Being a part of a ship decommissioning is a bittersweet opportunity. As a ship is brought to life, its deckplates roar with the sounds of eager Sailors who are ready to meet the day-to-day challenges of America’s Navy head-on. But as we say goodbye, some of those very same Sailors who gave their all and became the heartbeat and soul of the ship, often become overwhelmed with emotions as they render final honors to a place they called home. Although I too share in these emotions as we say our final goodbyes to the last Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate – USS Simpson (FFG 56) – I take great comfort in knowing that our Navy is moving forward in the right direction as we leverage new technologies to deliver capabilities that meet fleet requirements today and will remain relevant to mitigate evolving threats in the future.
As shipmates, plankowners, friends and family members gather, we will share sea stories and reminisce about our time aboard, and recount the 30 years of service this great ship gave to our country. I had the distinct pleasure of commanding Simpson on my last sea tour during NATO’s Standing Naval Force’s Atlantic deployment to the United States in 2004. During that tour we visited New York City, which was the first visit by NATO after the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001. The ship earned two Battle Efficiency Awards during my time in charge. Being in command of Simpson and working with an amazing crew was an honor, a privilege, and certainly a source of pride in my naval career. And its crew members – past and present – can say proudly that they served their country with pride. The ship will soon leave Mayport and transition to Philadelphia to complete its final work prior to being sold to one of our military allies, but it will serve alongside the United States Navy again sometime in the future. Frigates may be small, but they can take a hit and keep going, and Simpson’s legacy will live on to win the fight again.
Great care has gone into making Simpson the great warship that she is and the crew proved time and again that they care about her and about each other – from their first deployment to their last. They stood the watch and gave countless man-hours for the greater cause and to the betterment of our country and our allies. In 30 years, Simpson has seen successful deployments to the Mediterranean Sea, Arabian Gulf, Eastern Pacific and the Caribbean Sea. I salute all who walked on these deckplates and honored this ship and her namesake with dignity and class until her last moments of active service to the fleet. As the flag is hauled down for the last time, I say,”Fair Winds and Following Seas. Thank you for your service and God bless the United States Navy, and the United States of America.”
MAYPORT, Fla. (Sept. 29, 2015) Rear Adm. Rick Williamson, commander of Navy Region Mid-Atlantic, delivers remarks during the decommissioning ceremony for the guided-missile frigate USS Simpson (FFG 56) at Naval Station Mayport. Simpson was in service for 30 years and is the most recent U.S. Navy warship to sink an enemy vessel in action during an encounter with an Iranian gunboat in the Arabian Gulf on April 18, 1988. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Timothy Schumaker/Released)
“In the English language there are orphans and widows, but there is no word for the parents who lose a child.” – Jodi Picoult
Though this saying is true, there is a term for military families who have lost a loved one who served. They are called gold star families.
You may have seen a gold star flag or pin before – these are symbols that evolved from service flags families used to display in their windows, which featured a blue star for each (living) family member serving in the military and later gold stars for each deceased member killed while in duty. A vertical service flag with a gold star symbolizes a family member who died while in service of the U.S. Armed Forces. The gold star may also be seen as pins with round purple backgrounds worn by mothers and family members (as seen on the banner above).
While service members who pass away have paid the greatest price, the parents and family left behind also pay a price. That’s where gold star organizations come in. Associations such as American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. and the Navy Gold Star Program are dedicated to supporting those devastated by the loss of their service member. They assist survivors not only by providing a community of people who intimately understand their situation, but also by providing connection to services and opportunities for them to honor the fallen through service to veterans and patriotic events.
Gold Star Mother’s Day falls on the last Sunday of September each year – two days from now for 2015 – and is a day to recognize and honor those who’ve lost a child as they served in the U.S. Armed Forces. On this day, our President encourages Americans to display the nation’s flag and take the opportunity to publicly express their love, sorrow, and reverence for all Gold Star Mothers and families.
