In August 2010, Donald "Tripp" Abernathy was sweating through two-a-days preparing to play his final year of football at Adairsville High School.
Fast forward eight years and U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Donald "Tripp" Abernathy is participating in a critical NATO ballistic missile defense mission aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook off the coast of Rota, Spain.
Abernathy, a hull maintenance technician, is responsible for all metal fabrication and welding as well as pollution control systems aboard the Cook and three other destroyers that are permanently based in Rota as part of the NATO ballistic missile defense system.
None of that is particularly surprising to Norman Parker, his former youth football coach.
"Tripp was a leader even at an early age," Parker remembered. "He always fit the military profile — clean cut, disciplined — just a fine young man."
And he was a fine athlete, Parker said.
"He played defensive back and quarterback for the Adairsville Tigers," he recalled. "He even earned a football scholarship somewhere — I can't remember where."
But military service runs in the family and Abernathy chose the Navy over college. He said he is honored to carry on that family tradition.
“My godparent Graham Allen served more than 30 years with the Army and Air Force,” he said. “He inspired me to take advantage of the opportunities and live every moment to its fullest.”
Abernathy took advantage of those opportunities, achieving the rank of petty officer first class within five years of service as well as receiving two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals.
Guided-missile destroyers are armed with tomahawk cruise missiles, advanced gun systems, close-in gun systems and long-range missiles to counter any threat to friendly forces posed by manned aircraft, anti-ship, cruise and tactical ballistic missiles.
They are deployed globally and can operate independently or as part of carrier strike groups, surface action groups or amphibious readiness groups. Their presence helps the Navy control the sea, a vital necessity. Sea control is the necessity for everything the Navy does. The Navy cannot project power, secure the commons, deter aggression or assure allies without the ability to control the seas when and where desired.
Life on a guided-missile destroyer is a busy one, full of specialized work, watches and drills, which instills accountability and toughness and fosters initiative and integrity, says a Navy press release. And, as a member of one of the Navy’s most relied upon assets, Abernathy and other USS Donald Cook sailors know they are a part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes.
"Serving in the Navy has allowed me to lead sailors of diverse backgrounds in some of the most demanding situations,” said Abernathy.
Still, living near a Spanish beach has had its rewards too.
"My favorite part about serving in Spain is visiting historic Roman structures," he said, "and the opportunity to visit ports throughout Europe and the Mediterranean.”