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February 5, 2016 / iDriveWarships

Sailor of the Year, A Modern Tradition

12695581_10153952916680127_689111534_oThe U.S. Navy is full of time-honored traditions. Some have origins hundreds of years old while others are much newer. One of those newer traditions is that of the Sailor of the Year, or SOY, competition.

Established in 1972 by the Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo Zumwalt and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy John Whittet, the SOY program was intended to honor those Sailors at each command who best represented the ever-growing group of dedicated professionals who made up the Navy.

When the program began, only the Atlantic and Pacific Fleet Sailors were recognized, but within ten years the SOY program was expanded to include shore establishments and Navy Reserve Sailors.

Starting Sunday Commander Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet (SURFPAC) will welcome a select group of Pacific Fleet SOY winners for a week of events. These Sailors have gone through a rigorous selection process that began at their individual commands and may take them straight to the coveted rank of chief petty officer.

At the end of the year, every command selects a single SOY to represent the best of their crew. Through several more rounds of competition those winners are narrowed down to a select few. Eventually the top four SOYs from both sea-going and shore-based commands are selected to be finalists for the top Sea and Shore SOY awards. These four finalists are then invited to participate in SOY Week in recognition of those Sailors who best represent the large number of superior and dedicated professionals within SURFPAC squadrons and shore commands.

Participants will spend time engaging in command events and community outreach activities along with undergoing contestant board interviews. They’ll also attend a variety of personal and professional development sessions at SURFPAC headquarters.  While the week of events honors each finalist for their contributions it’s also an opportunity to evaluate their military bearing, professional performance, and leadership skills.

Winners from this round will face one more round of competition before being considered for either Sea or Shore Sailor of the Year for the entire U.S. Navy. Those two winners will then be promoted to chief petty officer.

Follow this week’s activities on the SURFPAC SOY website, and check back next week for a special blog announcing and introducing each of the eight Commander Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet 2015 SOY finalists.


January 29, 2016 / iDriveWarships

Year One Aboard USS San Diego: A Personal Reflection


Guest Post By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (SW/AW) Joseph M. Buliavac, USS San Diego Public Affairs


IMG959908 (2)Like many people, I tend to reflect on my life at the end of the year. This time around I focused almost solely on my time aboard my new ship.

In August 2014 I received orders to amphibious transport dock ship USS San Diego (LPD 22) to fill an independent duty billet.

I’d be the only photojournalist and public affairs specialist aboard the ship, and while this wasn’t necessarily new to me – I had done it temporarily in 2011 aboard USS Comstock (LSD 45) and at the Submarine Learning Center Detachment for the last two years – that didn’t mean I wasn’t nervous.

Finally, on Jan. 6, 2015 after three days of travelling, a group of my new shipmates and I touched down on the flight deck of San Diego in a pair of MV-22 Ospreys.

The next day I started learning my way around the ship, meeting the people in my division and my department, and getting settled into my new desk aboard my new ship. Within weeks I was comfortably doing my job, regularly taking pictures and writing articles.

I found the crew exemplified a “team first” attitude and quickly accepted me as well as the other Sailors I’d arrived with. Before long our hard work was being noticed, appreciated, and recognized.

On Feb. 25, 2015 we returned from the ship’s maiden deployment to our homeport of San Diego, but the work wasn’t finished yet. We had to complete an ammunition offload at Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach in April and later transit to BAE Systems’ San Diego Shipyard for an extended maintenance period in May. Both required long days and a continued “team first” attitude.


Before we left for Seal Beach, the ship was recognized with its second consecutive Battle Effectiveness (Battle “E”) Award for work done in 2014. San Diego and her crew would continue to be recognized and rewarded for their hard work throughout 2015. During the shipyard maintenance period I took pictures of multiple award ceremonies recognizing individuals for their accomplishments and perseverance, as well as promotion and advancement ceremonies.

As my first year aboard this ship comes to a close I can truly say that I’m happy I took these orders. While no job is perfect, I’ve been impressed with this crew almost everyday I’ve been on board. I’ve seen shipmates take care of each other, sacrifice for each other, and lend each other a hand on a regular basis. I would be lying if I said everyday on San Diego has been an adventure or a good day. It hasn’t. But I’ve had a lot more good days than bad days. I’m proud to be part of team San Diego.

