America is, and always has been, a maritime nation. Today, just like centuries before, the oceans are the key to our influence, our security and our prosperity. As the global economy continues to expand and become more connected, the U.S. Navy, and specifically the Naval Surface Force’s ability to exert sea control when necessary – from the open ocean trade routes to the to the shallow littorals along continental coastlines, is vital to maintaining the free flow of goods over the world’s oceans and, ultimately, the economic stability of many countries. For the United States, with 25 percent of all U.S. jobs being directly or indirectly tied to global trade, sea control is a must.
That being said, the global maritime security environment has entered a complex time where threats to navigational freedom are being presented in a broad array – from low-end piracy to well-armed non-state militant groups, as well as sophisticated adversaries being determined, at times, to unlawfully rule certain regions and resources.
So given this shift in the environment, how do we achieve and sustain sea control when necessary to protect the oceans – the lifeblood of the interconnected global community?
This week, Commander, Naval Surface Forces, Vice Admiral Tom Rowden addressed this issue with Sailors and Marines Forces of the San Diego waterfront as he spoke to the merits of the recently released Surface Force Strategy. The strategy maps out Surface Forces’ return to sea control and provides more substance to the organizing and operating principle of Distributed Lethality.
“If you’re going to control the sea you’re going to do it with ships because ships bring capacity and capability. Existential threats to the United States of America are going to come from countries who are trying to control the sea,” said Rowden.
He began the conversation with a brief history discussion of how our current maritime environment was shaped – from the end of the Cold War to supporting the recent conflicts in the Middle East.
“By 1992, the Soviet Union has ceased to exist. It’s dissolved and all of their submarines, ships and aircraft were tied up to the pier. And so, almost overnight, we woke up and we had this thing that had eluded us for decades – we had sea control. We had it in the Eastern Pacific, the Western Pacific, in the Indian Ocean, in the Arabian Gulf, the Mediterranean. We had it everywhere,” said Rowden.
In the following decades, without an enduring threat to sea control, the U.S. Navy did what it does best, and that is to adapt to the strategic environment. Just as the visionaries of the ‘70’s saw that the Soviets could be pressured by offensive sea power, a new group of visionaries saw that the mobility, flexibility, and endurance of naval forces—compounded by the revolution in precision guided weapons—could act as a powerful enabler of the Joint, multi-domain fight.
“We were afforded the luxury of being able to shift our emphasis, shift our investments to power projection ashore. So, over the years, we adjusted the flight deck of our aircraft carriers quite appropriately. We adjusted the armament on our ships, we started to look differently at surface ships,” said Rowden.
While participating in a series of high-level war game exercises several years ago, Rowden realized that decades of deemphasizing sea control meant the fleet had concentrated the lethality of the force on to the flight decks of our aircraft carriers. Consequently, the opposing force in the exercise focused almost exclusively on trying to kill the aircraft carrier and end its power projection abilities. Rowden’s response to their efforts was to successfully distribute his force of Littoral Combat Ships and go on the offensive – using these ships in an unforeseen manner to attack the opposing combatant ships. This immediately changed the adversary’s strategy and how they operated their ships.
His success during the exercise may have been the genesis for a multi-year effort to develop the new Surface Force Strategy, as Rowden reconsidered how naval forces might be better employed.
“I asked myself ‘Why don’t we distribute the lethality of the force back to the Surface Forces, back to the sea control assets, in order to complicate the problem for the adversary with respect to how it is they’re going to execute operations at sea, and perhaps even more important for their government, force them to invest differently,’” said Rowden, “How do we do this? We came up with this great concept called Distributed Lethality.”
Could the U.S. Navy make adjustments to existing weapons systems to go on the offensive?
