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April 13, 2018 / iDriveWarships

Recognizing a Former Prisoner of War: William P. Lawrence

Vice Admiral William P. Lawrence, USN

Vice Admiral William P. Lawrence, USN

This week our nation recognized April 9 as National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day. As with previous administrations, President Trump made the act official via presidential proclamation.

The declaration proclaims the day as an opportunity to pay homage to the courageous warriors who endured time in enemy hands and returned with honor to their families.  As well, it reminds us of the continued active engagement former POWs have in their communities.

Though there were many to consider, we chose to highlight William P. Lawrence. He is the namesake of USS William P. Lawrence and embodies the concept of continued service to the utmost. As a former Vietnam conflict prisoner of war who went on to become one of the Navy’s highest ranking officers, Lawrence is the epitome of a true American hero. Vietnam War POW, Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale, evaluating then-Captain Lawrence’s performance in captivity, made these remarks:

“The record of his achievement in Hanoi is a chronicle of patriotic loyalty, personal bravery, physical toughness, compassionate aid to his fellows, and inspirational leadership. From the time of his capture he was consistently stalwart and resilient in the absorption of torture from his enemies… He repeatedly paid the price of being perceived by the enemy as a source of their troubles through his ‘high crime’ of leadership… He could not be intimidated and never gave up the ship.”

And Lawrence truly never did give up. His contributions to his country after his return from Vietnam included continued service as the Superintendent and also Chair of Naval Leadership at the U.S. Naval Academy; Commander, U.S. Third Fleet; Deputy Chief of Naval Operations; and Visiting Professional Scholar at the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University in 1994 (the latter being just 11 years before his death in 2005).

Guided-Missile Destroyer USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110) Arrives at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam During RIMPAC 16

160802-O-WL395-019 PEARL HARBOR (Aug. 02, 2016) Guided-missile destroyer USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110) arrives at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam during Rim of the Pacific 2016. Twenty-six nations, more than 40 ships and submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in RIMPAC from June 30 to Aug. 4, in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California. The world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans. RIMPAC 2016 is the 25th exercise in the series that began in 1971. (Canadian Forces Combat Camera Photo By Master Corporal Mathieu Gaudreault)

His influence can still be felt today. His daughter, Wendy Lawrence, also a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, went on to become an astronaut, logging over 1,225 hours in space. Lawrence’s poetry, written while he was in Vietnam, included a poem that was designated as the official poem of his home state of Tennessee. Perhaps most lasting, however, is the hard work of the crew of USS William P Lawrence (DDG 110).

USS William P. Lawrence, recently homeported in Hawaii as part of the rebalance of forces to support security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, continues to preserve the Navy’s enduring mission of protecting and defending America through the maritime strategy. Since 2012, William P. Lawrence has conducted Freedom of Navigation operations in the South China Sea, humanitarian aid and rescue assistance at sea, and maritime support during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises. As well, the crew has participated in community service projects in Korea and the Philippines during scheduled port visits. The ship has also been featured in the television show, “The Last Ship.”

William P. Lawrence sails as part of the John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group, and her last deployment was in 2016 as part of the Great Green Fleet Initiative.

The other U.S. naval vessel named after a prisoner of war is USS Stockdale (DDG 106), whose namesake Vice. Adm. James B. Stockdale. Admiral Stockdale also left an indelible mark on the leadership development program at the U.S. Naval Academy and the Navy at large. Check out this Naval Academy website to learn more about Stockdale’s legacy.

April 6, 2018 / iDriveWarships

Month of the Military Child


Operation Homefront’s 2018 Navy Military Child of the Year, Isabelle Richards. (Photo courtesy Thomas Photography)

April is the Month of the Military Child, providing us the opportunity to recognize and show appreciation for military children and the unique challenges they experience.

Numbering almost four million, military children serve their country and communities in many ways. Approximately 75 percent are of school-age, and can move locations an average of 4-9 times before they graduate high school. They experience the absence of one or both parents due to military deployments on a regular basis.

Operation Homefront and other programs recognize the sacrifices military children make and annually honor seven outstanding military children ages 13 to 18. Six represent a branch of the armed forces for their scholarship, volunteerism, leadership, extracurricular involvement, and the added challenge of military family life. A seventh is awarded the Military Child of the Year Award for Innovation, and goes to a military child who has designed a bold and creative solution to address a local, regional, or global challenge.

One of our own San Diego Naval Surface Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet family’s child was recently recognized for her outstanding achievements within the community. Isabelle Richards, a USS Coronado (LCS 4) Blue Crew family member, was named 2018 Navy Military Child of the Year by the national nonprofit organization Operation Homefront.

