“As an officer of Marines, I believe it is my charge to set the example. I must create a favorable impression in courage, appearance, and personal conduct. I must be mentally alert, morally straight, and physically strong. I must uphold the personal and professional credo of ‘doing what is right even when no one is looking.’ My integrity can never be challenged and my character must be unimpeachable. My physical courage must be such that I can face the danger of combat with calmness and firmness, and my moral courage must be equal to fear of criticism I will surely face.” - Sept 1979, then Major Higgins, from an essay entitled My Credo.
Colonel William R. (Rich) Higgins, USMC, disappeared on Feb. 17, 1988, while serving as the Chief, Observer Group Lebanon and Senior Military Observer, United States Military Observer Group, United Nations Truce Supervision Organization.
Born in Danville, Kentucky on Jan. 15, 1945, Rich Higgins graduated from Southern High School in Louisville and earned his bachelor’s degree from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. A scholarship student in the Navy ROTC, he received the Marine Corps Association Award and was commissioned in the Marine Corps in 1967. He later obtained a master’s degrees from Pepperdine University and Auburn University. He graduated from the Army Infantry Officers Advanced Course, the Air Force Command and Staff College, and the National War College.
As a lieutenant, he participated in combat operations during 1968 with C Company, 1st Battalion, 3d Marines in the Republic of Vietnam as a rifle platoon commander and rifle company executive officer, and was aide-de-camp to the Assistant 3d Marine Division Commander.
In 1969 Lt. Higgins served at Headquarters Marine Corps and in 1970 as the Officer-in-Charge of the Officer Selection Team in Louisville, Kentucky. Captain Higgins returned to Vietnam in 1972 as an infantry battalion Advisor to the Vietnamese Marine Corps, then in 1973 served as a rifle company commander with B Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines.
From 1973 - 1977, Captain Higgins served at the Staff Noncommissioned Officers Academy and Officers Candidates School, both in Quantico, Virginia. Returning to the Fleet Marine Force in 1977, Capt. Higgins was assigned to the 2d Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where he again served as a rifle company commander with A Company, 1st Battalion, 2d Marines. Upon promotion to major, he was reassigned as the Logistics Officer for Regimental Landing Team-2, 4th Marine Amphibious Brigade.
After completion of the Air Force Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base in 1980, designated a distinguished graduate, he returned to Washington where he served at Headquarters as a Plans Officer until his selection to the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
During 1981 and 1982, he served as Military Assistant to the Special Assistant to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense, then as Assistant for Interagency Matters to the Executive Secretary for the Department of Defense. After graduation from the National War College in 1985, he returned to the Pentagon as the Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, where he served until he was transferred to his United Nations assignment in July 1987. He was promoted to colonel on Mar. 1, 1989.
After being held captive by pro-Iranian terrorists in Lebanon, Col. Higgins was murdered. The exact date of death is uncertain; however, he was declared dead on Jul. 6, 1990. His remains were eventually recovered and interred at Quantico National Cemetery Dec. 30, 1991.
Col. Higgins’ military decorations include: the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit (posthumous), Bronze Star with combat "V", Purple Heart (posthumous), Meritorious Service Medal, Navy Commendation Medal with bronze star and combat "V", Combat Action Ribbon, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with silver star, Staff Service Honor Medal, United Nations Medal, and numerous unit commendations and campaign ribbons. On Mar. 18, 1992, President George Bush awarded Col. Higgins the Presidential Citizens Medal (posthumous).
SHIP SPONSOR: LIEUTENANT COLONEL ROBIN HIGGINS, USMC (Retired)
Robin L. Higgins was nominated by President George W. Bush to be Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on April 30, 2001 and confirmed by the Senate May 24, 2001.
In this role, she was responsible for the National Cemetery Administration, directing the operation and maintenance of 120 national cemeteries and overseeing other memorial-related programs, including providing headstones and gravesite markers, administering a federal grants program to states to establish state veterans cemeteries, and issuing Presidential Memorial Certificates to survivors of honorably discharged veterans.
