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Fleet trophy spotlights improved Navy units

Jun. 21, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Sailors aboard the attack submarine Hartford conduct morning colors April 5, 2012, before getting underway. (Lt. j.g. Jeffrey Prunera / Navy)
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Getting to know junior sailors, encouraging them to spend time with their families and promoting physical fitness to reduce stress are just some of the qualities of this year’s Arleigh Burke Fleet Trophy award winning commands.

The award is presented annually to the most improved units in the Atlantic and Pacific fleets. The commands are graded on their improvement in battle efficiency, including operational readiness, inspections and retention.

The winners for calender year 2012, announced in May, are the Los Angeles-class attack submarine Hartford, homeported in New London, Conn., and Patrol Squadron 9, “the Golden Eagles,” in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.

Cmdr. Brian Weiss, Patrol Squadron 9’s commanding officer, emphasized the command’s success was a team effort.

“There was continuous improvement across all warfare areas from the folks that fix the aircraft to those that provide combat support to administrative support,” he said.

Cmdr. Steven Wilkinson, Hartford’s CO, echoed the praise of his crew.

“The missions they did were very, very successful, and they were great ambassadors in every port,” he said.

The award is especially meaningful to the Hartford, which has rebounded significantly. The sub collided with the amphibious transport dock New Orleans in the Straight of Hormuz in March 2009. An investigation turned up significant problems with the crew. Officials found navigators listening to iPods on duty, watchstanders sleeping on the job, a lack of submarine skills and an all-around informal command environment— all contributors to the crash, which the Navy called “avoidable.”

When Wilkinson took over as commanding officer in fall 2011, he said he didn’t even read the investigative report.

“What I wanted to do is have a fresh, objective look at how the crew was,” he said. “I’m not a rear-view person, and that’s another thing I talked to the crew about. We look at the challenges ahead.”

No members of the Hartford’s crew at the time of the 2009 crash remain onboard today.

Navy Times asked leaders from both Arleigh Burke-winning commands to give some advice for growing and fostering a good crew.

Here’s what they had to say:

■Lead from the deck plates. Both commanders emphasized the need to know your people and to address issues early. The best way to do that, Weiss said, is to get out of your office and onto the deck plates.

“People need to get off their behinds and get down with the troops and walk around, because that’s where it’s happening at,” he said.

■Keeping families involved. Both COs talked about engaging with a sailor’s loved ones. .

Wilkinson talked specifically about making sure families knew their sailors were appreciated and doing good work. It makes it easier at times when a sailor misses a birthday or holiday for the mission.

■Morale boosts on deployment. Both commands celebrated the halfway point of their recent deployments to keep their crews happy..

VP-9 deployed to 5th and 6th Fleets for about six months in 2012. Midway they hosted an “Over the Hump” party that included connecting with families back home.

Aboard the Hartford, sailors received “halfway” care packages. .

■PT to stay motivated. Even in a cramped space, during the sub’s most recent deployment, Wilkinson made sure sailors stayed active.

“I think fitness and the ability to work out and PT pays dividends in managing stress,” he said.

During the deployment, sailors onboard the sub used stationary equipment to run, bike and row 768 miles, equal to the hull number of the Hartford.

For other bubbleheads, Wilkinson advised finding a space to get a quick workout in.

“Be creative,” he said. “You’d be amazed at the nooks and crannies guys can find to be a pullup bar or do situps.”

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