Isabelle is one of six children in the Richards family. For her family, service is definitely a family business. Her father is Senior Chief Gas Turbine Systems Technician James Richards, and her mother is no stranger to service, having served as command Obmudsman dating back 10 years. Four of Isabelle’s brothers have served in the armed forces, and one was also named the 2012 Navy Military Child of the Year for his role in fighting bullying at schools.

Isabel IMG_3779_0

peration Homefront’s 2018 Navy Military Child of the Year, Isabelle Richards with her parents and radio station 103.7 KSON DJs John and Tammy. (Photo from

Isabelle gives back to her community as a peer counselor at her school and through volunteering at USOs. Isabelle has been dancing competitively for six years and recently started participating in pageants. She leads a Dove Self Esteem project at her school, empowering young women to accept their bodies and themselves. Her involvement in the community and experiences as a leader at such a young age enabled her to combine her personal skills with philanthropy. She founded her own Non-Governmental Organization, Cards and Cupcakes. Cards and Cupcakes provides baked goods and hand written cards to wounded warriors across the country.

“There are so many amazing things each military child does for their community, and I’m beyond honored to be picked for this award,” said Isabelle in a radio interview.

Isabelle’s father, Senior Chief Richards, was deployed for nine months of the past year, and says “it was a great honor to see her and get all the accolades that she was doing emailed and texted to me, and all the nominations that were put in from all the great people who support her.”

All seven children and a parent or guardian are invited to an April gala, where each are recognized for their contributions and receive $10,000, a laptop, and other donated gifts.

Isabelle and her family represent many of the military families here in San Diego, and although only one child is chosen for the Operation Homefront Navy Military Child of the Year award, there are many opportunities to recognize and celebrate the achievements of military children.

USO San Diego recognizes the readiness and resiliency required of each military child, and has programs for military families throughout the month.

March 30, 2018 / iDriveWarships

Surface Force Women in Service

Throughout March the Surface Navy has proudly joined the nation in celebrating Women’s History Month. In an effort to reflect on the theme “Honoring Women Who Fight All Forms of Discrimination” we’ve showcased a diverse group of women serving in a variety of jobs in our fleet. Highlighting this small portion of the highly skilled and dedicated women serving as Surface Warriors today is an honor that would not be possible without the trailblazing women who’ve come before them. #WomensHistoryMonth

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March 23, 2018 / iDriveWarships

5 Facts to Know About Ralph Johnson and the Destroyer Named for Him

In honor of tomorrow’s commissioning ceremony for the U.S. Navy‘s newest Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, the future USS Ralph Johnson (DDG 114), we’re recapping the facts we’ve been sharing about the ship and its namesake this week via the Surface Warriors Twitter account. Catch up below and then tune in online here for live coverage from the ceremony scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. (EDT) March 24 from the Columbus Street Pier in Pfc. Ralph Johnson’s hometown of Charleston, South Carolina.

March 21, 2018 / iDriveWarships

UPDATE: St. Patrick’s Day and the U.S. Navy: The Story Of USS The Sullivans (Their ship was found!)


The five Sullivan brothers onboard Juneau (CL 52) at the time of its commissioning ceremonies at the New York Navy Yard, Feb. 14, 1942. All were lost with the ship following the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. The brothers are (from left to right): Joseph, Francis, Albert, Madison, and George Sullivan. George survived Juneau’s sinking on 14 November, but died in the waters off San Cristobel Island five days later. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

We released a blog titled “St. Patrick’s Day and the U.S. Navy: The Story of USS The Sullivans” March 16, 2018, which you can read here. What follows is an update to that piece.

In a fitting tribute to their Irish heritage, the resting place of the Sullivan brothers, the wreckage of USS Juneau (CL 52), was found on St. Patrick’s Day 2018.

Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, along with the crew of R/V Petrel, discovered the site on Saturday, March 17, just two weeks after discovering the wreck of USS Lexington (CV 2). The ship was found 2.6 miles below the surface, resting off the coast of the Soloman Islands.


The USS Juneau In New York Harbor, Feb. 11, 1942. (U.S. National Archives Photo)

“I am excited to hear that Allen and his team were able to locate the light cruiser USS Juneau (CL 52) that sunk during the Battle of Guadalcanal. The story of the USS Juneau crew and Sullivan brothers epitomize the service and sacrifice of our nation’s greatest generation,” said Vice Adm. Rich Brown, commander, Naval Surface Forces.