January 22, 2016 / iDriveWarships

Great Green Fleet Sets Sail

Watch this video to hear SECNAV Mabus discuss the 2016 deployment of the Great Green Fleet


Wednesday marked a milestone in the U.S. Navy‘s mission to reduce dependence on traditional fossil fuels and increase energy efficiency when the Great Green Fleet (GGF) – comprised of Carrier Strike Group Three (CSG 3) – set sail following a ceremony on board Naval Station North Island.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack attended the ceremony, which concluded when CSG 3’s guided-missile destroyer USS Stockdale (DDG 106) departed for deployment followed by nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). The strike group also includes guided-missile destroyer USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110) and guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53), both of which departed San Diego Tuesday. Guided-missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93) will join them from Hawaii.


Each GGF biofuel-powered ship will operate on a blend of 10 percent biofuel made from tallow (rendered beef fat) and 90 percent petroleum. This fuel blend is “drop-in” certified which means it doesn’t require ships make any changes to existing equipment or procedure in accordance with Department of Defense policy. Policy also mandates that replacement fuels not require changes to current infrastructure in place for transporting and distributing fuel. Each ship in CSG 3 will also use energy conservation technologies and operating procedures, known as Energy Conservation Measures (ECMs), along with alternative energy during the group’s deployment to the Western Pacific.

The GGF is the result of a seven-year push by the U.S. Navy to deploy a CSG with renewable energy. The idea stemmed from energy goals SECNAV introduced in 2009 to reduce the Department of the Navy’s (DON) consumption of energy, decrease its reliance on foreign sources of oil, and significantly increase its use of alternative energy.

A year-long DON initiative, the GGF will demonstrate the utility of alternative fuels and the Navy’s efforts to transform its energy use to increase operational capability. Throughout 2016 Navy ships, aircraft, amphibious and expeditionary forces, and shore installations will participate by using ECMs, and/or alternative fuel during the course of planned mission functions worldwide.


The ultimate goal is to give Sailors and Marines an advantage that makes them better warfighters who are able to go farther, stay on station longer and deliver more firepower. Mabus has said it makes sense to give combatant commanders an alternative to fuels with variable prices and origins in countries that aren’t necessarily friendly to U.S. interests. Alternative fuels could also help provide another source of energy if there were disruptions in the fossil-fuel supply chain.

Just as President Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet helped usher in America as a global power on the world stage at the beginning of the 20th Century, the GGF will usher in the next era of DON energy innovation.

Check out this All Hands piece on the GGF

December 18, 2015 / iDriveWarships

Surface Navy Highlights of 2015


Over the past year America’s Navy has done great things. Every day in seas and cities around world, the work and presence of U.S. Navy Sailors makes a difference. They help ensure shipping lanes are open for commerce around the world and provide regional stability while promoting peace. They volunteer to build, clean, and paint. They mentor children. Many times they do these things quietly while other times their actions garner international attention, so as 2015 comes to a close, we’d like to recognize a few of these highlights.

The Surface Navy said hello to two new littoral combat ships (LCS), the USS Milwaukee (LCS 5) and the USS Jackson (LCS 6), and Neptune Warriorsaid goodbye to a number of other ships. USS Peleliu, USS Gary, USS Vandegrift, and USS Rodney M. Davis were all decommissioned. Of particular note was the decommissioning of the last Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate, USS Simpson. Besides being the last frigate in the Navy, she was also the last ship to have sunk an enemy vessel in action, aside from USS Constitution.

Before USS Gary decommissioned, she helped intercept a suspected narcotic trafficking vessel in international waters off the coast of Central America. The early March operation netted 5,200 kilograms, or roughly 11,464 pounds of drugs making it the largest seizure in the eastern Pacific Ocean since 2009.

USS Bataan (LHD 5) responded to a request for assistance, sending a search and 150325-N-SX614-109.JPGrescue helicopter crew to rescue two Turkish mariners from a listing ship run aground in the Aegean Sea March 8.

USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) rescued five Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea while on patrol in the Indo-Asian Pacific Region March 25.

Sailors assigned to USS Ashland (LSD 48) and Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit distributed relief supplies and assisted in relief efforts in Saipan after Typhoon Soudelor struck the island Aug. 2-3.

The modified Longbow Hellfire missile system, designated the Surface-to-Surface Missile Module (SSMM), proved successful during engineering development tests in June. SSMM will increase the lethality of LCSs and is expected to be fully integrated and deployed on them beginning in late 2017.

The Navy also participated in a number of international exercises and completed many USS Essex (LHD 2) Homecomingtraditional deployments, with ships like USS Anchorage, USS Essex, USS Rushmore, USS Chafee making it home just in time to share the holiday season with their families and friends.

