By Rear Adm. Brian Fort
Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific
USS Preble (DDG 88) is one of our Hawaii-based warships now forward deployed to the Indo-Pacific. Like our other surface warships homeported in Pearl Harbor, Sailors aboard Preble demonstrate integrity, accountability, initiative and toughness.
On this current deployment Preble Sailors are operating in the U.S. 5th Fleet and 7th Fleet areas of operation as part of the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) Carrier Strike Group 9. While in the 5th Fleet area of responsibility, Preble Sailors made international headlines when they responded and offered mariner aid to a stranded Iranian fishing vessel in December.
Preble is building on our Navy’s strong record of community outreach and cooperation in every port they visit, making connections and strengthening a network of partners. Every day, Sailors aboard Preble are carrying out their mission to maintain maritime security, build partnerships and provide deterrence as part of our Navy’s sustained forward presence.
Our Navy’s forward presence began with the ship’s namesake, Commodore Edward Preble (1761-1807), a veteran of the Revolutionary War, hero of Tripoli and mentor of a generation of young protégés known as “Preble’s Boys.”
President Thomas Jefferson saw the need for a stronger Navy at the end of the 18th century. The fledgling United States relied on commerce, much of it coming from the center of the maritime universe back then: the Mediterranean Sea. Commerce, however, was severely threatened.
Pirates – Barbary corsairs headquartered in Tripoli, North Africa – terrorized and captured 35 American ships and 700 sailors between 1784 and 1815.
Jefferson refused to be intimidated by threats or to be held hostage by terrorists. As soon as he was inaugurated as our nation’s third president and commander-in-chief, Jefferson ordered four warships, led by Commodore Preble aboard USS Constitution, to sail against Tripoli.
Preble’s Sailors and Marines blockaded Tripoli Harbor and then attacked their enemy with cannons, muskets, pistols, pikes, cutlasses and even tomahawks. After bitter and fiery warfare, Sailors and Marines prevailed. Pirate attacks on American and European commerce were curtailed. Our young Navy Department established its reputation as an expeditionary presence, willing to use diplomacy and force, ready to fight for freedom.
Preble and his protégés – Stephen Decatur, Charles Stewart, Isaac Hull, William and Joseph Bainbridge, David Porter, Isaac Chauncey and others – demonstrated tough, bold and relentless warfighting. They inflicted more damage at Tripoli in one month than had been done in three years, all because of their forward presence, which, by the way, was supported by new partners in and around the Mediterranean.
Commodore Preble was not a perfect leader. He had his share of setbacks, was prone to violence in his discipline and showed a lack of humility at times. Nevertheless, he set and enforced high standards of warfighting readiness. He inspired and developed a cadre of followers who became a generation of leaders. He forged young officers into seasoned commanders who would go on to fight and win in the War of 1812.
Preble proved to the nation the indispensable need for an integrated Navy/Marine Corps team. And, he proved the power of forward presence to achieve maritime domination, security and freedom of sea lanes.
His legacy lives on today and into the future for all Sailors and Marines.
Author’s Note: I am very proud to have served on USS Bainbridge (CGN 25) for my first assignment at sea. In the legacy of Preble, the nuclear cruiser “Billy-B” produced a long list of commanders, captains (both active duty and reserves), commodores and flag officers from a class of division officers from 1992 through 1996.