Prior to her nomination, Mrs. Higgins served as Executive Director of the Florida Department of Veterans' Affairs, appointed by Governor Jeb Bush in January 1999. As the Governor’s chief advisor on veterans’ issues, she led the state agency responsible for providing Florida veterans and their dependents with access to federal and state benefits to which they may be entitled.
A native of the Bronx, N.Y., Mrs. Higgins earned her bachelor’s degree from State University of New York at Oneonta, and a master’s from C.W. Post College of Long Island University. She also studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In May 2003 she was granted an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the State University of NY. Mrs. Higgins is a 20-year veteran of the Marine Corps, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.
Under the 41st President Bush Administration, she served as Deputy Assistant Secretary and Acting Assistant Secretary for Veterans’ Employment and Training at the U.S. Department of Labor. While there, she served on the Department of Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee on Women Veterans and the Department of Defense’s Defense Conversion Commission.
Mrs. Higgins is the widow of Colonel William R. (Rich) Higgins, a Marine officer taken captive by terrorists in Lebanon in 1988, and later murdered. Since then, she has become an internationally known speaker on surviving adversity and terrorism. Her book, Patriot Dreams - The Murder of Colonel Rich Higgins was published in time for the commissioning of the USS Higgins (DDG 76), a Navy destroyer named for her husband.
Mrs. Higgins is the recipient of numerous awards, including the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs Exceptional Service Award, Marine Corps League’s Dickey Chapelle Award, American Legion Auxiliary’s Public Spirit Award, and American Academy of Physician Assistants Veterans Caucus Award. In September 2002, Mrs. Higgins left government service to pursue family and personal interests.
Current USS Higgins
Commissioned on April 24, 1999, USS Higgins (DDG 76) has proven the motto of her namesake, “First to Fight!” Her war record includes four successful deployments, including one eighteen-month deployment in support of the Sea Swap initiative. The program rotation involved four six-month deployments and two ship turnovers between the Higgins, Benfold, and John Paul Jones crews. The teamwork, determination, and ownership of her crews ensured Higgins’ reputation for mission accomplishment in support of Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and the Global War on Terror.
The officers and crew of USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) completed a hull custody turnover of that ship in San Diego in late September 2003. Upon completion of turnover, the crew immediately forward deployed to the FIFTH Fleet Area of Responsibility (AOR), and assumed custody of USS Higgins in Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates in early October 2003. Upon custody turnover, USS Higgins had been forward deployed for 12 months. The crew will complete the ongoing deployment, return the ship to San Diego, and maintain permanent custody of the ship. While on station within the Fifth Fleet AOR, Higgins was a formidable asset in the defense of U.S. and Coalition interests.
Within 72 hours of Sea Swap hull custody transfer, Higgins was on-station in the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman conducting Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS) and escort operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Higgins later transited to the North Arabian Gulf, where the ship assumed responsibilities as the Maritime Interdiction Operation (MIO) Surface Action Group Commander in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In this role, Higgins led a Coalition of maritime forces, which included Australian, British, and Singaporean Navies in the defense of the Al Basra Oil Terminal and the execution of MIO. For more than three months, Higgins coordinated or executed in excess of six hundred boardings, and vigilantly secured U.S. and Coalition interests within the region.
While conducting maritime interdiction operations in the Gulf of Oman in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Higgins received a report of a distressed vessel from a Coalition maritime patrol aircraft and responded immediately. Higgins located the disabled vessel, rescued the three Pakistani mariners onboard, and coordinated their tow back to port via the Iranian Coast Guard.
In support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Higgins intercepted a cargo dhow transiting the Gulf of Oman. Upon inspection by another Coalition warship, a cache of illegal arms was found onboard the dhow. As Surface Action Group Commander, Higgins took custody of the dhow and detained its crew. While maintaining a vigilant watch over the vessels cargo and crew, Higgins coordinated the custody turnover of the dhow to Pakistani authorities.
The homebound transit included a stop in East Timor during which Higgins hosted the U.S Ambassador, the Prime Minister of East Timor and multiple cabinet members. Shortly after departing East Timor and transiting the Great Barrier Reef, Higgins arrived in Sydney, Australia where the crew enjoyed five days of liberty in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities. The final international port visit involved a five day visit to Suva, Fiji. Here the Higgins crew enjoyed internationally renowned water sports and cuisine. Commencing in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Higgins organized a successful five-day Tiger Cruise for the families and friends of crewmembers.
