PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii - The commander of Naval Surface Forces, and commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, visited Sailors on Hawaii-based ships Nov. 14 for the first time since assuming his current position.
Vice Adm. Tom Copeman toured several ships in Pearl Harbor including Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Erie (CG 70), Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Hopper (DDG 70), Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chosin (CG 65) and Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Port Royal (CG 73).
During his visits Copeman met with Sailors and spoke about his visit to Hawaii and the ships that are home-ported here. "The reason I'm in Hawaii is for a COMPAC Fleet commanders conference but I came in a couple days early to visit the MIDPAC ships out here, so I visited as many as I could," said Copeman. "I get my best information on the state of morale and the material condition of the ships, how things are going and whether the policies that we implemented at TYCOM (Type Commands) are working or not by visiting the ships and in particular going into the Chief's Mess and getting their unvarnished opinion on things."
Lt. j.g. Alfred Whitney, navigator on board USS Port Royal, assisted with escorting the vice admiral around the ship to meet with the commanding officer and the crew. The ship's tour included the ship's store, the combat systems main control station, central control station, the general workshop and a brief meeting with the chief petty officer's mess. "We were glad to have Vice Adm. Copeman aboard and we really appreciated his visit," said Whitney.
The importance of the fleet in Hawaii and to the Pacific Theater was emphasized during the vice admirals' visit. "It's very important that these ships stationed here in Hawaii are eight days closer to the Seventh Fleet area of responsibility than the ships home-ported in San Diego," said Copeman. "They've always been an integral part of the defense of our nation and I think they will become even more important as we shift more assets and more focus into the Pacific Theater over the coming years."
According to Copeman, getting to visit Sailors on the deckplates is extremely important. "The most rewarding aspect is what I was just doing today; its going down to ships and talking to Sailors and hearing about what's working and what's not and feeling like I can affect some change. The most challenging thing is juggling all of the various requirements. With limited resources, we have to make sure that we are using our money, people and time in the most efficient manner. It's just a very complex challenging problem and its key to making life better for folks on these ships and making them ready to fight a war if they have to."
The priorities Copeman developed to support warfighting first are three in number: training, development, and career management of Sailors; training crews to fight and win; and providing warships ready for combat. "Our ships have to be fully manned and they have to have highly skilled Sailors," Copeman said. To achieve this, Copeman said requires looking at personnel readiness based upon a "wartime requirement" and not by what is funded. "In order to man our ships correctly it is vitally important that we report our manning readiness based upon the true requirement," he said.
The training Sailors require is a crucial part of Copeman's priorities.
"If we really want our crews to fight and win, we need to lay that foundation right there in the school house," he said. "The schools - our basic, integrated and advanced training - must be focused on preparations for high-end combat operations. I think of it as improving the 'Public School System' ("A" and "C" schools) by increasing the hands-on training for our Sailors and taking a hard look if we are delivering the information in the best manner."
Copeman said he wants to reverse the trend of many Sailors spending large amounts of time at school only to require in-depth supervision once reporting aboard ship to do basic maintenance or watchstanding. "Here we're getting to the balance between maintenance and modernizations of our ships and providing our Sailors with the necessary equipment, repair parts, tools, technical documentation, education, and training to fix and maintain their equipment," said Copeman.