USS Juneau was the ship the five Sullivan brothers served on in World War II. All five brothers perished shortly after the Battle of Guadalcanal when their ship sank. Their deaths are considered the most significant loss for any one family during World War II. To learn more about their story, and the legacy that our Navy carries on today in their honor, click here!

The prop of the USS Juneau resting on the seafloor. (Photo by Paul Allen/RV Petrel)


March 16, 2018 / iDriveWarships

St. Patrick’s Day and the U.S. Navy: The Story of USS The Sullivans


The five Sullivan brothers onboard Juneau (CL 52) at the time of its commissioning ceremonies at the New York Navy Yard, Feb. 14, 1942. All were lost with the ship following the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. The brothers are (from left to right): Joseph, Francis, Albert, Madison, and George Sullivan. George survived Juneau’s sinking on 14 November, but died in the waters off San Cristobel Island five days later. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

UPDATE: When this blog was published on March 16, 2018, the final resting place of the Sullivans and their ship, USS Juneau (CL 52), had been lost for 76 years. It was discovered just one day later on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2018 and publicly announced shortly afterward. Read about the amazing find, here.


St. Patrick’s Day is a time to celebrate Irish heritage. One Navy ship, USS The Sullivans (DDG 68), has a unique tie to Irish America, carrying with it a legacy that has lasted through generations.

There is no doubt that Irish ancestry plays a significant part of the makeup of the American population, where nearly 10% of Americans identify as Irish-American. Irish-Americans played an important role in the development and growth of the early United States, and U.S. Navy as well. Nine signatories of the Declaration of Independence were Irish, 253 Irish-born men have received the Medal of Honor, and one of the Fathers of the American Navy (John Barry) was of Irish descent.


Letter to Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan from then-President Roosevelt in regards to their sons.

During World War II, the U.S. Navy lost the five Irish-American Sullivan brothers – Joseph, Francis, Albert, Madison, and George – when their ship USS Juneau sank following the Battle of Guadalcanal. Upon enlisting, the brothers had insisted upon serving together, keeping true to their motto “We Stick Together.” The deaths of the Sullivan brothers is considered to be the greatest loss by any one family in World War II, and cemented a legacy of service that would connect the family to the U.S. Navy for generations to come.

The nation poured out condolences. Hollywood produced a feature film entitled “The Fighting Sullivans.” Shipmates who survived the sinking of USS Juneau came forward to share their stories about the boys’ final moments.

In honor of their sacrifice, then-President Roosevelt directed DD 537 to be assigned the name USS The Sullivans. Mrs. Alleta Sullivan, the mother of the five brothers, commissioned the ship on Sept. 30, 1943, nearly a year after the loss of her sons. The Sullivans was the first ship ever commissioned to honor more than one person.

The Sullivans served the Navy until decommissioning in 1965, where it was donated to the city of Buffalo, New York, to serve as a memorial in the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Servicemen’s Park. However, the story of the Sullivan family did not stop with just the ship.


Alleta Sullivan, left, mother of the five Sullivan brothers who lost their lives in the sinking of the cruiser USS Juneau, works alongside actress Marlene Dietrich as they serve servicemen in the USO Hollywood Canteen, Calif., Feb. 9, 1944.

The Sullivan family, who hail from Waterloo, Iowa, but whose family emigrated from Cork County, Ireland, in 1850, maintain close ties with the Navy and the ship named after their family.

In the years following her sons’ deaths, Mrs. Alleta Sullivan, a grieving mother, visited more than 200 manufacturing plants and shipyards to offer encouragement to employees working to support the war effort.  She spoke to more than a million workers in 65 cities, reached millions more over the radio, and was overall an important part of the war effort.

Long after the war ended, Alleta would receive house calls from Sailors who either knew her sons or wished to stop by and extend their condolences. She would often cook them a hot meal and offer them a place to stay for the evening or the weekend.

“Helping others in sorrow helps your own sorrow,” she said.

Albert’s widow, Katherine, went on to raise their son Jim, and remarried to a U.S. Marine who served in the Pacific during the war. Jim’s daughter, Kelly Sullivan Loughren, continued the family legacy of support and connection to the U.S. Navy.

Untitled.pngIn 1995, the second USS The Sullivans (DDG 68) was commissioned at Staten Island, New York. The ship’s crest highlights its connection to the Irish ancestry of the Sullivan family, featuring the traditional green shamrock, and the ship’s motto is “We Stick Together.” The destroyer is sponsored by Kelly, whose grandfather, Albert, was the only Sullivan brother to marry and have a child before the brothers deployed to the Pacific in support of World War II.