Upon returning to San Diego in April 2004, Higgins completed a safe and efficient ordnance offload and fuel transfer and headed into a 9-week Selected Restricted Availability. This time in the shipyard enhanced Higgins’ capabilities including the installation of the Tactical Tomahawk weapons system, the refurbishment of the Mk 45/5” Lightweight Gun Mount and Mk 41 Vertical Launch systems, and an enhanced Combat Systems suite.
Upgrades and repairs complete, Higgins returned to the Fleet and the Nimitz Strike Group. Higgins entered the Inter-Deployment Training Cycle in August, with successful completion of 3-M assessment and a complete ship ordnance onload for training. In the spirit of her namesake, Higgins demonstrated Force Protection prowess at the FP3 assessment. Higgins accomplished surface gunnery exercises in October, scoring a direct hit on the towed catamaran target and sinking it. Higgins completed a successful Naval Surface Fire Support FIREX II and smartly demonstrated the ship’s capabilities during the October Family Day cruise.
December 2004 marked the beginning of a busy upcoming year for USS Higgins. Higgins became a member of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group, in the company of USS Nimitz, USS Princeton, USS Chafee, and USS Louisville. In the three week Composite Unit Exercise that followed, Higgins stood out in all mission areas and, along with the other ships in the Nimitz Strike Group, was now certified “surge ready” to deploy.
In February 2005, the ship conducted the Congressionally-mandated inspection by the Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV). This complete material assessment of the ship was successfully completed and was highlighted by a one day underway demonstration which showcased Higgins’ high levels of combat readiness with near-perfect grades in nearly every category.
The next pre-deployment milestone consisted of Higgins’ ordnance onload at Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach. Once the ship was outfitted with its deployment load of ammunition, Higgins was once again underway with the Nimitz Strike Group in March for its Joint Task Force Exercise. Coincident with that two week exercise, Higgins sent three teams to the recently instituted Non-Compliant Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure school and, as a result, became one of the first ships to deploy to the Fifth Fleet AOR with an organic non-compliant boarding capability, greatly enhancing its effectiveness in waging the Global War on Terrorism.
With only thirteen months since the previous deployment, Higgins commenced its second deployment on May 6, 2005 in company with the Nimitz Strike Group. A brief stop at the North Island Naval Weapons Station provided Higgins with several new combat capabilities, particularly the new Tactical Tomahawk Cruise Missiles and the High Explosive Electronically Timed (HE-ET) and Kinetic Energy Electronically Timed (KE-ET) 5” projectiles. While the TACTOM missiles significantly enhance Higgins’ Strike warfare capabilities, the HE-ET and KE-ET rounds provide the ship more capable defense against an asymmetric surface threat.
On the way to the Middle East, the crew enjoyed liberty ports in Pearl Harbor, Hong Kong and Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. These visits were highlighted by various community relations projects, sporting events and recreational tours of the surrounding areas. Shortly after in-chopping into the Fifth Fleet AOR on June 22, Higgins escorted USS Carl Vinson through the Strait of Hormuz. Higgins then enjoyed a five day port visit in Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates.
Throughout the four months inside Fifth Fleet AOR, Higgins conducted maritime surveillance and interdiction operations. The purpose of these evolutions was to deny and deter international terrorists from using the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons and material.
On September 11, while operating in the Southern Arabian Gulf, Higgins came to the rescue of an injured Iraqi fisherman who has sustained wounds from a pirate attack. After bringing the injured fisherman aboard Higgins, Higgins' corpsman determined that surgery was required and the fisherman was airlifted to USS Nimitz for further medical attention. The fisherman survived the surgery and was released when he returned to stable condition. A final successful voyage through the Strait of Hormuz in September marked the pinnacle of Higgins’ accomplishments. The crew had successfully executed all of their assignments in a first class professional manner, thoroughly establishing themselves as a capable unified team that had effectively combated the war on terror.
