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Readying the Fleet to Own the Fight

By Vice Adm. Richard Brown
Commander, Naval Surface Forces
Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet

Our Navy’s enduring mission is to protect and defend America and its national interests worldwide. As the largest contingent of the Nation’s maritime warfighting force, it is critical our surface ships continue to “own the fight” by being the best, the fastest, the toughest and the smartest warships operating around the globe.

ATLANTIC OCEAN (Feb. 6, 2018) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, from front to back, USS Farragut (DDG 99), USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) and USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81) participate in a strait transit exercise with the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anthony Flynn/Released)


Remaining the world’s preeminent Surface Force requires we put trust in, and responsibility on, our commanding officers to ready their ships for sea. More specifically, to ready their ships for combat at sea. This demand for combat-ready ships requires me, as commander, Naval Surface Forces (SURFOR) and commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet (SURFPAC), to ensure our commanding officers and, by extension, their ships remain the “center of gravity” for everything we do. The responsibility placed on each of them to prepare their ship, their crew and themselves for combat makes for a tremendously challenging and rewarding assignment. However, our ships cannot be successful without the full support of the SURFPAC (and counterpart Naval Surface Forces Atlantic) staff. As such, I dedicate my service as SURFOR to do everything I can to make sure we set our commanders and their ships up for success.

As the Surface Type Commander, my mission – and that of my staff – is “supporting Combatant Commanders and Navy Component Commanders by providing combat-ready Naval Surface Forces which are forward deployable, fully trained, properly manned, capably equipped, well maintained, and combat-sustainable.” It is a lofty mission, but a completely achievable one when all stakeholders – me, my staff, the commanding officers, the crews of our warships and the supporting array of training, maintenance, and personnel management professionals  – are pulling in the same direction and focused on the three fundamental principles which have guided me to success in every ship and strike group I have commanded. They are Good Stewardship, Professional Development, and Safety.

My command philosophy is simple and straight-forward. It covers everything we do in ships. It focuses on how we take care of our ships, how we train and develop our Sailors, and how we account for risk in an inherently dangerous shipboard environment. These fundamentals will be at the core of all our actions.

Good Stewardship:

The principle of good stewardship stems from an understanding and an appreciation of the resources that the American people have entrusted to us. Our ships are funded by taxpayer dollars and we have a responsibility to smartly operate and properly maintain them. Sixty percent of the Fleet’s shipboard manning comes from accessions, and many Sailors join the Navy right after high school graduation.  Therefore, the reliefs for many of our Sailors serving aboard our ships today are currently in the eighth grade.  The fact that many of today’s ships will still be in commission years from now and the Sailors that will man them have yet to be recruited, you realize the importance of taking care of our ships. The maintenance, modernization and training completed today not only benefit our current operations, but also preserve our future capability. Therefore, we need to ensure the highest level of care, cleanliness, and material condition aboard our ships. If we follow the guiding principle of good stewardship, we will produce warships ready for tasking by our fleet commanders.

SOUDA BAY, Greece (Jan. 13, 2016) Gas Turbine Systems Technician (Electrical) 3rd Class Kyle Brown, and Gas Turbine Systems Technician (Electrical) 3rd Class Bryant Fossier, perform maintenance aboard USS Carney (DDG 64). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Theron J. Godbold/Released)

Professional Development:

The principle of professional development finds root in the thought that each Sailor aboard our ships has a responsibility to command their actions, their environment and the situation. We need proficient, confident, and highly capable professionals manning every watch-station. A crew this is well-trained, educated and qualified is a crew that knows their ship and her missions.

As part of professional development, we owe our Sailors the opportunity to fleet-up in responsibility and advance through the ranks. In a time of crisis or combat, we will be dependent upon each Sailor to not only know their job, but to know their boss’s job. A phrase commonly used in sports, “next person up,” is more relevant to how our Navy operates today. We must be prepared to fight today, tomorrow, and next week. Our ships must be able to take a hit and continue to fight. A crew that knows the ship’s missions and her systems will be able to take that ship into the fight and win.

MAYPORT, Fla. (Feb. 7, 2018) Seaman Jonathon Espinozalopez, left, and Seaman Jeffrey Boekeloo, right, drive the ship from the bridge of the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) as it departs Naval Station Mayport as part of the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) deployment in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in Europe and the Middle East. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kevin Leitner/Released)


The last fundamental principle – safety – needs to always be at on the forefront of our actions. Operating ships at sea is inherently dangerous. Knowing this, I want to be crystal clear; nothing short of combat operations should force us to put a shipmate’s life in danger unnecessarily. We must continue to mature our ability to identify hazards and apply risk management. Risk management produces safety by getting us to think 6 to 12 steps ahead of what we’re doing. This is important because readying our ships for operational tasking requires us to “train like we fight” – underway and under strenuous conditions. We can’t necessarily assume someone senior to us has thought of the consequences of an action. Any Sailor, from the most junior to the most senior, can save a shipmate’s life by simply asking the question, “Should we be doing this?” The ability to speak out with regard to safety needs to be driven to the lowest level.

MEDITERRANEAN SEA (Nov. 15, 2017) Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Shadi Azhari delivers a safety brief aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) prior to a replenishment-at-sea with the Henry J. Kaiser-class fleet replenishment oiler USNS Leroy Grumman (T-AO 195). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Theron J. Godbold/Released)


Again, I believe that if we fully understand and live by the principles of Good Stewardship, Professional Development and Safety, we set ourselves up to win every time – we own our actions, we “own the fight.”

I am humbled and honored to serve as the Commander of our Surface Force. My job, and that of my staff, is to ensure our commanding officers have everything they need to get their ships underway in support of our fleet and combatant commanders. Now is the time to think seriously about what it takes to be ready for conflict, to be more proficient, and to develop the mental toughness in the calm of peacetime that will be drawn upon in the chaos surrounding combat.

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