By USS John C. Stennis Public Affairs
USS JOHN C. STENNIS (At Sea) – With less than 500 residents, the village of Holland Patent may not look like much on a map, but it is more than the sum of its population.
It is more than its .5 square mile radius or the land grant for which it was named. For the commander of the John C. Stennis Strike Group, the small village in upstate New York is simply, and forever, home.
When fully manned, the John C. Stennis Strike Group has a population of more than 7,500 men and women. That is more than 15 times the total population of Rear Adm. Ron Boxall’s hometown, but Boxall credits his village with teaching him lessons he uses daily.
“Growing up in a small town helped shaped who I am today,” said Boxall. “It sounds contradictory, but when you grow up in a small town you learn to meet a lot of people. You have to learn how to not only get along with everyone but also how to motivate them.”
Attending Pennsylvania State University on a four-year Navy ROTC scholarship, Boxall motivated himself through his interest in the recently added computer science degree. It was the first year Penn State offered the curriculum and Boxall was hooked.
“I was definitely passionate about computer science,” said Boxall. “I remember my friend’s mother had a computer, and another friend of mine and I used to program it. I thought, ‘this is definitely the wave of the future’ and it drove me to learn about the field.”
After he graduated, Boxall was commissioned as a pilot but switched to the surface warfare community due to medical reasons. It was as a SWO where his computer science background proved beneficial.
“The great thing about a general science degree is that it gave me a broad basis of science knowledge,” he said. “Computers are a lot different now than when I started, but the logic thought train is very similar. So when I switched to the surface warfare side I naturally drifted to combat systems.”
Since joining the Navy in 1984, Boxall has served in various commands, but his success as commander of two Aegis ships, the cruiser USS Lake Erie (CG 70) and the destroyer USS Carney (DDG 64), sticks out because it reminds him of his lessons learned at home.
“I learned that my job as a commander was less about Aegis and combat systems and more about the people,” said Boxall. “It goes back to what I learned growing up in Holland Patent. You don’t have the opportunity in a small town to pick who lives there, and you don’t have the opportunity on a ship to pick who shows up, so you have to communicate and learn what motivates people.”
He is no longer the same young man in a small town or in command of Aegis ships, but Boxall said he intends to bring the same small-town mentality to the John C. Stennis Strike Group.
“Integration of a strike group is a very complex thing,” said Boxall. “You have incredibly modern technology, but a lot of it is developed in stovepipe. My job is to get everyone talking, to have everyone understand what each other needs and to try to communicate that up and down the chain of command.”
As the commander of Stennis’ strike group, Boxall leads Sailors aboard one aircraft carrier, two cruisers, eight destroyers and more than 60 aircraft from 10 different squadrons. With such a large command, accomplishing any single mission is challenging yet Boxall continues to focus on the human element.
“If you worry about what your people need to be successful, then they will work very hard for you,” said Boxall. “I value the opinions of our Sailors and if a decision is made that does not sit well with your enlisted, then it does not sit well with me.”