Every year on May 22, the United States celebrates National Maritime Day. This lesser-known but very important holiday recognizes an outstanding group of civilians – our country’s merchant mariners – who work patriotically at-sea alongside our military every single day to promote our nation’s commerce and protect our nation’s freedom. For Capt. John Rinko, commodore of the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command Europe and Africa command based in Naples, Italy, he has the distinct pleasure of leading hundreds of merchant mariners deployed across the European and African area of operations. These mariners work aboard U.S. Navy noncombatant ships that conduct specialized missions and move military cargo and fuel in support of U.S. forces. Mariners deserve the nation’s gratitude for their professionalism and selfless dedication: A mariner’s hard work keeps our fleet forward deployed and ready while thriving in all the world’s seas. Here are questions and answers from a conversation with Capt. Rinko:
Q: What did you know about Military Sealift Command and the U.S. Merchant Marine before taking command in August 2013?
A:Before becoming commodore of Military Sealift Command Europe and Africa, my only real experience with mariners was watching them operate on the other side of the phone-and-distance line. Since becoming commodore, I have come to learn and understand that their dedication to their work and ship are as impressive as any Sailor’s. They truly are professionals, and they know their job really well. They are willing to make significant sacrifices to ensure that they meet their tasking.
Q: What’s your favorite memory from working with mariners the past two years?
A: I got underway aboard Military Sealift Command joint, high-speed vessel USNS Spearhead (JHSV 1) in the Gulf of Guinea off West Africa for Africa Partnership Station operations. The thing that impressed me most about the mariners was being at sea with them and watching them go about their business. They’re all business. I was so impressed with their knowledge of their equipment, systems, procedures and people. I will always remember meeting a civilian engine utilityman who was a former U.S. Navy senior chief turned mariner. He was so truly excited to be where he was and working the job that he was. He loved the mechanics of making oilers work. He appreciated the opportunity to have a job doing what he loved. All of the mariners I’ve met have shared this passion for their jobs, and they all bring tremendous technical expertise to the table.
Q: What can you tell us about the civilian masters and chief engineers aboard MSC’s noncombatant ships?
A: Their deck-plate leadership is outstanding. Two civilian leaders who I will always remember are Spearhead’s civilian captain and the 6th Fleet command ship USS Mount Whitney’s (LCC 20) chief engineer. Both of these leaders knew everything about every person who works for them. They knew their people as well as any leader I’ve met in the Navy. Each of them had mariners who had followed them and sought out opportunities to continue to work with them, even as they changed ships. They took time to focus on individuals to ensure that their personal and professional needs were met. I have enjoyed implicit trust in the civilian masters I’ve worked with. All they want is independence, and it’s easy to give it to them. They are highly-skilled, and there is a reason they are at the top of such a tremendous organization. All I need to give them is their mission, and they will execute it flawlessly.