By Rear Adm. Rick Williamson
Commander, Navy Region Europe, Africa, Southwest Asia
Listening should be the foundation of creating any strategy. Since I took command of Navy Region Europe, Africa, Southwest Asia in March of this year, I’ve been visiting our installations and listening to my base commanders describe their operations and the challenges they face. What I have observed is that our installations execute numerous missions in tremendous ways, all in support of U.S. forces and our allies and regional partners. Their ability to accomplish this is substantial considering they are operating in a very complex and operationally active environment full of challenges –low-intensity conflict, such as insurgency, hybrid warfare, which entails a combination of conventional war and insurgency, humanitarian crisis and violent acts of terrorism against civilians. To successfully confront these challenges, it requires us to repeatedly listen to our commanders and personnel to evaluate how we are executing our mission and to ensure we are using the most efficient and effective methods with limited resources.
As a surface warfare officer for more than 30 years, and now as a shore regional commander responsible for seven installations, I compare this job to that of a strike group commander. The installations are our platforms and I employ them like a strike group commander would employ their platforms. Like a destroyer, cruiser or carrier, our installations deliver a combat capability.
A Navy base uses eight lines of operation to stay in the fight: air operations, port operations, safety, security, housing, MWR, Fleet and Fleet and Family Services and what I call the core: the fuels, water and power that keep the bases running. We use those lines of operation at our installations to turn combat power into combat capability. Installations are force multipliers; they are centers of gravity, sources of power used to maximize combat capability of operational units. Sustaining the fleet, enabling the fighter and supporting the family are our mission; but the fleet and fighter are also the combat capability we deliver to protect our nation and keep threats far from our shores, as well as those of our allies and regional partners.
Navy Region Europe, Africa, Southwest Asia is one of Navy Installations Command’s most unique regions. It encompasses a geographic area that spans three continents and three geographical combatant commands. Most of our installations are located in separate countries, which requires our commanding officers and personnel to work in tandem with our allied and partner host nations to ensure successful mission accomplishment.
Our installations are as varied as their locations; the newest and most unique of those is Naval Support Facility Deveselu in Romania. Deveselu is a forward operating site with a single tenant and a single mission–ballistic missile defense of the U.S. and Europe. Established as an installation in October 2014, the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System became operationally certified in May 2016 and then transferred to the authority of NATO in July 2016. The installation is hosted by Romania and is fully enclosed within the 99th Military Base of the Romania Ministry of Defense.
Like Romania, Poland will soon host an Aegis Ashore missile defense system at the Redzikowo military base, where we expect to formally establish Naval Support Facility Redzikowo later this fall. These two installations are both extremely unique in the missions they perform as well as the visual they provide. The image of a ship’s deck house planted in the ground provides the best concept of how I view the installations in this region. They are operational platforms with a capability only the Navy can provide, and this is done from the shore.
In a complex environment like our region, we must be innovative to accomplish our mission. We must take those innovations and apply them to this unique environment from the strategic direction of higher headquarters to the tactical execution of our base commanders. Base commanders use scientific processes to solve a problem. How they use their ingenuity and apply those processes to solve problems is an art. When we share those innovative solutions and practices among one another in this area of responsibility, this ensures each of our platforms are performing at the optimal level to ensure continued and sustained operations in a forward operating environment. I want my base commanders to think and act innovatively then share across our network of bases. With this approach, we can rapidly adapt and respond to an environment that has not only changed significantly over the last five years but, as we have seen with security and political environment of this region can change significantly within moments.