The short answer was yes – by modifying a number of defensive weapons to also serve an offensive purpose, retrofitting ships to handle those capabilities, and backfitting various current computing systems to work on older IT infrastructure to enhance their capabilities, the lethality of surface ships was quickly enhanced. These improvements force an adversary operating at sea to not only calculate for the capabilities of the aircraft carriers, but now also the enhanced offensive capability of all U.S. Navy warships at sea.
“Distribution of lethality is not necessarily about distributing the lethality of the force for the sake of distributing lethality. It’s distributing lethality of the force to enable sea control. That’s why the title of the Surface Force Strategy is ‘The Return to Sea Control.’ People read the strategy and they go, ‘Did we ever lose it?’ I don’t know. But we’re certainly facing more challenges,” said Rowden.
He explained that while surface ships will play a huge role in the Navy’s return to sea control they’re not the only players on our team.
“This is not all about surface ships. This is about the combined capability of submarines, aircraft, aircraft carriers, and warships and the men and women who operate them. This is about making everybody more lethal and understanding that we’re headed into a fight for sea control. It’s not about controlling all the sea, all the time. You need to control the sea, you need to control, for the amount of time you need to control it, and then relinquish control [at your choosing].”
Ultimately, the Surface Force Strategy was created to help the Sailors carrying out the sea control mission and Rowden intends to do everything within his power to ensure they are combat ready.
He told the crowd, “As we talk about the organizing principle of Distributed Lethality, as we talk about the return to sea control and the driving investments associated with that, we’re starting to see some big payoff. This is all about YOU and making sure you have the talent, the tools, the tactics, and the training in order to get the job done!”
By Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet Public Affairs
As the surface warfare community continues to evolve – leveraging new technologies and operating concepts in order to remain the world’s most effective, persistent, and resilient surface navy – we realize our greatest strength comes from being able to appropriately cultivate and focus the talents of our Sailors. Individually, each brings something unique to the fight; together, they enable all of our community’s many successes.
Recently, Surface Force leadership had an opportunity to meet with Chief of Naval Personnel staff for an annual Strategic Workforce Assessment. This review allows us to improve our understanding of community demographics, challenges, and workforce strategies, as well as help shape policy, strategy, and program execution. Ultimately, these assessments help us bolster the Navy’s inclusive culture and diverse team.
“I fully expect all levels of Surface Force leadership to recognize existing diversity biases and actively work to eliminate their influence on our ability to recruit, promote, and retain the best military and civilian warfighters,” said Vice Admiral Tom Rowden, commander, Naval Surface Forces, when addressing this critical personnel readiness issue.
An inculcation of the “power of diversity” across the surface enterprise throughout the last two decades has put the surface community on a positive path toward bringing real equality to the opportunities available for all in the surface fleet. Our 15-year trend of increased female accession, our 13-year trend of increased diversity for senior officers, and our 12-year trend of increased diversity throughout surface force enlisted ranks are all demonstrative of our commitment to recognizing and recruiting talent across the nation’s population.
With this information in mind, it is important for the surface community to create a culture that is welcoming, challenging, and rewarding for all – we must respect the fact that we are in competition with Fortune 500 companies to attract and retain talent.
In 2007, then Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Mullen issued guidance focusing on execution, in which he said, “Diversity is a leadership issue, and everyone is a leader. Through our communications, education, policies, programs and conduct, each of us must actively foster environments where people are valued, respected, and provided the opportunity to reach their full personal and professional potential.”
The surface community is proud of the work it has done to promote deserving mentors and role models for the young diverse talent entering the community. As an example, we have outstanding female role models serving throughout the Navy’s ranks; from the Navy’s highest-ranking woman, Admiral Michelle Howard wearing three leadership hats – as commander, Allied Joint Force Command Naples, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and commander, U.S. Naval Forces Africa – to all but two of our surface ships having female leadership in their chief petty officer ranks.