So while any day is a good day to fly our nation’s flag and thank a family for their loved ones’ sacrifice, this Sunday is an especially poignant opportunity to show your gratitude and appreciation to those who both proudly and painfully display gold stars.
War, by its very nature, is ugly. That’s been shown time and again in photos of destruction and casualties and videos of grieving families and funerals. What we don’t often see are the anxious, unsure families of those who are unaccounted for, those service members who are prisoners of war (POW) or missing in action (MIA). Those families have agonizing questions, often without clear answers, about the status and condition of their loved ones.
While we may not be able to answer all their questions, we can show these families that we care about those who are POW/MIA. One of the ways that we do this is through annual remembrances. We take time on the third Friday of September each year to recognize those who may be gone, but are in no way forgotten. A grateful nation and their family members recognize these service members through POW/MIA Day ceremonies around the world.
This year the Department of Defense recognizes the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. Fittingly, the guided-missile destroyers USS Stockdale (DDG 106) and USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110), both named in honor of POWs who served with exemplary courage and honor during their captivity in North Vietnam, hosted a POW/MIA Day ceremony at Naval Base San Diego today.
The guest speaker was retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. Everett Alvarez, Jr., former POW and recipient of multiple awards including the Silver Star, two Legions of Merit, two Bronze Stars, the Distinguished Flying Cross and two Purple Hearts. Alvarez was the first U.S. pilot to be downed and detained during the Vietnam War and spent more than eight years in captivity; making him the
second longest-held American POW, after U.S. Army Col. Floyd James Thompson.
Alvarez spoke to the audience, which consisted of more than 20 former POWs and their families, senior waterfront leadership, and Sailors from the Stockdale and Lawrence, aboutt his POW experience and how it was great leadership from people like fellow POWs Vice Adm. William P. Lawrence, then a commander, and Vice Adm. James B. Stockdale, also then a commander, who helped keep the will to live alive amongst fellow captives. Lawrence and Stockdale helped create and apply POW guidelines for maintaining a pattern of resistance – one that strengthened their resolve to resist their captors’ demands, no matter how much torture or abuse they endured.
“[Our heroes] were ordinary guys, such as yourselves, who understood that the Vietnamese could force them to submit to their commands through torture, but it did not give us the excuse of not giving resistance,” said Alvarez. “We had to try [to resist] by making them hurt us, because we learned soon enough that compliance that is extracted by brute force is in no way as damaging to the human spirit, as that by giving in to mere threats.”
Alvarez went on to say, “Our heroes were these fellows here; ordinary guys who made the prison guards torture them for submission one day and then come back and make them start all over again, the next time and again the next. And this went on for years.”
Alvarez explained, “The ancient Greeks had a saying that, ‘Endurance is the main part of courage,’ and we made it work that way. It was necessary for our survival.”
According to the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, there are still more than 83,000 Americans missing from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the 1991 Gulf War combined. So even when wars end and some POWs are repatriated, not everyone comes home. Thankfully, there are hundreds of Defense Department employees working in organizations around the world in an ongoing effort to find and bring home those missing heroes.
The ceremony ended with a fly-over by two Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Eight (HSC-8) as a way to pay tribute to all those who are gone but not forgotten.
Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Paul X. Rinn spoke to Sailors in San Diego on September 9th about leadership and success in the pursuit of professional excellence. Rinn, who served a total of 30 years in the Navy, shared an example of his own leadership when the ship he commanded struck a mine in the Arabian Gulf in the early evening of April 14, 1988.
The Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) – affectionately known as SammyB. – was on her maiden deployment when lookouts spotted mines in the water. The ship stopped steaming, Rinn ordered watertight spaces to be sealed throughout the ship, and all hands moved above the main deck. Once these measures were met, Sammy B. began to reverse out of the minefield, following the visible wake her screws had left in the water.
The resulting 30-foot gash in the hull caused her to take on nearly half her displacement in seawater – 2,000 tons – in mere seconds.
