Finding Family



“I think we’re related!”

     Damage Controlman Fireman Norman Sanders showed up on Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Justin Ailes’ figurative doorstep one afternoon in the Media work center aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) to proclaim this revelation of relation.

     “We’re related?” asked Ailes.

     Sanders began to trace their lineage and the two, otherwise, strangers traveled down the winding road of their family tree’s roots.

     TR Sailors such as Ailes and Sanders do what they can to stay in touch with their families despite intermittent emails, costly phone calls and the thousands of miles in between.

     “One day I got a Facebook friend request from a woman I did not know, but her last name was my last name,” said Ailes. “I’m cautious with social media, so I didn’t accept it. So [Sanders] explained to me that there was a photo taken of me and the XO [Capt. Jeff Craig, TR’s executive officer] doing our radio show and when it was posted to the TR’s Facebook page, this woman who had reached out to me saw it. It was his aunt.”

     A stay-at-home mom, Sanders’ aunt decided she would spend her free time researching their family roots. She tracked down her elusive family, and when she browsed through TR’s Facebook page she saw the Ailes surname. She knew she was onto something and started connecting the dots, said Sanders.

     “My mom shared and tagged me in this photo,” said Sanders. “I didn’t think anything of it.”

     The photo was taken during XO’s first radio show, which covers the ship’s upcoming events and U.S. news. No one could have guessed that the platform would open the doors to a small but powerful family reunion.

150501-N-ZF498-020 ARABIAN GULF (May 1, 2015) – Captain Jeff Craig, the executive officer of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71)  and Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Justin Ailes host a weekly radio show. The radio show informs sailors of upcoming events, world news and regulations, as well as plays classic rock. Theodore Roosevelt is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations conducting maritime security operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Anthony N. Hilkowski/Released)


     Sanders only discovered what happened when his aunt messaged him after his mom shared the photo. He said he freaked out at first when his aunt said someone on the ship is related to him, but Sanders was determined to find his long lost cousin.

     “My first impression of him was that he was definitely an Ailes,” said Sanders. “I could just tell. All the Ailes have such a great personality. They’re so open to everybody. When I heard he was doing the radio show, I wasn’t surprised at all. I could see how he’d be perfect for that kind of thing.”

     “So we started talking and figured out that we are fourth cousins,” said Ailes. “We share the same great-great-grandfather, George Henry Ailes, a person I’ve never met or heard of. So the irony of it, that we would grow up very close to each other and have never met, only to wind up on the same ship. It’s awesome.”

     Ailes grew up in a small town named Twelve-Mile, Indiana. Sanders, just an hour and a half drive north, grew up in Portage, Indiana. Interestingly enough, even Ailes’ wife grew up in Portage.

     “The first thing I did was email my brother. I told him, ‘You’re never going to believe this,’” said Ailes. “Then I wrote my wife. I told her, ‘Hey, this is crazy, but I have a fourth cousin on this ship.’ Out of some 5,000 people on this ship, one is related to me.”

     The irony does not stop there. Ailes originally enlisted as a hull maintenance technician; an engineer, just like Sanders.

     “I was around some very tough, very salty, old-school Sailors who taught me a lot about the engineering, firefighting, and damage control side of the house,” said Ailes. “But they also taught me a lot about integrity; what it truly means to be a Sailor and [how] to take care of your people. As much as we didn’t see eye-to-eye on things, we were a very tight group; a very cohesive unit.”



    Sanders instantly felt a bond through their brief conversations, and both look forward to connecting more dots and getting to know each other.

     “We engineers try to stick together,” said Sanders. “We make fun of each other all the time, but we have an understanding of each other, and we work hard together.

     “It’s so great to have family out here,” Sanders added “I mean, we’re very distant in the family tree, but we’re still family. It doesn’t make [deployment] as hard; having to be away from everyone back home. It’s nice to have someone out here with you.”

     Theodore Roosevelt is the flagship of the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group (TRCSG), which is composed of Carrier Strike Group 12, Carrier Air Wing 1, Destroyer Squadron 2 staff, the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60) and the guided-missile destroyers USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81), USS Farragut (DDG 90) and USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98).
     Roosevelt is deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, strike operations in Iraq and Syria as directed, maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the region.


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