This short list is not meant to be a full representation of all the wonderful things our Sailors have done this year, and is in no way meant to exclude anyone. As such, please feel free to add other highlights to the comments below.


December 11, 2015 / iDriveWarships

From Fire Control Officer to Warfare Tactics Instructor

WTI PhotoGuest Blog By: Lt. Douglas Wilkins, Warfare Tactics Instructor, Integrated Air and Missile Defense at the Center for Surface Combat Systems Detachment (CSCS) San Diego (Pictured above, right)

As I prepared to transition from sea to shore duty, I explored the opportunities available for my next tour. When I saw an opening for an Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) Warfare Tactics Instructor (WTI) at the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) it grabbed my attention. But I wondered, what’s a WTI?

I soon discovered a WTI (pronounced “witty”) is a new type of Sailor being trained by SMWDC to fulfill specialized roles within the Surface Warfare Officer community. Comparable to TOP GUN for naval aviators, these next generation surface warriors serve on ships and training staffs as the go-to force multipliers in Amphibious Warfare, Anti-Submarine/Surface Warfare, or Integrated Air and Missile Defense.

Once I contacted the IAMD WTI program managers, completed an application, and got my commanding officer’s recommendation, I received confirmation for the class and received one of the most detailed pre-test/read ahead documents I have ever encountered. This wasn’t just another course. This was going to be different.

Upon arriving for the 19-week course in Dahlgren, Va., I was immediately surprised by how small the class was; only 11 junior officers — ranging from lieutenant junior grade to lieutenant commander, were present. This course was clearly designed to be quality over quantity, and there was an obvious drive to ensure those present were the right Sailors to fulfill the duties of a WTI. Despite the rigorous selection process, neither success nor graduation was guaranteed.

By the end of our first day, it was clear that being physically present in this course was not enough to pass. We would truly need to dedicate our minds to succeed. Our days consisted of classroom lectures, seminars with Joint IAMD entities, hands-on experience in the Aegis Training and Readiness Center labs, and even a trip to the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center to learn from, and with, the aviation community’s WTI cadre. Our evenings were not spent as they would be at a “typical” school; after a quick dinner break, we would return to the classroom to study various combat systems’ capabilities and limitations, prepare doctrine and tactics projects, and most importantly, share ideas and challenge one another. The fact that the course cultivated a tactical environment enabling us to strive to become experts – and pushing the bounds of what we thought we knew about IAMD – truly set this course apart from others.

Whether participating in a Missile Defense Agency Fleet Engagement, a Fleet Synthetic Training Event, being underway for Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical training, or contributing to the future of the IAMD WTI program, I have truly enjoyed all the opportunities that have been afforded to me as an IAMD WTI.

Yet as satisfying as those experiences have been, nothing has been more rewarding than directly interacting with Sailors on the waterfront. Being out there — witnessing the advantages and necessity of this specialized warfare area-training program for junior SWOs, makes me even more proud to be a WTI.

For more information on SMWDC and WTIs, visit


December 4, 2015 / iDriveWarships

Remember Pearl Harbor

battleship row

Battleship row, day of the attack

Seventy-four years ago, just before 8 a.m. Sunday Dec., 7, 1941 six Japanese aircraft carriers, stationed 230 miles off Oahu, launched an array of aircraft intent on inflicting damage to American assets at Pearl Harbor, particularly to battleships, aircraft carriers, and parked aircraft. Oahu, home of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, was the largest concentration of U.S. forces in the Pacific with about 50,000 American troops. There were more than 90 ships at anchor when the attack began. Of the eight prime targets —the battleships – seven were moored at Battleship Row on the southeast shore of Ford Island, and USS Pennsylvania (BB 38) was in drydock just across the channel.

Unfortunately, the surprise and ferocity of the attack made launching ships and defensive aircraft nearly impossible. The first wave of assault lasted about half an hour followed by a short lull before the second wave of attack began. During that first assault a small number of planes were launched, and in the lull USS Nevada (BB 36) managed to get underway, despite being badly damaged. As she steamed through the channel toward the open ocean, the harbor control tower realized Japanese forces were trying to sink her, hoping she’d block the narrow entrance to Pearl Harbor. She was ordered to beach herself to keep the channel clear, which she did at Hospital Point.

