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NEWS | Dec. 28, 2023

Dynamic duo propels Navy to new heights

By Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Keyport

When Eric Ayangco and Roy Carter first met as middle schoolers 17 years ago, they were just regular kids who happened to live along the same potholed dirt road in an unassuming neighborhood on the U.S. island territory of Guam.

Little did they know of the remarkable journey that lay ahead, one that would see them leave Guam to explore the world together, serve in the United States Marine Corps together, return to Guam together and eventually forge prominent civilian careers within the U.S. Navy together.

Nor could they have guessed they would one day become such an amazing team that their coworkers at Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division, Keyport’s Guam On-Site Office—where they currently work as electronics technicians—would come to call them the detachment’s dynamic duo.

They never imagined they’d one day be where they are now—and yet, here they are.

Opposites attract:
The duo’s unlikely beginnings

Ayangco says looking back he finds it surprising that he and Carter became friends, given how little they had in common beyond living in the same neighborhood, riding the same school bus and sharing the same circle of friends.

Carter agrees. “Eric and I are totally different, almost like black and white in terms of our personalities and as people in general,” he said. “Growing up, I was probably asked a few times, 'How are you friends with that kid?'"

The differences were stark indeed: Carter was a reserved, introverted straight-A student; Ayangco was outgoing and assertive, with a more relaxed attitude toward school. Carter loved sports, Ayangco cars. What brought them together was a shared dream of serving in the military and seeking opportunities beyond those available to them on Guam.

True to the adage that opposites attract, the two would eventually become so close as to live parallel lives.

Battle buddies:
Leaving home to join the Marines

A lightbulb moment came for both young men when they joined the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps as high school freshmen during the 2006-2007 school year. Carter had already been gravitating toward the military, inspired by family members who had served. Ayangco was similarly inclined, and before long, both decided they wanted to enlist in the Marine Corps.

They joined straight out of high school in 2010, and their friendship deepened when they became battle buddies during their early days as poolees. It deepened further as they underwent the intense physical and mental training of boot camp and Marine Combat Training together.

“We went from a small island to a big, vast place with nobody we knew other than each other, so we really looked out for and supported each other,” said Carter. “Boot camp was really tough, and so was combat training. There were times when I felt like I was going to fail, and just having him there pushing me through made it that much easier.”

Ayangco shares this sentiment: “Our friendship became more of a true friendship, like best friends, once we both enlisted,” he said. “It became more like me and him against the world, because of the hard experience we went through. It was our first time leaving home. It was kind of scary, to be honest. But I knew it was going to be okay because I wasn't doing it alone.”

But when it came time for them to leave for their respective follow-on trainings—Ayangco choosing communications and Carter aircraft avionics—they found themselves going it alone for the first time in their lives.

Their separation was prolonged when Ayangco was assigned to Camp Kinser in Okinawa, Japan, and Carter to Air Station Miramar in San Diego, California.

During their time apart, Ayangco become absorbed in his work as a ground radio repairman, and Carter became equally wrapped up in helicopter mechanic work. Both quickly proved themselves as versatile, highly capable technicians eager to learn and seek out new challenges. Both earned numerous accolades and eventually attained the rank of E-5 (sergeant).

They wholeheartedly embraced the Marine Corps’ ethos, especially its work ethic.

“A key lesson from one of my staff sergeants was to always ask for things to do,” said Carter. “Once you're done with a job, don't just sit around and wait for somebody else to tell you what to do. Always look for another job to do.”

They were so busy they lost touch for a while, and a couple of years passed before they saw each other again.

Making a Deal:
Forging a partnership beyond the Marines

Their serendipitous partnership as Guam OSO’s dynamic duo might well never have happened, given that they were initially planning to go their separate ways after the service. But all that changed during a fateful talk at a park in southern California in 2014.

They met up in California following Ayangco’s reassignment to Camp Pendleton—a short drive from Carter at Air Station Miramar—and Carter’s return to Miramar from a tour in Afghanistan. Much had changed since they’d last seen each other, not least that Ayangco was now a husband and father, having met, married and had a daughter with a fellow Marine he’d served with in Okinawa.