However, Higgins’ tasking was not complete. In late September, Higgins participated in Malabar 2005, a series of at-sea events enhancing cooperation between the American and Indian Navies, with a goal of strengthening relations in order to foster regional security. For over a week, the participants executed various training evolutions, enhancing navigational, ship-handling and tactical skills.
Transiting back home, Higgins enjoyed several more liberty visits to include India, Thailand and Pearl Harbor. Again, the crew continued to demonstrate a caring disposition and took it upon themselves to help the less fortunate in those areas.
For the five day voyage home from Pearl Harbor to San Diego, friends of the crew were invited to ride onboard. Riders were briefly exposed to the intricacies of shipboard life. They had the opportunity to observe underway replenishments, weapons firing and an air show.
Finally, in early November, after a much anticipated journey from Pearl Harbor, sailors were reunited with their families in a joyful celebration filled with smiles, laughter and tears. The crew took some much deserved time off to rest from the challenging deployment and to be with their loved ones over the holiday period.
Higgins spent the remainder of 2005 in San Diego for post-deployment upkeep and holiday standdown, with the exception of a five-day underway in the beginning of December, during which Higgins played an opposing force (OPFOR) for the Peleliu Expeditionary Strike Group in various combat scenarios. Shortly thereafter, the TORIS/TFOM training assessment program was installed on Higgins, marking a new phase in the Navy’s training assessment program.
In the second half of January 2006, Higgins conducted Mobility-Navigation and Seamanship (MOB-N and MOB-S) training while transiting to Puerto Vallarta for a three-day port visit. February and March saw various phases of the pre-deployment training cycle, including exercises or assessments in Anti-Terrorism and Force Protection, Engineering, Combat Systems Training Team capabilities, Supply and Medical Readiness, Damage Control, and Search and Rescue.
In April 2006, Higgins offloaded ammo in Seal Beach and completed a Mobility-Engineering (MOB-E) assessment in preparation for the ensuing Selected Restricted Availability (SRA) period, which brought with it many equipment upgrades that enhanced Higgins’ warfare capabilities.
In August 2006, Higgins returned to Naval Station San Diego from the shipyard and kicked off the pre-deployment “workups,” which included various inport scenarios involving Damage Control, Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS), Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD), Undersea Warfare (USW), and Strike Warfare (STW). Later in the month, Higgins returned to Seal Beach to take on weapons required for the following year’s deployment.
Various training events took place in September, as well as a five-day Combat Systems Restricted Availability. During the last week of the month, several civilians joined the crew for a five-day underway called Leaders-To-Sea. During their stay, the Leaders-To-Sea experienced a sailor’s daily life aboard a warship.
Higgins steamed with the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group in the beginning of October 2006 to San Francisco for Fleet Week. During the Group Sail transit, the Higgins Strike Team conducted Tomahawk training and certification scenarios. The ship returned to San Diego for the second half of October and most of November for a Continuous Maintenance Availability and the Final Evaluation Problem, which determined that Higgins was ready to commence pre-deployment training exercises with the Nimitz Strike Group.
On November 9, 2006, Commander Jeffrey P. Menne relieved Commander Jesse A. Wilson as Higgins’ seventh Commanding Officer. After the Thanksgiving holiday, Higgins reached another pre-deployment milestone by participating in a three-week Composite Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) with the other ships in the Nimitz Strike Group. The crew then enjoyed a holiday standdown with family and friends into the first week of 2007.
The month of January 2007 included a three week CMAV period, as well as five-day underway to evaluate Higgins’ helicopter operations team and its ability to conduct deck landing qualifications for the Strike Group’s SH-60 pilots.
Higgins spent a week in Port Hueneme for a Combat Systems suite upgrade, then returned to San Diego to conduct a three-day Force Protection Exercise in preparation for the upcoming deployment’s port visits. The Nimitz Strike Group reunited at the end of February for the Joint Force Exercise (JTFEX), the last step in pre-deployment training cycle. The successful completion of JTFEX put the Higgins in a surge-ready condition as the crew entered a Preparation for Overseas Movement (POM) standdown for most of the month of March.
