By Rear Adm. Cathal O’Connor
Chief of staff, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa
While a few days has passed since we observed the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11, an event that indelibly changed our lives and the future of our nation and the world, it is important that we frequently pause and reflect upon where we are as a nation and a Navy, working around the globe with our allies, partners and friends.
Today and every day, our fleet – the greatest navy the world has ever known – controls and delivers naval power at and from the sea as a part of our nation’s efforts to promote regional security and stability and counter and defeat violent extremist organizations abroad.
Every day, in the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans, the Baltic, Black and Mediterranean seas, and across six time zones, Naval Forces Europe-Naval Forces Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet is engaged in operations, exercises and engagements across multiple continents with dozens of nations’ sailors.
Having the world’s most capable Sailors operating advanced warships, aircraft, weapon systems and cutting-edge technology is critical to our nation’s security, but it is equally important that we expand and strengthen our ability to operate with allies and partners. We do so to defeat terrorism, but also to reinforce the rule of law. Not only is it important that our ships, aircraft, submarines and special operators are able to operate and communicate, but it is equally vital that we expand and strengthen our network of partners with our allies’ and partners’ maritime forces at sea and ashore.
As Sailors, we are at some level inherently interoperable. We all go down to the sea in ships and that common heritage molds and shapes us, binding us together with similar experiences and understanding
Recently, I had the privilege of celebrating the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force training squadron’s visit to Civitavecchia, Italy. At a reception aboard the flagship JDS Kashima (TV 3508), we marked three important events.
First, we celebrated the arrival of our Japanese friends and allies to the 6th Fleet area of operations. As a professional global maritime force, the Japanese are a stabilizing influence in the Pacific and beyond. The Japanese training squadron is led by my former neighbor in Sasebo, Japan, Rear Adm. Hidetoshi Iwasaki. We first knew each other when he commanded Escort Flotilla 2 and I commanded Amphibious Squadron 11, and are living proof of the importance of cultivating relationships and building trust between navies as well as sailors.
Second, we hosted Commander in Chief of the Italian Naval Fleet Vice Adm. Filippo Maria Foffi. Our Italian allies graciously host the U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet headquarters and the command ship USS Mount Whitney. They too have a proud tradition as a global navy that stretches back hundreds of years. Italy, along with all of our European partners and allies are key to countering violent extremists, and managing the southern Mediterranean migration efforts such as Operation Sophia.
Third, it gave American, Italian and Japanese flag officers an opportunity to speak with the young Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force officers during their around-the-world training cruise. The enthusiasm, intelligence and thoughtfulness displayed by these young officers speak volumes for the professionalism of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force and its investment in its future generation of leaders. It also bodes well for future partnerships around the world to promote security and stability.
Inherent in these interactions is the understanding that the friendships made at the junior officer and enlisted levels each time our ships, aircraft, submarines and teams operate together foster international relationships that will enable closer cooperation at the department head, commanding officer and flag officer levels. That is why our Sailors are the most important and valuable part of our Navy, and why the relationships they build overseas are of strategic value to our Navy and our nation.