In the surface warfare officer ranks, the quality of leadership provided by the female contingent is extraordinary. In total we have three active-duty flag-level officers who have blazed a trail, and smashed a few stereotypes along the way – lodestars for so many behind them. And following not too far behind are the next generations of high-performance officers. We have 15 females currently serving as commanders-at-sea (and 11 more in fleet-up tours), 82 women selected for command-at-sea, 25 percent of year group 2008 being retained for department head roles, and year group 2016 being the largest female accessioning in the community’s history.
That being said, the entire surface force still has the responsibility to lean forward. We must address and overcome obstacles to allow surface Sailors to reach their full personal and professional potential. Particularly pertinent to the female ranks is the goal of achieving full integration across all platforms, demonstrating continued retention growth, and maintaining strong female enlisted khaki representation at all levels. The community has come a long way, but there is still much to be covered.
In his recently released strategy document, “Return to Sea Control,” Rowden puts heavy emphasis on managing, “the extraordinary talent that exists within our surface force with a view towards building depth, breadth, and experience for the future.” He goes on to say that “tomorrow’s challenges demand we engage the most creative and influential minds and attract and retain the best and most qualified people.”
Warfighting excellence in the surface fleet can only be optimized when we fully respect the dignity of every individual, incorporate their talent into our planning processes, and value the time and skills they invest with us. Diversity allows different viewpoints to be put on the table when addressing issues and promotes a culture of critical thinking. We demand a warfighting spirit; our Sailors deserve the proper resources, tools, and training necessary for mission accomplishment!
Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet (SURFPAC) recently announced the 2016 SURFPAC Sea and Shore Sailors of the Year (SOY) during a banquet at the Admiral Kidd Catering and Conference Center in San Diego.
During the banquet, Interior Communications Electrician 1st Class Brent Schermerhorn was named as the Sea Sailor of the Year and Aviation Structural Mechanic 1st Class Jason Robinson was declared the Shore Sailor of the Year. Schermerhorn serves aboard USS Preble (DDG 88) while Robinson is assigned to Assault Craft Unit Five.
“These amazing Sailors are the best at what they do, and were hand-selected by their commands,” said Vice Adm. Tom Rowden, commander, Naval Surface Force. “All the Sailor of the Year nominees represent the best of our nation both at home and abroad. Now they are in a position to be role models, to set an example, and to reach back and bring junior sailors up to the next level, and to make them Sailor of the Year material one day, too.”
The annual competition began with a field of more than 100 SOYs from sea and shore commands around the Pacific, with four selected from sea commands and four selected from shore commands to participate in the SOY week. During the week leading up to the banquet, all eight contestants and their spouses participated in a variety of local events and activities, interacting and learning from senior leadership and each other.
Their visits included trips to the USS Midway Museum and the San Diego Zoo.
The winners will now compete in Hawaii with other nominees to be named the U.S. Pacific Fleet Shore and Sea SOY. The top Sea Sailor will be eligible for meritorious promotion to chief petty officer and the Shore SOY will move on to compete in Washington, D.C., for possible designation as the 2016 Chief of Naval Operations Shore SOY.
The other finalists for the Sea and Shore Sailors of the Year were Personnel Specialist 1st Class Jeff B. Salguero, Naval Surface Force headquarters; Master-at-Arms 1st Class Anthony S. Puleo, III, Afloat Training Group Middle Pacific; Interior Communications Electrician 1st Class Don William Aukshun, Mine Counter Measures Squadron Three; Electronics Technician 1st Class Fidencio Castellanos, Littoral Combat Ship Crew 111; Logistics Specialist 1st Class Kristie L. Pierre, USS Dewey (DDG 105); and Personnel Specialist 1st Class Jery A. Vasquez, USS Sentry (MCM 3).
Some spirits simply can’t be broken. No matter the task at hand, and without regard for the impact on their own health and well-being, some people just get the job done. United States service members in receipt of the nation’s highest recognition of valor, the Medal of Honor, epitomize that unyielding drive.
