands the results to include more than what was originally requested.”
Evans described how Yang immersed himself in documents regarding the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, which allows commanders to easily access funds for humanitarian initiatives.
“Yang is the circulatory system of the department,” Evans said. “We rely wholeheartedly on him managing things behind the scenes.”
Yang said his natural tendency to dive into the nuts and bolts of CERP documentation may stem from his attention to detail when it comes to managing limited ingredients for everything from bread and dessert to full-course meals.
“Onboard a submarine with only about seven cooks, we don’t have a lot of premade food so most of the food is made from scratch.”
Not only is Yang performing outside of his career field, but he is also working a position intended for two people of higher rank.
“My job involves a lot of paperwork and CERP management,” Yang said.
Regardless of the specific task at hand, Yang said he knows what hard work is all about from the demanding schedule he adhered to as a submariner.
“The cook schedule for underway [a submarine patrol] is 12 hours on watch, 12 hours off, while the rest of the crew is six hours on, 12 hours off,” Yang said. “Being a submariner, everyone has to learn and qualify on submarine.
“I took a little over a year, but by the time I was done, I knew more about the boat than half the crew,” he continued. “Overall, I have done three strategic deterrent deployments in three years, and this deployment is going to be my fourth deployment going into four years.”
Yang said his work ethic stems from his background.
“I grew up poor since my mom and dad were immigrants from the Vietnam War,” Yang recounted. “I was heading toward the wrong life as I was growing up, but I turned over to a new life once I started engaging in church more.”
At that turning point in his life, Yang said he decided to live life not for himself, but for others as a missionary. He realized he needed a college degree to become a missionary and decided the Navy was the best route.
Slated to start school in the fall at Crown College in Saint Bonifacius, Minn., Yang will be on his way to that college degree and ultimately, to becoming a missionary by way of culinary specialist and makeshift engineer.