Kelly, a third grade teacher in Waterloo, considers her connections with the crew of The Sullivans to be an important part of her life. Her students are pen pals with Sailors from The Sullivans.

In 2003, under the command of then-Cmdr. Richard Brown, the ship visited Ireland to pay respects to the ancestral lands of the Sullivan family. Kelly was there to meet them. Brown, an Irish Catholic from Boston, was a perfect fit for The Sullivans and has since promoted to the rank of vice admiral in charge of Naval Surface Forces.

“In 2003, I was honored to be assigned as the commanding officer of USS The Sullivans, named after the five Sullivan brothers George, Frank, Joe, Matt, and Al, from Waterloo, Iowa,” said Brown during a recent visit to the ship in Mayport, Fla. “I was the fifth commanding officer of a ship named for five brothers. My mother’s maiden name is Sullivan. Her mother’s maiden name is Sullivan. I was the first Irish commanding officer of the ship, and the first to take the ship to Ireland. It seems like I was destined to command that ship.”

USS The Sullivans (DDG 68) in Ireland at anchor

USS The Sullivans (DDG 68) in Ireland at anchor

Brown said that his memories on The Sullivans are some of his most cherished.

In a blog post from November, Kelly said, “I always wondered what it would be like to have the big Irish Catholic family that I would have had if even one of the boys had survived. But, I also know that my life is incredibly blessed with my fantastic Navy family.”

Every St. Patrick’s Day, members of the Waterloo community gather at Sullivan Park to honor its five namesake Waterloo brothers killed together during World War II. Last year, Kelly read a letter from The Sullivans’ commanding officer, Cmdr. S.F. De Castro.

“As we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, remember our Irish heritage and tradition, it is appropriate that we also remember the selfless sacrifice of the fighting Sullivan brothers and their family,” wrote De Castro. “The story of the Sullivan brothers is as much about their devotion to family as it is service to country.”

March 9, 2018 / iDriveWarships

The Gator Navy is Getting a Stronger Bite – Increased Lethality and Tactical Proficiency in the Amphibious Navy

Historic First: F-35B deploys with USS Wasp (LHD 1)

A U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II aircraft with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 touches down on the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1), marking the first time the aircraft has deployed aboard a U.S. Navy ship and with a Marine Expeditionary Unit in the Indo-Pacific. VMFA-121, assigned under the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, will remain embarked aboard the Wasp for a regional patrol meant to strengthen regional alliances, provide rapid-response capability, and advance the Up-Gunned ESG concept. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Michael Molina) 180305-N-VK310-0070

Sailors and Marines from the USS Essex (LHD 2) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) recently departed Naval Base San Diego for a first for the Navy’s Surface Warfare community – an ARG Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) exercise.

During this dedicated at-sea training period, participants will focus on watch team, unit, Air Defense Command, and Surface Combat Commander training – before integrating the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).

The Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC)-led exercise is focused on advanced tactical training at sea in order to improve warfighting proficiency, lethality, and ship interoperability before further training in the ARG’s deployment cycle.

Completing this training will help the ARG’s units and warfare commanders “learn to work together as teams before moving along in the training cycle,” said Rear Adm. John Wade, commander of SMWDC.

SMWDC’s mission is to increase the lethality and tactical proficiency of the Surface Force across all domains, and it does that through four lines of operation – one of which is providing advanced tactical training to the Surface Fleet.

USS Essex (LHD 2) ARG Underway for First ARG Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) Exercise

SAN DIEGO (Mar. 5, 2018) The amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) transits under the Coronado Bridge on its way to participate in the Navy’s first full-length Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG) Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) exercise. SWATT is led by the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center and is designed to increase warfighting proficiency, lethality, and interoperability of participating units. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Matthew A. Stroup/Released) 180305-N-LR347-001

The SMWDC-delivered training during the ARG SWATT prepares ships for the high-end, integrated scenarios they will see during future training scenarios in the ship’s training cycle, which ultimately prepare the ARG for deployment and assimilation into an Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG).

The long-term goal is that all surface ships will undergo a SWATT event prior to completion of the pre-deployment training cycle.

“This is something we have to do as a community to maintain a competitive advantage against the peer and near-peer threats outlined in the National Defense Strategy,” said Wade.

The training the units receive from SWMDC during the ARG SWATT consists of several levels of exercises and evaluations. The embarked SMWDC training team consists of post-major command commanders, Warfare Tactics Instructors (WTIs), and technical community experts and uses the Plan, Brief, Execute, and Debrief (PBED) process to evaluate ships throughout the entirety of the exercise.