Long before that night Rinn had invested heavily in manning, training, and equipping his Sailors with the things he felt would give his crew an advantage if the worst came to pass. For one, Rinn hand-selected Lt. Eric Sorensen as the damage control assistant because he knew Sorensen would turn his Sailors into an elite damage control team; and he did. As the deployment approached, using lessons learned from USS Stark (FFG 31)’s near-sinking, Rinn ensured the ship collected double the required number of oxygen breathing apparatus and canisters, three times the required barrels of aqueous film-forming foam firefighting agent, an infrared hand-held fire-finder, and several extra P-250 gas powered pumps. The crew ran drills and training scenarios consistently and maintained daily equipment run tests.
None of that preparation stopped Sammy B. from hitting the mine, but it did give the crew a fighting chance to survive.
So there they were, trying to save a ship nearly ripped in two, on fire, flooding, sinking, with crewmembers in need of medical attention, daylight fading, no working generators – and subsequently no working firefighting systems – no friendly ships within 100 nautical miles, in shark infested waters inside a minefield. As if that weren’t enough, an Iranian frigate and P-3 maritime patrol aircraft were closing in on them. In the midst of everything else, Rinn ordered crewmembers to prepare a missile for launch in case they needed to defend themselves. The ship and aircraft were both warned that if they didn’t leave the area, Sammy B. was ready and willing to fire on them.
Both threats left.
The crew continued damage control efforts on board, got the generators back online managed to contain and then extinguish all fires. Rinn set a new course and the ship steamed slowly though the night while the exhausted crew slept on the deck and took turns watching for fire reflash. Sammy B. came close to several mines but miraculously made it out safely.
Several experts have since presented analyses to prove USS Samuel B. Roberts should have gone down that day. But, while some may say it was pure luck that helped the crew come out of that terrible experience alive – not one crewmember died and all but one returned to duty once they healed– Rinn and his crew inarguably had done their part to be prepared. Rinn’s forethought into manning, training and equipping his crew in the best possible manner had just saved their lives and their ship.
The Sammy B. was transported to Bath Iron Works in Maine where she was repaired and eventually returned to service. USS Samuel B. Roberts was decommissioned in May.
American philosopher and psychologist, Dr. William James once said, “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” That statement holds particular meaning when placed in the context of suicide prevention.
September is Suicide Prevention Month for the Navy and is seen as an opportunity to re-energize efforts to engage Sailors to recognize and intervene early during signs of distress. As part of the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign, the Navy has introduced “1 Small ACT,” which encourages simple actions anyone can take to promote cohesion and inspire hope. It’s based on the Ask Care Treat (ACT) bystander intervention model.
The idea is that 1 Small ACT, like lending a hand to a shipmate on the job, offering positive feedback, or being there to listen and provide support- can help prevent suicide. Psychological health is a topic rarely discussed before the tragic loss of a shipmate or family member to suicide; however, breaking the silence and starting a conversation about stress and suicide can help prevent deaths because not all prevention happens during a crisis. Just that little bit of caring, shown through everyday kindness can help support every Sailor, every day and just might be the opening they need to get help.
Navy Suicide Prevention Branch has a myriad of resources to help jumpstart efforts to combat suicide as a community, command or individual. For example, you can personalize a “1 Small ACT” sign with your own simple commitment to support your shipmates and submit it for posting in the“1 Small ACT” photo gallery, contributing to a wall of hope and inspiration for the entire Navy community. Submission details are available on the Every Sailor, Every Day page There are also other resources, like the Suicide Prevention Month Toolkit, educational products and the “1 Small ACT a Day” calendar.
Suicide prevention is about taking care of people. That begins with us showing we care about one another and promoting a culture where all personnel feel supported, and view seeking help as a sign of strength. Together the Navy can fight suicide and become stronger; it’s as easy as consistently showing every Sailor, every day that they matter. Commit to 1 Small ACT.