With never-ending gratitude for their selfless actions, the U.S. Navy has honored many Medal of Honor recipients by making them namesakes for warships in the fleet. In the future, Surface Forces will operate a total of 28 warships with names memorializing moments of heroic sacrifice. Today we recognize three more of the upcoming additions: the future USS Michael Monsoor, the future USS Ralph Johnson, and the future USS Harvey C. Barnum Jr.
The future USS Michael Monsoor (DDG 1001) honors U.S. Navy Master-At-Arms Second Class (SEAL) Michael A. Monsoor. Posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for diving on top of a grenade, Monsoor saved the lives of two of his teammates during a battle with insurgents in Ar Ramadi, Iraq on Sept. 29, 2006. DDG 1001 is scheduled for commissioning into active service in calendar year 2017.
The future USS Ralph Johnson (DDG 114) honors of U.S. Marine Corps Private 1st Class Ralph H. Johnson. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for heroic actions during the Vietnam conflict. While under heavy attack from North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong forces on March 5, 1968, a grenade landed in the fighting position Johnson and two other Marines were defending. He immediately shouted a warning and hurled himself onto the grenade. Absorbing the blast, Johnson was instantly killed by the explosion.
The future Harvey C. Barnum Jr. (DDG 124) honors U.S. Marine 1st Lieutenant Harvey C. Barnum, Jr. On Dec. 18, 1965, in Vietnam, Barnum aided his mortally wounded Rifle Company Commander, took the radio from the deceased radio operator and, with the unit separated from the rest of the battalion, assumed command. He reorganized the men to replace the loss of personnel and led an attack on key enemy positions. Barnum repeatedly stood-up during
open gunfire to point out targets and maneuvered through enemy fire to control the attack, which ultimately led to the seizure of the battalion’s objective.
As times goes on, these U.S. Navy ships, named for our nation’s heroes, will come to life and travel the globe to help ensure peace and stability; their Sailors will collectively embody the spirit and drive to accomplish the tasks at hand–no matter the cost. Just like their ship’s namesakes.
This series returns in a few weeks as the Surface Navy recognizes the remainder of the Fleet’s Medal of Honor namesakes. Until then please visit our blog weekly to enjoy other great topics surrounding our U.S. Navy’s Surface Forces.
There are moments in the careers of U.S. Navy Sailors when they become part of something so moving, so sacred, that it imprints upon them forever. Helping say goodbye and putting to rest a shipmate, or their family members, during a burial ceremony is the epitome of such solemn moments; hearts weigh heavy with pride, sorrow, love and respect, whether they had a personal connection to deceased or not.
While many sea service members are buried in traditional funerals ashore, some families choose to show their respects through an at sea disposition, or burial, where the deceased’s intact body or cremated remains are committed to the ocean from the deck of a Navy vessel.
According to the Naval History and Heritage Command, burials at sea date back to ancient times and have been practiced for as long as people have set sail upon the seas. In these early times, the deceased was sewn into a weighted shroud, like heavy sailcloth, and in a very old custom, the last stitch was put through their nose. Once wrapped, and usually accompanied by an appropriate religious ceremony, the body was slid over the side of the vessel.
Today, eligibility for burial at sea is afforded to active duty service members, honorably discharged retirees, veterans, U.S. civilian marine personnel of the Military Sealift Command, and dependent family members of active duty, retirees, and veterans.
Although family members are unable to share the closing moments due to the ceremony taking place on operationally deployed ships, burials at sea performed on our Surface Force ships share many of the same elements found in funerals held ashore – ceremony participants usually wear their finest dress uniforms, fire three volleys, read eulogies and play taps in honor of the deceased. If requested, cremated remains are scattered into the sea. Otherwise, the casket or urn is gently slid overboard. Flowers or wreathes may also be tossed into the sea during the observance.
Shortly following the ceremony, the commanding officer of the ship will mail the next of kin a letter detailing the date and time of the ceremony, accompanied by any photographs or video of the committal, a commemorative flag (if applicable) and a chart showing the navigational location where the deceased was laid to rest.
