PEARL HARBOR - The commander of Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, is back at work June 18 after four days of community partnership-building in his home state of Alabama.
Rear Adm. Frank Ponds' visit to Selma, Birmingham, Montgomery and Tuskegee was part of the Navy's 50 flag officers in 50 states community outreach initiative.
Ponds met with mayors, business leaders and educators. He visited the Birmingham VA Medical Center, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, University of Alabama and Tuskegee University, and he spoke to Kiwanis, Lions and Rotary clubs about the Navy's mission of protecting commerce on the world's oceans.
Millions of tons of cargo are shipped through the Alabama State Port Authority each year to more than 175 locations worldwide. More than 100,000 jobs in the state are linked directly to trade.
"Alabama is important to the Navy and the Navy is important to Alabama," said Ponds.
His message to each group included the CNO's sailing directions, Navy's commitment to renewable energy and other global issues and how they related locally.
"I spoke about what the Navy is doing, especially in the Pacific, as a global force for good - in partnership building, maritime security and humanitarian/civic assistance support, such as Pacific Partnership. The partnerships we build help us promote understanding and cooperation that ultimately helps businesses in Alabama."
Ponds also spoke about the context and consequences of the War of 1812 (200 years ago this year) and Battle of Midway (70 years ago this month), two pivotal events that shaped the Navy and the nation.
He engaged with school administrators, educators and students at various levels.
At Tuskegee University, Ponds met with professors and students at the College of Engineering & Physical Sciences.
"I showed him the work we have with the Navy and some other research related to STEM - science, technology, engineering and mathematics," said professor and Associate Dean Heshmat Aglan. "The admiral met with PHD students and also high school students who are part of our program."
"We had very fruitful discussions, and we hope we can develop an even greater partnership with the Navy," Aglan said.
Ponds stopped at Birmingham's Horizons School, whose mission statement reads, "preparing young adults with learning difficulties for an independent life."
"Our students were very impressed," said school director Dr. Jade Carter. "What Admiral Ponds was able to do was give concrete specifics about very global concepts - and they got it. Rarely is someone so able to communicate a global message in a way that students can really connect with."
At a Kiwanis Club talk, he spoke about Navy's importance and relevance to Alabama.
John "Lex" Williamson Jr., youth scholarship committee chairman for the Boys and Girls Club of Central Alabama, sent an email to Ponds after the talk.
"As you know, Alabama has a long history of leadership in the Navy," Williamson wrote. "My father, from Birmingham, retired as a captain, but was the creator of the Williamson Turn while at sub chaser training school in Miami in the early 40s. He was also the executive officer on the USS England which sank six Japanese submarines in 12 days in the Pacific. I am bragging, but he would have enjoyed your representing the Navy."
During his visit June 11-14 Ponds gave several media interviews and spoke about the people who comprise today's Navy.
"Right now, we have the most highly educated, highly trained and highly patriotic individuals serving as we have ever had in the history of this country," he said. "The generation that is serving today are a fabulous bunch. And their families are committed to that service as well."
Ponds credited his Alabama roots for his work ethic, family values and commitment to service.
Ponds was raised in western Autauga County. He graduated from Autaugaville High School in 1977 and earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Alabama in 1982. He received his commission from Officer Candidate School in 1983.
From his office window at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Ponds can look at his eleven surface warships that comprise Commander Naval Surface Group, Middle Pacific. Dozens of ships will be arriving next week for the Rim of the Pacific exercise, which starts June 29.
As Commander Navy Region Hawaii, where he leads more than 3,200 civilian and military personnel, Ponds provides support at JBPHH on Oahu and Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai to units assigned to Commander U.S. Pacific Fleet, providing readiness support that enables warfighters to operate forward.