WASHINGTON (Aug. 26, 2015) Lt. David Dziengowski, left, Yeoman 1st Class Silvia Raya, and Lt. j.g. Victor Gutierrez, from the Chief of Naval Personnel office, show support for the 1 Small Act message as part of the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign during Suicide Prevention Month. The campaign is designed to encourage dialogue and provide early resources to prevent suicide. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Lorenzo John Burleson/Released)
A few weeks ago you may have heard that the Navy announced several new career track options for Surface Warfare Officers (SWOs) in an effort to retain only the most talented. In case you didn’t, here is an overview of the many new opportunities that will help SWOs continue their growth and development. These new options are meant to move SWOs away from a linear path to a more flexible, option-based plan that is values-driven and invests more in the SWOs themselves. The intent of the new career tracks is to raise the level of talent in the SWO community and develop future leaders who can think, lead, operate, and win in multiple future environments. Growing Warfare Tactics Instructors is also a priority.
Traditionally, SWOs follow what’s known as a command-at-sea career path. The new career tracks offer opportunities for the early development of skillsets and accruing experience at sea, underscored by opportunities emerging from Sailor 2025 initiatives and supporting the principle of Warfighting First.
- Accelerated Warfighter
- Enhanced Readiness
- Accelerated Skillset Development
- Nuclear Power
Benefits of the new career tracks may also include opportunities to attend fully-funded graduate education at America’s elite institutions without fear of career progression disruption; to take up to three years away from the Navy in the Career Intermission Program; to spend time working at Fortune 500 companies contributing experience to the private sector and capturing key lessons that can be applied in the Navy under the new SECNAV Industry Tour Program (starting in 2016); a restructured bonus proposal that rewards performance; and pro-active outreach to retain the top 50%.
Another benefit is a reinforced and expanded commitment to military spouse co-locations, with spouse co-location being the standard and doing everything possible to co-locate dual military couples of any rank and service.
As part of a cultural shift from retaining the most available officers to retaining the most talented, the Navy is working to replace traditional career advancement zones with weighted milestone achievements to ensure the best officers are promoted regardless of zone placement and prior selection board decisions. This would allow those who are not ready for promotion to continue to serve in same paygrade longer, or for those ready, to advance through the system faster. In addition, selectivity for first look selection to serve as department heads is being lowered to 50-60% by next year. This will ensure future department heads, commanding officers and major commanders will be the best possible.
For more information on the new careers paths check out this handy Surface Warfare Career Chart powerpoint.
For more SWO related news check out the Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Naval Surface Forces, or Surface Warfare Magazine websites.
The 34th annual Surface Line Week (SLW), sponsored by the staff of Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, is coming to a close today after starting Aug. 14. SLW is a week-long competition that features a series of activities dedicated to friendly competition in a variety of professional and athletic events. It’s been a San Diego tradition for more than 30 years.
This year’s SLW consists of 17 athletic and 15 professional events culminating in an awards ceremony on Aug. 21, with recognition of the overall winner also announced at the Surface Warrior Ball tomorrow night.
The competition, open to participants from active duty, the Navy Reserve, or other military personnel and government civilians command kicked-off with a golf tournament at Admiral Baker Golf Course.
Other scheduled SLW athletic events include a 5K run, basketball, billiards, bowling, dodge ball, flag football, golf, tennis, volleyball, soccer, racquetball, swimming, push-up and pull-up endurance, and CrossFit. There was also a chili and salsa cook-off.
SLW professional events include photography, cake decorating, a damage control marathon, lathe work, marksmanship, medical diagnosis and stretcher bearer race, rescue swimming, a Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boat (RHIB) race, sailing, ship handling, valve packing, visual communications, and welding and cutting.
Thirty-two commands participating have Sailors or civilians participating in the events, which have been chosen to promote camaraderie, team building, and boost morale, while still offering friendly competition along the water front for shore based commands and ships.