John F. Kennedy once said, “All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea — whether it is to sail or to watch it — we are going back from whence we came.”
It’s no wonder that the pull of the sea remains eternal and some desire it as their final resting place.
For the Sailors participating in this solemn tradition, laying shipmates (or their loved ones) to rest in the great blue sea is one of the highest acts they can provide as a final offering of honor for the deceased.
By: Cmdr. Emily Bassett, commanding officer, Littoral Combat Ship Crew 214, Pre-Commissioning Unit Manchester (LCS 14)
The commissioning ceremony was originally about ball caps. Before the rehearsal, I told my crew, “If you have any family or friends who will be with us today—in person, or in spirit, and you want me to mention them by name, let me know.” Then, one Sailor approached me, “Ma’am, my mom couldn’t be here today. Could you stream it on Facebook Live?” So, I handed my cell phone to a friend seated in the bleachers at our ceremony on the grass next to the Vietnam Memorial at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, and we went live. Our attendance of 50 turned into close to 500.
The littoral combat ship program has been going through major transitions, one of which is assigning a crew to only one ship, and adopting a blue-gold rotation. Crew 214 is the pre-commissioning crew for Manchester, and our identity is all about Manchester, New Hampshire. We’ve visited the city and met the city’s mayor. Our ship sponsor, New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen, sent a personal note for our ceremony’s program. As a crew, we designed the ship’s crest, the brow banner and the ball caps.
Now, we wanted to make a special moment out of sun-downing the 8-point standard Navy Working Uniform (NWU) cover, and replacing it with our “USS Manchester” ball caps. I would read my orders and don my command-at-sea pin.
Turns out, it wasn’t just about ball caps. It was about character, competence and connections. Capt. Jay Hennessey, commanding officer of Naval Special Warfare Center, was our guest speaker. To many of us, SEALs are the epitome of character and competence. But beyond that, he told us about the importance of connection — of teammates, crewmates.
He said, “Teammate. It’s synonymous with crew. It’s synonymous with shipmate. Teammate, for me, in Naval Special Warfare, is the highest accolade I could pay someone. Because when I call someone a teammate, I mean they have three things. They are a person that is trustworthy, that is competent, and a person with whom I want to serve. You can’t do two of the three. You can’t be trustworthy and competent, but someone we don’t like. You’ve got to have to have all three.”
Then, he broke with his normal protocol of handing out a personalized command coin after a job well done, after a Sailor has demonstrated excellence as a teammate. Instead, he handed out two coins, to two crewmembers, for “excellence in advance,” investing in these two Sailors, that they would spread their competence, their trustworthiness, and their desire to be wanted as a teammate by the rest of the crew.
As command senior chief and I handed out Manchester ball caps, each Sailor exchanged a ball cap for a word: a character trait they wanted to develop while part of our crew. I was deeply moved by each Sailor’s word. I heard dependability, patience, trustworthiness, diversity, leadership, empathy, flexibility, perseverance, fairness, loyalty, humility. Remarkably, there was no trait I heard twice. The executive officer and I exchanged traits. He called “Uncover. Two,” and “Cover. Two,” and in unison, we donned the cover of our new ship.
After that simple ritual, I felt a deep connection with my crew. Then, while I spoke, that connection spread to our gathered guests. A few Sailors broke ranks and handed out small tokens to each guest. They were candles, in a clear glass with a sticker of the Manchester crest on one side and one sticker of the crew logo on the other. Light these candles, I said, and remember that you are with us in spirit in the future as you are with us physically today.
Then I turned to my scribbled notes and named the honored guests: parents, siblings, in-laws, grandparents, a mother watching us on Facebook Live, and even one Sailor’s late grandfather whom he wanted remembered. I realized how deeply connected we all are. It wasn’t just about the ball caps.