USS Nevada steams through the channel

USS Nevada steams through the channel

In just under two hours, 21 Pacific Fleet ships were damaged or sunk: the battleships USS Arizona (BB 39), USS California (BB 44), USS Maryland (BB 46), USS Nevada (BB 36), USS Oklahoma (BB 37), USS Pennsylvania (BB 38), USS Tennessee (BB 43), and USS West Virginia (BB 48); cruisers USS Helena (CL 50), USS Honolulu (CL 48), and USS Raleigh (CL 7); the destroyers USS Cassin (DD 372), USS Downes (DD 375), USS Helm (DD 388), and USS Shaw (DD 373); seaplane tender USS Curtiss (AV 4); target ship (ex-battleship) USS Utah (AG 16); repair ship USS Vestal (AR 4); minelayer USS Oglala (CM 4); tug USS Sotoyomo (YT 9); and Floating Drydock Number 2. By happenstance, there were no U. S. carriers in port at the time of the attack, however, in addition to the ships that were hit, 188 aircraft were destroyed and 159 were damaged.


USS Arizona Memorial

Despite the wreckage, most of the damaged or sunken ships were repaired and back in service for the war within just two years. However, USS Arizona was considered too badly damaged to be salvaged and serves as a memorial to those lost.

The attack on Pearl Harbor not only united the nation and propelled it into World War II; it also made a lasting impact on U.S. Navy Sailors and the Pacific Fleet. In the years since the air raid, countless buildings have been named in honor of Pearl Harbor Sailors as a way to commemorate their actions during the attack. Sixteen individuals’ names have been bestowed on ships, with some being used multiple times. Undoubtedly each of those commands have inherited the fighting spirit of their namesake and connected us with our collective history. That link will continue when the future USS John Finn (DDG 113) is commissioned next year, 75 years after the date, which lives in infamy.


The future USS John Finn (DDG 113)


November 25, 2015 / iDriveWarships

USS Milwaukee Joins the Fleet

151121-N-HS500-078.JPGProduction is ramping up in the world of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program with 12 currently under construction. Saturday, USS Milwaukee joined the fleet as the U.S. Navy’s newest commissioned warship. In commemoration, here are seven things you might not know about the ship.

  • On Sept. 13, 2011, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus officially announced Milwaukee was chosen for the name of a future LCS. “In naming this proud ship USS Milwaukee, it is my intent to honor you, the hard working people of Milwaukee and all of Wisconsin, to honor your state, and to honor all you do to keep America strong,” he said.
  • Milwaukee is America’s fifth LCS and the third Freedom–class LCS. She was built at the Lockheed Martin shipyard in Marinette, Wisconsin just three hours north of her namesake city.
  • 151121-N-HS500-074Milwaukee is one of only a handful a naval ships to ever be commissioned in her namesake city, which is also in the state where she was built. Her ceremony was held in Milwaukee’s Veterans Park on Lake Michigan, where despite it being 20 degrees, snowy and windy, more than 4,000 people attended the ceremony.
  • Milwaukee is the fifth ship of the name in U.S. naval history and Milwaukee city Mayor Tom Barrett said at her commissioning, “This ship, which will be a tough ship, a gritty ship, a ship that fights back, and a ship that loves our nation is baring the right name at the right time.”
  • The ship’s sponsor Sylvia Panetta, wife of former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, called for Sailors to, “Man our ship and bring her to life,” before crewmembers boarded the ship and watchstanders took their positions.
  • A core crew of 40 Sailors will man the ship, though she’ll carry more when the full mission crew is on board.
  • Now that she’s commissioned and an active part of the Navy’s fleet of ships, she will sail to her new homeport, San Diego.

While we’re happy to help welcome USS Milwaukee to the fleet, her title of newest ship in the Navy won’t last long. In just a few weeks, the future USS Jackson (LCS 6) will be commissioned into service in a Dec. 5 ceremony in Gulfport, Miss.


MILWAUKEE — Nov. 21, 2015 — ADM Michelle Howard speaks during the commissioning of USS Milwaukee (LCS 5) November 21, 2015 in Milwaukee. USS Milwaukee, the third Freedom class littoral combat ship, is designed to operate in shallow and coastal waters throughout the world. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Christopher Lange)

151121-N-HS500-074MILWAUKEE — Nov. 21, 2015 — Sailors from the USS Milwaukee (LCS 5) stand in formation during the commissioning of the ship on November 21, in Milwaukee. USS Milwaukee, the third Freedom class littoral combat ship, is designed to operate in shallow and coastal waters throughout the world. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Christopher Lange)



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