Despite the passage of time and the changes they’d both undergone, their bond was as strong as ever and they immediately slipped back into old habits. “It was like we’d just been together yesterday,” said Ayangco.

But they soon realized they were at a crossroads. Both were nearing the end of their initial four-year contracts with the Corps, and thus they had to decide whether or not to reenlist. Their decision not to do so was driven by a shared desire to focus on family, Ayangco wanting to be there for his first-born child and Carter for his ailing father.

Leaving the Marines was especially difficult for Ayangco. “Once I finally made the decision, it actually broke my heart, because even my wife knew that I wanted to stay in, but it made things complicated,” he said.

As for the additional decision of whether to continue pursuing a shared life path or go their separate ways, there were powerful forces pushing them toward the latter. Ayangco needed to start working to support his family, and was thus considering a technician job at NUWC’s MK-30 operational site on Guam. Carter wanted to go to college, and given the much more limited educational opportunities available on Guam, this meant staying on the U.S. mainland for at least the next few years.

The turning point came when the two “kind of made a deal,” in Ayangco’s words. It was he, ever the initiator, who proposed this deal during their talk at the park.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if we were able to work together again?” he suggested. “Joining the Marine Corps together, going through all of these obstacles and reuniting here again in California and then leaving the military at the same time and going back home to Guam again? I was like, ‘What are the odds?’”

To the great benefit of Ayangco, Carter and the entire future NUWC community, the deal went ahead.

‘Where's the target?’:
Mastering the MK-30 learning curve

Armed with the technical skills they’d acquired during their time in the Marines, they applied for jobs as technicians with the Guam MK-30 operational site. Ayangco was the first to be hired, followed several months later by Carter, both as contractors.

MK-30 unmanned undersea vehicles are anti-submarine warfare training targets meant to simulate enemy submarines. Various platforms, including submarines, surface ships, planes and helicopters, are used to simulate attacks against the targets, with the goal of enhancing warfighters’ ability to detect, track and engage enemy submarines.

Neither Ayangco nor Carter had ever worked on anything like MK-30s before, and both were initially intimidated.

As Ayangco later recalled: “On my first day at work, the government lead pointed to the MK-30 and said, ‘That's a target.’ And I was so confused. I was still used to a paper target, where you put rounds down. And I was like, ‘I don't get it. Where's the target?’ And he kept pointing at the MK-30 and saying, ‘That's the target.’ I was like, ‘What? That's not a target. That's a torpedo.’ He goes, ‘That's not a torpedo. That's a target.’”

But the two quickly conquered the learning curve. Carter was especially well prepared for this new role, his prior training and experience in aircraft mechanics having given him the ability to “process things like a mechanic,” in the words of Guam OSO Site Manager Steve Jordan, a longtime mentor to both technicians.

For his part, Ayangco managed to convert from contractor to government employee and rise to the position of lead MK-30 technician within just a year, with Carter cementing himself as Ayangco’s right-hand man.

They were developing a system that continues to serve them well, according to Carter: “That's what makes our chemistry great, is we know our roles,” he said. “He tackles work and life as a leader, and I'm pretty much just there following his lead and supporting him as best I can. He always lets me know how appreciative he is that I'm there supporting him. He always has my back, and I always have his.”

Guam OSO had only a dozen employees, so the team was small and close-knit. Familiarity bred camaraderie, frequent cross-utilization among employees, and plenty of barbecues and other social gatherings outside of work.

This friendly work culture dovetailed beautifully with the communal spirit of Guam in general, described by Jordan as one of warmth and acceptance. “This is the only place I’ve ever lived where, within 10 minutes, you meet strangers on a beach and you’re eating their food and drinking their beer and you’re calling them Auntie,” he said. “That’s the culture. Everybody is accepted here.”

But despite Guam’s charms and Ayangco’s success at work, he and his family were struggling. Due to the loss of the housing stipend he’d enjoyed while in the Marines, he was unable to rent or buy a home and had to move his family in with his mother. Adding to the family’s stress was that Ayangco lacked health coverage during his initial year as a contractor, so he struggled to pay for the medical needs of their baby daughter. Additionally, his wife, who was from California, had a hard time adjusting to Guam’s slower pace and more limited amenities.

