By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Paolo Bayas,USS George Washington Public Affairs
WATERS NEAR GUAM (NNS) -- Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, commander, Naval Air Forces, embarked aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) to meet with Commander, Task Force (CTF) 70 leaders and presented five Battle "E" awards, May 29-30.
Shoemaker's visit laid a foundation of priorities with senior leaders that emphasized the importance of their mission in forward-deployed naval forces (FDNF) and also gave him a chance to acknowledge the achievements of George Washington and four Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5 squadrons.
"This [visit] gave me the opportunity to tell them [senior leaders, junior aviators and crew] my priorities as we move forward from the perspective of our current readiness, the wholeness of our force and [the mission in] alignment with the CNO's first tenet [warfighting first]," said Shoemaker. "We, the man-train-and-equip provider, want to ensure that [FDNF] has the resources they need to be able to operate forward, to be focused on warfighting first and to be successful when we ask them to sail and fly in harm's way."
According to Shoemaker, fast aircraft carrier response is important, primarily in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility, which is aligned with the President's strategic rebalance in the Pacific.
"The ability of those [U.S. Navy] forces to respond quickly when needed by 7th Fleet, PACOM [United States Pacific Command] or PACFLT [U.S. Pacific Fleet] commanders is valuable," said Shoemaker. "It reassures our allies and friends in this part of the world that we're here permanently and ready to respond."
During an all-hands call, Shoemaker presented Battle "E" plaques to George Washington, Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 27, Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 141, Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 115 and Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 77.
"It highlights the quality [of Sailors] we have in forward-deployed naval forces to have half the air wing recognized as the best of the best and then a carrier that repeats," said Shoemaker. "We ensure that we put the most capable squadrons and quality Sailors here [in FDNF] because we value what this strike group provides to the fleet commanders and our leadership, and to reassure our allies in the region that we have very capable forces present."
Shoemaker added that demand for U.S. naval forces, naval aviation forces in particular, around the world is not diminishing. Combatant commanders continue to ask for and demand the presence of carrier strike groups, expeditionary strike groups and forward-based expeditionary aviation assets.
"I realize the pace in times can be very hectic both for the ship and air wing," said Shoemaker. "I just thank them for their service, and continue to acknowledge them for the work that they do and that their families do. As I talked about all of those priorities, the one thing that underpins them all is taking care of our Sailors and their families. We can have the best gear, the most expensive stuff, the latest iterations, and the latest capabilities, but if we don't have those trained Sailors, which is our strategic advantage to employ all of that, then we've missed the marks. We've got to stay focused on taking care of them."
Shoemaker also focused on the efforts that higher headquarters have planned to accommodate Sailors and their families for the upcoming tri-hull swap between George Washington and Nimitz-class aircraft carriers USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) and USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). The hull-swap will include the personnel exchange of approximately 1400 to 1600 Sailors from each carrier.
"I think we've got our arms around managing the swap between [the ships]," said Shoemaker. "If there are some things that [Sailors] should be focused on, it is getting through this patrol, finishing this deployment all the way to San Diego in good shape, being successful and being safe. I fully expect that this will happen."
George Washington and its embarked air wing, CVW 5, are on patrol in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. George Washington will conduct a hull-swap with Ronald Reagan later this year after serving seven years as the U.S. Navy's only forward-deployed aircraft carrier in Yokosuka, Japan.