On April 2, 2007, Higgins began its third deployment to the Fifth and Seventh Fleet Areas of Responsibility (AORs) with a Unit Level Training Readiness Assessment-Sustainment (ULTRA-S) to achieve certification in all warfare areas. Prior to entering the Seventh Fleet AOR, Higgins participated in an Undersea Warfare Exercise in the Hawaiian OPAREA, during which the crew led the Nimitz Strike Group as the Anti-Submarine Warfare Commander.
At the end of April, Higgins enjoyed a brief port visit in Guam, then transited through the Western Pacific, Surigao Strait, Balabac Strait, Strait of Malacca, and the Indian Ocean to enter the Fifth Fleet AOR. For most of May, the Nimitz Strike Group sustained U.S. Navy presence in the North Arabian Sea in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Commander Fred Winton Smith, Jr. assumed command of Higgins on May 15th 2007. The crew was honored shortly thereafter with a celebrity visit from NASCAR legend Geoff Bodine.
Higgins conducted a well-executed Anti-Submarine Warfare exercise, a transit through the Strait of Hormuz as part of the largest Expeditionary Strike Force since 2003, and Sea Dragon operations in the South Arabian Gulf, which consisted of goodwill approach operations by the ship’s Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) teams. Commander, Destroyer Squadron 50 embarked Higgins at the end of May for Nautical Union, a bilateral exercise with the Royal Saudi Navy. This important exercise, conducted in the Central Arabian Gulf, flexed American and Saudi surface warfare capabilities during various war-at-sea scenarios, and both navies benefited from the cultural and intellectual exchange.
June was the busiest and most demanding month of the 2007 deployment. Following a port visit to Bahrain after 36 consecutive days at sea, Higgins steamed north to join Coalition forces in defending the Iraqi Al Basra oil terminals against smugglers and terrorists in the North Arabian Gulf. These two oil platforms supply approximately 90 percent of Iraq’s national income, and by protecting them, Higgins performed a critical role in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Between two stints of oil platform defense, Higgins conducted another Anti-Submarine Warfare exercise, and more Sea Dragon approach operations. Toward the end of June, Higgins announced its sailors of the second quarter 2007: DC1(SW) Jacob Weaver as Senior Sailor of the Quarter, GSM2(SW) Francisco Taylor-Paz as Junior Sailor of the Quarter, and SN(SW) Jose Cruz as the Blue Jacket of the Quarter.
In July, Higgins performed Regional and Sector Air Defense, as well as Theater Ballistic Missile Defense duties in the Northern and Central Arabian Gulf before arriving at Dubai for a port visit to celebrate the 4th of July. Upon leaving port, Higgins’ boarding team conducted a six-hour consensual full search of the crew and cargo of a North Korean-flagged vessel with a history of oil smuggling. The rest of the month was spent performing duties as Air Defense Commander for the Nimitz Strike Group while conducting Tomahawk Strike scenarios and Sea Dragon operations.
The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group transited together to the Guam operating area in the Seventh Fleet AOR to participate in Valiant Shield 07, a US joint multi-mission exercise which demonstrated the military’s ability to amass a Joint Task Force of 26 ships, 13 submarines, and 325 aircraft in a short amount of time. The Strike Force included the Nimitz, John C. Stennis, and Kitty Hawk Carrier Strike Groups, as well as a forward deployed U.S. Air Force Air Expeditionary Wing and US Coast Guard assets. Higgins discovered a break in the schedule of events to squeeze in a Swim Call just above the deepest trench of the Pacific Ocean.
At the end of August, Higgins was rewarded with well-deserved port visits to Hong Kong and Singapore after 44 consecutive days at sea. Several crewmembers participated in various community relations (COMREL) projects in both ports. During the transit between Hong Kong and Singapore, the crew also conducted a Crossing the Line ceremony transforming “wogs” that have never crossed the equator into trusty “shellbacks.”
While in the Andaman Sea, Higgins performed Redcrown duties for the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group during Malabar 07, a joint exercise involving the United States, India, Australia, Japan, and Singapore. Higgins also served as the Air Defense Commander during the exercise, providing the AEGIS shield to Nimitz, serving as her escort, and controlling aircraft.
