Former principal recalls Lt. Steven D. Hopkins, Navy officer presumed lost at sea
By LUCINDA HOLT | Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Texas (Tribune News Service) | Published: August 8, 2017
Before U.S. Navy Lt. Steven D. Hopkins joined the military, to his former principal he was a bright-eyed young man at Lubbock High who worked hard at setting the foundation for his future.
Doyle Vogler — now an associate superintendent at Lubbock ISD — spoke of Hopkins as an ambitious student, enrolled in advanced classes while participating in the school’s NJROTC program before graduating in 2005 and embarking on his career in the Navy.
“He was in ROTC,” he said, “and that sets them up if they want to go into the military after high school, and then especially in leadership roles. The other piece of it is, for him to be not only ROTC but taking a full load of advance courses, I think that speaks volumes about what his future was going to look like.”
Over the weekend, the Associated Press reported that the Navy has ended the search for a sailor who is believed to have gone overboard during operations in the South China Sea.
The Navy Times publication would later confirm the sailor was Hopkins — a Texas native who received his commission at The Citadel in 2009.
The sailor from the guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem, based in Yokosuka, Japan, was reported missing and assumed overboard Aug. 1, having reported to the Stethem only a month before.
Vogler expressed his condolences as he said he had nothing but great things to say about the young man who used to shake his hand every morning.
“I know this has to be very hurtful just not knowing exactly where he is possibly, and those kinds of things,” he said, “but I also want to say our thoughts and prayers go out to (his family and friends), and knowing that he served our country in that role is unbelievable. Again, when you deal with students like this and know that they’re in the military, you know we’re a safe country when you have people like Steven fighting for us.”
A statement on Friday said U.S., Japanese and Chinese navy vessels and aircraft spent 79 hours searching roughly 10,000 square miles of the South China Sea west of the Philippines, demonstrating what it called “the common bond shared by all mariners to render assistance at sea.”
Rear Adm. Charles Williams, the commander of Task Force 70, offered his prayers for the sailor’s loss and thanked all those who participated in the search, which included aircraft from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Ship JS Izumo, JS Sazanami and two People’s Liberation Army Navy frigates, in addition to U.S. assets.
China, which claims virtually all of the South China Sea, accused the U.S. in July of trespassing in its waters when the Stethem sailed within 12 nautical miles (32 kilometers) of Triton Island in the Paracel islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.
The operation was aimed at affirming the right to passage and challenging what the U.S. considers China’s excessive territorial claims in the area. China sent ships to intercept the destroyer.
China has strongly objected to repeated freedom of navigation missions by the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea, where Beijing has rattled neighbors by constructing seven made-man islands in the disputed waters and fortifying them with radars and missiles.
Task Force 70 commander Rear Adm. Charles Williams issued a statement to the Navy Times in reference to Hopkins’ disappearance, which remains under investigation.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with our lost shipmate, their family, and the officers and crew of USS Stethem,” he said.