The situation grew so stressful that the Ayangcos considered returning to California—but, in true Marine spirit, they rallied and stuck it out.

Ayangco and Carter went on to master their MK-30 work at a speed far beyond the norm, according to Jordan, who attributes their meteoric progress to their extraordinary commitment and constant drive to learn.

“They don’t sluff off when things slow down—that’s when they kick into high gear,” said Jordan. “When there’s nothing else going on, they’re sitting there reading tech manuals. You’ll overhear Eric asking Roy technical questions like, ‘Hey, what would you do if this happened?’ […] Eric and Roy push each other; they look for things to learn.”

Over the years their exceptional skills and hard work enabled Guam’s shop to maintain consistently higher training completion rates than others.

Ayangco became one of NUWC Division, Keyport’s best MK-30 target technicians, and he and Carter came to mentor other technicians.

Joe Riffey, fleet liaison for NUWC, Pacific Detachment, Guam describes their mentorship style as one of positivity and approachability, where questions are encouraged and mistakes viewed as opportunities for growth rather than shame. “They make people feel comfortable,” said Riffey. “They make sure that you're okay to ask questions.”

But after seven years of working with MK-30s, Ayangco and Carter realized they needed a change. The challenges weren’t stressful enough anymore. “I’ve kind of always been searching for stress,” said Ayangco. “It keeps me sane.”

‘We took a chance on these two’:
Tackling SESEF

They got their wish when they were hired as technicians at Guam’s Shipboard Electronic Systems Evaluation Facility in 2022.

The facility, one of eight hubs worldwide for electromagnetic systems testing and evaluation for naval ships, opened in 2021 and primarily services 7th fleet assets in Japan, though it will support any Pacific asset upon request.

When Ayangco and Carter first came to SESEF Guam, it was as unfamiliar to them as MK-30s had once been, but they went ahead with characteristic aplomb.

“Roy and I didn't have any experience with SESEF or even know what it stood for,” said Ayangco. “So it was a new challenge. Very exciting. Something new, but also very nerve-racking.”

What made it all the more daunting was that this SESEF was still new, and Ayangco and Carter had been charged not only with learning its ropes, but with helping bring it to full operational capacity, with Ayangco serving as site lead. And they had to do this with no direct supervision, since their supervisor was stationed in Hawaii.

“We took a chance on these two,” said Jordan, adding that they went on to prove themselves as top SESEF technicians, just as they had quickly risen to the top in their MK-30 work.

“That career progression is pretty phenomenal,” said Jordan. “It’s not something you typically see. It takes 10 years to become a standalone SESEF technician, just because there are so many systems involved. And Eric and Roy are rapidly flying through those qualifications at a pace that’s not normal. I’ve never seen anybody completely change jobs and do it the way they did it together and continually do a phenomenal job.”

The time-tested method of Ayangco leading and Carter seamlessly supporting him once again bore fruit as the duo methodically outfitted the space with equipment, installed rooftop antennas and carried out various other tasks involved in bringing the facility fully online.

Their ability to obtain all the necessary equipment was especially impressive given the challenging logistics of acquiring even essential items on Guam, according to Maran Basuel, division principal engineer for Pacific Fleet Test Operational Assessment and a former supervisor of Ayangco’s. “Even getting phones and printers is pretty difficult out in Guam,” said Basuel.

Carter’s learning curve was somewhat steeper this time, due to the fact that his aircraft mechanic skill set didn’t lend itself quite as naturally to SESEF as it had to MK-30s. Still, he picked things up at a pace “well beyond what you would expect out of a normal first-time hire,” said Jordan.

His conversion from contractor to government employee happened a little more than a year ago.

Reflecting on all they’ve achieved during their time so far with NUWC, Jordan said of Ayangco and Carter: “They are our dynamic duo. These two literally share a brain. They finish each other’s sentences. For anybody who spends any time around them, it becomes obvious that they really are intertwined. If you see Roy, you’re going to see Eric, or vice versa. It’s the same entity, and it works really, really well.”

It works so well that the two have become, to quote Basuel, the “backbone” of Guam OSO, having played vital roles in building it up into what it is today.