Halfway through September, the ships in the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group conducted the first ever “ULTRA-S PLUS,” a two-week version of the Unit Level Training Assessment-Sustainability. More challenging and intensive than its predecessor, ULTRA-S PLUS was designed to recertify ships scheduled for a near-term Surge deployment. Higgins performed exceptionally well, achieving recertification in 18 mission areas.
At the end of September, one of Higgins’ corpsmen, HM2(SW) Gomer Turiano, was named the COMDESRON 23 and COMCARSTRKGRU ELEVEN Junior Sailor of the Quarter.
Higgins finished out WESTPAC 2007 with a brief Hawaiian port visit to pick up family and friends for a week-long Tiger Cruise enroute to San Diego. A total of 60 Tigers, ranging in ages from 8 to 79, observed the departure from Pearl Harbor, man overboard drills, refueling at sea, vertical replenishment, small and large caliber gun shoots, air power demonstrations provided by the Carrier Air Wing, formation steaming drills, Damage Control Olympics, departmental awards ceremonies, and a variety of morale activities including the Adopt-A-Chef program with several Iron Chef competitions at sea.
Returning home to San Diego at the end of September, Higgins entered a post-deployment stand-down period, followed by a Continuous Maintenance Availability period that provided some much needed repairs to various shipboard systems.
Winding down the quarter in September, Higgins announced its sailors of the third quarter 2007: SK1(SW) Steven Gonong as Senior Sailor of the Quarter, HM2(SW) Gomer Turiano as Junior Sailor of the Quarter, and QMSA Tapu Tagaloa as the Blue Jacket of the Quarter.
The Higgins Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS) Team underwent a four-day team-trainer in mid-October as a result of a turnover of various watchstanders. They later earned their NSFS recertification in early November during a NSFS Firing Exercise (FIREX).
During that week, Higgins participated in a CNO Special project, launching five MK 54 Vertical-Launched Anti-Submarine Rockets. During the inter-deployment period, the Family Readiness Group charted a robust calendar of activities for the family network and the Morale, Welfare & Recreation Committee put on a terrific Command Holiday Party, celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Higgins kicked off the month of December with a Family & Friends Day Cruise off the Southern Californian coast. Higgins planned it perfectly, taking advantage of timing the underway with Nimitz and receiving front row seats for the Air Show. Days later, the Nimitz Strike Group set sail for an eleven-day Nimitz Strike Group Sustainment Exercise (SUSTAINEX) in which Higgins flexed multiple warfare areas in preparation for an upcoming deployment. We balanced the workload with several social events to include the Children’s Holiday Party sponsored by the First Class Petty Officer Association, Chief’s Mess & Spouse Social at the CO’s House, a Wardroom Hail & Farewell, and flag football game between officers and chiefs. Higgins additionally received an Honorable Mention in the San Diego Base Waterfront Christmas Lighting Competition and earned the Surface Force Safety Excellence Award. Our sailors of the fourth quarter of 2007 were GSM1(SW) Angelo Lobo as Senior Sailor of the Quarter, FC2(SW) Justin Tamillo as Junior Sailor of the Quarter, and HTFN Corey Gronn. For calendar year 2007 aboard Higgins, our Senior Sailor of the Year was DC1(SW) Jabob Weaver, Junior Sailor of the Year was GSM2(SW) Francisco Taylor-Paz, and Blue Jacket of the Year was Seaman Kyle Wakefield.
Most of January 2008 was spent preparing for the deployment with upkeep and various in-port training exercises. On January 24th 2008, the Nimitz Strike Group commenced its fourth deployment to the 7th Fleet AOR while USS Kitty Hawk underwent scheduled maintenance in Yokosuka, Japan.
During the transit to Guam, Higgins participated in two Tomahawk Strike exercises, one in 3rd Fleet and the other in 7th Fleet, in which Higgins served as the Launch Area Coordinator for the event. The ship made a brief stop in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to refuel at the end of January.
In February, Higgins placed 7th in the Navy-wide guided-missile destroyer (DDG) fuel conservation program for fourth quarter of 2007 and received $33,000 as a reward. Higgins also was well represented at the 2007 CDS 23 and CSG11 Sailor of the Year Boards: Damage Controlman First Class (Surface Warfare) Jacob Weaver was named as the Senior Sailor of the Year and Gas Turbine Systems Technician (Mechanical) Second Class (SW) Francisco Taylor-Paz was selected as the Junior Sailor of the Year.