Upon completion, the WTIs and other trainers use the results of the evaluation to provide same day, directly observed performance feedback to the shipboard teams. This process allows them to receive in-person feedback in a timely manner.

Using data replay tools throughout the event (as part of the PBED Process) breaks down barriers within watch teams by removing the possible human perspective error of what really happened during the training scenarios. Ground truth provides watch teams and personnel – regardless of rank – the humility needed to grow together effectively as a team in an expedited manner.

“SWATT represents the first opportunity that the Essex ARG ships and staff have had to train together as a team. This training will bridge the gap between unit level training our ships recently completed and the advanced fleet training, which will prepare us for our next deployment,” said Capt. Gerald Olin, commander of PHIBRON 1.

Furthermore, data gathered during each SWATT exercise – whether an ARG or a Carrier Strike Group (CSG)-based cruiser-destroyer (CRUDES) SWATT – are cataloged, analyzed, and reviewed by a Data Analysis Working Group (DAWG) approximately 4-6 weeks after the conclusion of the exercise. The DAWG identify combat systems, tactics, and human performance strengths and weaknesses that get fed back into the Surface Warfare Enterprise for rapid organizational learning and development.


180307-N-PH222-0028 PACIFIC OCEAN (March 7, 2018) The San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock USS Anchorage (LPD 23) fires a surface-to-air RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) as part of Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT). Essex ARG is completing the Navy’s first ARG SWATT. SWATT is led by the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) and is designed to increase warfighting proficiency, lethality, and interoperability of participating units. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ryan M. Breeden/Released)

The Essex ARG SWATT, however, is just one example of how the Navy’s amphibious fleet is increasing its lethality and warfighting proficiency.

Within the U.S. Seventh Fleet area of operations, currently deployed USS Wasp (LHD 1) will connect with the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers USS Dewey (DDG 105) and USS Sterett (DDG 104) as part of a new “up-gunned ESG” concept.

Adding a destroyer to the strike group means adding the ability to strike inland targets with Tomahawk missiles, to conduct robust air defense using the Aegis Combat System, to hunt and find submarines, and to provide naval surface gunfire support.

“These are all capabilities that aren’t normally part of an amphibious readiness group, but they are now,” said Rear Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of ESG 7. “We bring extra capability to the warfighting element of what we’re doing here in theater.”

Sterett and Dewey’s presence as part of the Wasp ARG reinforces the need for SWATT training. Typically, cruisers and destroyers deploy as part of either a Surface Action Group (SAG) or a Carrier Strike Group (CSG), supplementing the air warfare capabilities of the carrier. As members of an ESG, the destroyers will have a unique responsibility to Wasp that requires training and coordination among the strike group.

Another new addition to the Wasp ESG is the integration of the F-35B Lighting II fighter jet into the strike group. Wasp recently embarked a detachment of F-35B Lighting IIs with the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121, 31st MEU, marking the F-35B’s first operational deployment of F-35B’s with a MEU.

“This is a historic deployment,” said Col. Tye R. Wallace, 31 st MEU Commanding Officer. “The F-35B is the most capable aircraft ever to support a Marine rifleman on the ground. It brings a range of new capabilities to the MEU that make us a more lethal and effective Marine Air-Ground Task Force.”

Historic First: F-35B deploys with Amphibious Assault Ship

U.S. Navy Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) John Jacob directs an F-35B Lightning II with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) in the East China Sea March 5, 2018, marking the first time the aircraft has deployed aboard a U.S. Navy ship and with a Marine Expeditionary Unit in the Indo-Pacific. VMFA-121, assigned under the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, will remain embarked aboard Wasp for a regional patrol meant to strengthen regional alliances, provide rapid-response capability, and advance the Up-Gunned ESG concept. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Michael Molina)

The recent integration of destroyers and F-35Bs into the ARG makes surface ship advanced tactical training – optimally placed between basic phase training at the unit level and integrated phase training with the MEU – all the more important.

“Providing watch teams and warfare commanders the reps-and- sets they need to exercise and build their combat muscle is critical,” said Wade.

The SMWDC-led ARG SWATT is crucial to providing the training time needed to produce a cohesive group of surface combatants prepared to support the MEU, and ultimately fleet and combatant commanders.

The amphibious Navy is better prepared for operational commitments across the board by flexing their warfighting capabilities during ARG SWATT exercises. Improved watch team cohesion, increased tactical proficiency, top-of- the-line technology, and a WDC capable of driving high-speed learning throughout the Surface Warfare enterprise enable the Navy-Marine  Corps team to maintain the competitive edge against the nation’s peer and near peer threats.

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