PEARL HARBOR - Afloat Training Group (ATG) Middle Pacific (MIDPAC) held a change of command ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam April 25.
Capt. Ricks W. Polk was relieved by Capt. John M. Figuerres as ATG MIDPAC commanding officer in the ceremony.
Rear Adm. Dixon Smith, commander, Naval Surface Group, MIDPAC, was the honored guest and key speaker during the ceremony.
In his speech, Smith commended Polk for a job well done as the commanding officer of ATG MIDPAC since October 2008.
"By any standards, this has been a phenomenally great tour for you personally," said Smith. "John Wooden said: 'The key ingredient to stardom is the team.' By that measure, the men and women under your command are stars."
According to Smith, ATG MIDPAC conducted the Navy's first ballistic-missile defense qualification, having now completed four, including one in Japan. Polk instituted the MIDPAC training war council to foster communication across the waterfront. The council was pivotal in capturing training improvements and recommendations from the fleet, which directly increased warfighting readiness across the surface force.
Polk also initiated the inaugural surface warfare officer introduction course at Pearl Harbor to better prepare future surface warriors.
"Along the way ATG MIDPAC also did their day job and they did it well," said Smith. "They've conducted multitudes of inspections and certifications."
Led by Polk, ATG MIDPAC conducted nine unit-level training assessments (ULTRAs) for certification, 10 ULTRAs for sustainment, 15 supply management certifications and 12 maintenance and material management certifications.
"I have a bunch of superstars standing over here," said Polk. "They put the 'T' back in training in a very big way. We've trained in force in the last two-and-a-half years. In my last count, we had almost a thousand limited team training events. That's almost one a day. In fact it's a little bit over one a day."
"When I started my command tour, there were 140 people at ATG MIDPAC," continued Polk. "Today, there are less than 100. The mission hasn't changed at all. In fact, it's grown. These folks just work harder and harder and harder. ATG MIDPAC, thank you for all you've done and continue to do. I will end as I began when I assumed command in October 2008. By saying I am blessed, I am blessed to have served with you and to have the opportunity to serve as your commanding officer."
During the ceremony, both Polk and Figuerres reported to Capt. David Matawitz, commander, ATG Pacific, as they confirmed complete turnover of command leadership.
Figuerres, a native Carmel Calif., was in command of the guided-missile frigate USS Reuben James (FFG 57) in 2003. He led Reuben James through a successful counter-drug deployment, which culminated in the interception and rescue of 149 South American immigrants being illegally trafficked to the United States. He was responsible for their care and feeding during the four-day transit to Ecuador.
In January 2005, Figuerres reported to the staff of Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, where he served as the lead planner for both Pacific Partnership 2006 and 2007 humanitarian assistance deployments.
Figuerres' last assignment was at U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) as director of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea strategic focus group. The focus group was developed to directly advise the PACOM commander regarding issues of U.S. strategy and policy towards North Korea. He also served as chief, Northeast Asia Policy Division. In that capacity, Figuerres was responsible to the PACOM commander for executing and shaping DoD policy in regards to the countries of Russia, Mongolia, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea.
ATG MIDPAC provides dynamic, quality afloat training for the Navy and Coast Guard in the MIDPAC region to ensure a combat-ready force capable of performing a broad spectrum of maritime missions.