The results of the Battle Effectiveness Awards for 2007 were also released in February, and Higgins earned four of the six Command Excellence Awards: the Green E for Command, Control, Communications, and Information Warfare Excellence, the Blue E for Logistics Management Excellence, the Yellow E for TYCOM Ship Safety Excellence, and the Purple E for Efficiency Excellence. Additionally, Higgins earned the Green H for demonstrating excellence in establishing and promoting a command climate conducive to wellness and health promotion.
After a mid-February port visit to Guam, where members of the crew participated in two Community Relations projects, Higgins participated in Undersea Warfare Exercise (USWEX) 08-02 with the Nimitz Strike Group and three Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) ships. On the heels of the USWEX as Higgins sped off toward its next destination, the crew strapped on two more exercises along the way in the mission areas of Tomahawk Strike and Ballistic Missile Defense.
In March, Higgins was named Destroyer Squadron 23’s “Most Valuable Player for the USWEX” and received the Anti-Submarine Warfare Award for the first quarter of 2008. As environmental stewards, we were also pleased to learn of Higgins ranking #7 of 70 ships for the Pacific Fleet First Quarter Fuel Conservation award. And finally, as a result of our crew’s determination and an aggressive training program, Higgins qualified to fly the Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialty pennant. Our First Quarter 2008 sailors were: IT1 Yolanda Rose - Senior Sailor of the Quarter, CTT2 Mike Manelski - Junior Sailor of the Quarter, and OSSN Heidi Braun - Blue Jacket of the Quarter. FC1 Deandre Burns was selected as the Destroyer Squadron 23's nomination for the Admiral Arleigh Burke Surface Warfare Operational Excellence Award for his superior achievement over the past year.
During a port visit to Pohang, South Korea, members of the Higgins crew volunteered in two Community Relations projects. Higgins also conducted visits with sister ship ROKS Yang Man Chu and participated in social events to strengthen bonds in support of Theater Security Cooperation initiatives. Once underway, Higgins participated in Exercise Foal Eagle, a bilateral exercise with the four Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) ships. The crew flexed its surface, subsurface, and air warfare areas while building a strong relationship of training and understanding with the ROKN.
Higgins performed every mission assigned, even high visibility operations of the first time trailblazing for the rest of the Pacific Fleet. Once off station, Higgins underwent a week-long ULTRA-S assessment just before pulling into Hong Kong for a four-day port visit. Nine days later, the ship made back-to-back port visits to Guam and Saipan. Off the coast of Saipan, the crew celebrated the ship’s birthday with a swim call and World War II vintage photo shoot on the focsle. Higgins then rejoined the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group, along with the USS Okane (DDG 77) and the USS Reuben James (FFG 57) and the Kitty Hawk Strike Group for dual carrier operations.
In April, Higgins’ former Main Propulsion Assistant, Chief Warrant Officer Dennis Guiriba, was named the runner up Navy Fuel Officer by the American Petroleum Institute. Higgins joined USS Houston (SSN-713) and USS Ohio (SSGN-726) in an Antisubmarine Warfare and Strike Warfare training opportunity. Shortly thereafter, Higgins pulled into Pearl Harbor, Hawaii for a two-day port visit, during which family and friends of the crew embarked for a week-long Tiger Cruise.
Our Family Readiness Group, with over 20 activities in the span of four months, to include coffee socials, play days, SPA day, dinners, socials, fundraisers, and recent run/walk over the Coronado Bridge, is one of the strongest and tightest family networks ever witnessed.
Higgins received significant commendation in 2007-2008. Commander Naval Surface Forces recognized Higgins as a winner of the 2007 Unit Tactics Award. Additionally, during a Nimitz Strike Group Intelligence briefing, Higgins was lauded for setting the bar high in conducting a very unique mission set in 7th Fleet. As environmental stewards, our Engineers and Bridge watch teams worked closely together to monitor fuel and energy conservation. Efforts resulted in Higgins’ recognition as a Fiscal Year 2008 Energy Conservation Award winner. The command also received praise from Surface Forces Pacific as the guided missile destroyer that raised the most money for the 2008 Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS) Fund Drive. For a second consecutive quarter, their efforts earned Higgins the Honor Roll Retention Excellence award and authorization to fly the retention honor roll pennant.