‘Barbecue Weather’:
Rising above Typhoon Mawar

Ayangco says he and his coworkers on Guam are so used to dealing with fierce storms that a category 3 typhoon is jokingly shrugged off as “barbecue weather.” Thus he and Carter weren’t worried when, in late May 2023, a category 3 called Mawar started heading toward the island.

It was early morning and the skies were cloudy with a slight breeze and no precipitation, a scene the two would later come to call "the calm before the storm.”

Ayangco and Carter were tasked with securing both Guam OSO sites ahead of the storm. They were under a great deal of pressure to make sure SESEF was adequately protected, given its high value and the fact that it had never before been through a typhoon. It was just the two of them that day, so they knew their performance would be closely scrutinized.

“It was all eyes on us,” said Carter. “This was our first official typhoon since being here at SESEF, so we wanted to make sure that we didn't miss anything. We were very adamant.”

They placed sandbags around the doors, sealed windows and doors with duct tape, used electrical tape to weatherproof radio frequency cables and secured rooftop antennas.

They took particular care with the antennas, as these were costly, in some cases one-of-a-kind, and vital for day-to-day fleet support. They gingerly unbolted them, laying some down and fastening others to pedestals. When neither of these was an option, they placed antennas inside the building for protection.

They also shut off every piece of electrical equipment to prevent damage from power surges trigged by lightning strikes or sudden power failures.

Intensifying to a category 4, then a 5, Mawar hit Guam May 24, 2023. It caused immense damage across the island, defoliating trees, felling telephone poles, tearing roofs off buildings and uprooting vegetation. It passed over the island slowly, which Ayangco said he thinks prolonged its damage.

In the following days, widespread flooding ensued, along with shortages of necessities like water and power. Ayangco and Carter heard accounts of eight-hour-long lines at gas stations due to fuel supply disruptions.

Once the storm had passed the base, Ayangco and Carter were called back to conduct a site assessment. Gaining access was challenging due to debris, road blockages and the fact that the base was now completely without power, so the gates and turnstiles didn’t work.

Much to their relief, SESEF had emerged from Mawar with minimal damage thanks to their diligent preparation efforts. However, they needed to work fast to restore its power, since it was scheduled to conduct a critical ship test in just a couple of days. The ship was en route and had only a 20-hour window to conduct the test.

After much troubleshooting, they ultimately devised a way to power up the facility by bypassing the usual backup system—which had provided only partial power—and plugging directly into the main power supply.

Having managed to get SESEF back up and running in just 48 hours, and with just a couple of hours to spare before the ship would be entering their range, the two were elated. As Ayangco recalls: “Once we were able to bypass the system, we were jumping up and down like, ‘We did it! We did it! We can finally support the ship!’”

Carter said the ship’s crew was surprised they were able to go ahead with the test, given the extent of the damage and disorder afflicting the island as a whole after the storm.

He and Ayangco later received an On-the-Spot award for their exceptional dedication to safeguarding SESEF Guam against Mawar and promptly restoring its power in the storm’s aftermath.

To quote from the award nomination: “Without their dedication, SESEF Guam would not have been able to continue to operate and support Fleet testing and exercises.”

Lessons from the dynamic duo

Carter says he and Ayangco share an “inside joke” about the great success they’ve managed to achieve despite not having college degrees.

“We're pretty much the only ones in our families who don't have a [college] degree, but we're excelling in life compared to some [family members] who do have a degree,” said Carter, adding that he and Ayangco believe the true determinants of success in life aren’t degrees but hard work and proper mindset.

And, if their example is any indication, having a close, supportive friend—one with whom you can collaborate and reach heights well beyond what either one of you could achieve alone—certainly doesn’t hurt.

Indeed, Ayangco credits much of his success to Carter's unwavering support and friendship. “I could not have done it without Roy, to be honest,” he said. “He's had my back and been there for me. Day one, he supported my vision, and he's been really, truly a good friend.”


NUWC Division, Keyport provides advanced technical capabilities for test and evaluation, in-service engineering, maintenance and industrial base support, fleet material readiness, and obsolescence management for undersea warfare to expand America’s undersea dominance.