By Rear Adm. Brian Fort
Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific
This past year was tough for the Surface Navy. I know. In June of 2017, less than a week after I arrived in Pearl Harbor to take over as the new Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific commander, I flew to Yokosuka, Japan to lead the USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) collision investigation. For the rest of my life, I am emotionally invested in that investigation, and for the remainder of my service in the Navy I am professionally and personally invested in the corrective actions – most specifically, our warfighting readiness to win.
In wartime our mission is simple – fight and win our nation’s wars. In peacetime our mission is equally simple – be ready to go and fight and win. In 2018 if you are assigned to the Surface Navy in Pearl Harbor, you will be at the epicenter of Navy warfighting culture and readiness to win!
In Pearl Harbor we have history on our side. Seventy-five years ago, Lt. Cmdr. Richard O’Kane set the standard of our Navy warfighting culture. As executive officer of USS Wahoo (SS 238) and then, in 1943, as commanding officer of USS Tang (SS 306), O’Kane earned an unequaled record of victories against the enemy, destroying their warships and supply lines.
O’Kane went into harm’s way focused and committed to the mission.
The former surface warfare officer volunteered for submarine duty because he saw it as more dangerous and challenging. And, in many ways, he was right.
Submariners suffered the greatest numbers of casualties on average in World War II. They wore no life vests because of the narrow hatches. If they became prisoners of war, they were singled out for the most brutal punishment. Worst of all, in the heat of battle their torpedoes often malfunctioned, especially in the early months of the war.
Even as late as 1944, errant torpedoes caused problems, including for O’Kane. Aboard USS Tang, after sinking 13 enemy ships and 107,323 tons of enemy shipping, O’Kane fired his final torpedo, but it curved left, porpoised and circled back, striking Tang’s stern and sinking the submarine.
O’Kane survived both the sinking and his time as a POW, and after the war President Truman presented him with the Medal of Honor. He personified toughness in the face of adversity, and after the war he served as Commanding Officer of the Submarine School in New London, Connecticut, where he inspired a culture of warfighting.
Today, USS O’Kane (DDG 77) is one of five guided-missile destroyers forward-deployed in the Indo-Pacific – half of the homeported surface ships in Hawaii. A number of submarines are also deployed from Pearl Harbor.
Here at Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific we have the exceptional distinction of being two commands united at a perfect juncture: the intersection of the waterfront surface ships and the installations which provide infrastructure, repairs, logistics, training, and testing of those ships. With the strong support of our tenant commands we meet and sustain the needs of our fleet, our warfighters, and our families. Fundamentally, we are best and uniquely postured to positively impact the Pearl Harbor surface fleet warfighting culture, and we are focused and committed to that task.
Today, our allies’ maritime forces know they have no better friend than the United States Navy. Potential adversaries should also know they have no worse enemy.
Here in Pearl Harbor, we rose to the challenge 76 years ago as “Remember Pearl Harbor” sharpened our warfighting culture. In the wake of 9/11, when our culture was tested, we rose to the challenge once more. At the direction of the Secretary of the Navy, Gordon England, we returned to our First Navy Jack, “Don’t Tread on Me,” on the jack staffs of all Navy warships as a historic reminder of the nation’s and Navy’s origins and our will to persevere and triumph.
Throughout all of 2018, the headquarters building of Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific is flying our First Navy Jack. We do this to honor the 17 shipmates we lost on Fitzgerald and John S. McCain and as a reminder that our warfighting edge is not only back but renewed and forged with purpose.
Sailors in Hawaii are focused and committed to our warfighting culture. Just like Rear Adm. O’Kane and the Sailors of World War II, our Sailors are ready to go, ready to fight and ready to win when called.