Many officers and crew of Higgins were also recognized for their stellar performance. We were thrilled to learn of the annual Navy-Marine Association Leadership Award winners: DC1 Jacob Weaver in the First Class Petty Officer category; LTJG Tyler Bloecher in the Division Officer category; and LT James Murdock in the Department Head category. Higgins has a strong relationship with the Naval Academy’s Class of ’76. Each year, the class bestows a Leadership Award on a member of the CPO Mess and Wardroom. Selection is determined by peer ballot and based on the merits of superb leadership, integrity, and professionalism during the preceding calendar year. FCCS Brian Happli and LT James Murdock were selected as recipients. Higgins Sailor of the Quarter Boards for Second Quarter announced OS1 Shannon Baldwin as Senior Sailor of the Quarter, FC2 Joseph Cruz as our Junior Sailor of the Quarter, and ITSN Charles Daniels as Blue Jacket of the Quarter.
After four months of maritime security operations in the Western Pacific, the Higgins’ crew returned to San Diego to enjoy a much deserved post-deployment standdown for much of June. During this period, Higgins completed Supply Management Certification. The major inspection was shouldered by the entire Supply Department which earned grades of Excellent or Outstanding in key areas. Higgins served as host ship to Japanese Self Defense Ship, JDS Kirishima, during a visit to San Diego. The Higgins Wardroom also hosted and provided training for midshipmen in support of the Professional Training Midshipmen (PROTRAMID) program. The ship then offloaded its ammunition at Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach and conducted a Family & Friends Cruise back to San Diego.
Higgins underwent its first Drydock Selected Restricted Availability (DSRA) in British Aerospace Engineering’s San Diego shipyard over the summer of 2008. The availability provided Higgins with several significant upgrades. The crew and shipyard workers, together, received accolades as the “Safe Ship of the Week” for the entire duration of the shipyard.
Typically, drydock availabilities provide commands with time to attend schools and enjoy quality time with families and friends. In addition to enjoying a command family picnic and Padres game, Higgins surpassed that expectation with a tremendous showing in the 27th annual San Diego Surface Line Week Competition. Over 2000 participants representing 34 commands competed in 16 athletic and 13 professional events. The competition was tight with Higgins overall results in the medium category coming down to the last day of the five-day competition. Overall, our 89 heroes that participated took third place in the professional events and fourth place (honorable mention) in the athletic events. Closing out the week, Higgins made its mark at the 31st annual Surface Force Ball with a strong turnout and winning the centerpiece competition with an entry that best exhibited the ball theme: “Real warriors wear black shoes.”
Striving to continuously improve our stellar safety record, Higgins hosted our second Afloat Cultural Workshop. The Navy created the workshop to identify organizational behaviors reflective of a Command’s culture and assist in improving the operational risk management process.
Through a successful “Safe to Steam” assessment, sea trials and shakedown, Higgins returns to the fight. On two occasions, bracketing an ammunition onload at Seal Beach, Higgins got underway on short notice to provide vital services to the fleet and prepared two strike groups for deployment. Higgins exemplified what an agile force can accomplish: the highest standards of service to our nation, at home and abroad, at sea and ashore.
Higgins was also recognized as COMDESRON 23’s choice for Surface Force Annual Self-Sufficiency Award. Higgins Sailor of the Quarter Boards for Third Quarter announced GSM1 Angelo Lobo as Senior Sailor of the Quarter, BM2 Eric Simpson as Junior Sailor of the Quarter, and CTRSN Nels Dale as Blue Jacket of the Quarter. Combat-proven, the Higgins crew continues to live up to the words of Senator Charles S. Robb: “The USS Higgins puts the world on notice: those who threaten America’s interest or dare to terrorize its citizens will face Colonel Rich Higgins and the 8,300 tons of pure American steel that now surround his spirit.”