By Lt. Lauryn Dempsey, DESRON 7 Public Affairs
SINGAPORE (NNS) -- Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7 held a change of command ceremony at Commander, Logistics Group Western Pacific in Singapore, Aug. 12.
Capt. Fred Kacher relinquished command of the DESRON to Capt. H.B. Le in a ceremony presided over by Rear Adm. Charlie Williams, commander, Task Force (CTF) 73.
"Commodore Kacher's leadership and vision, in both the professional and personal development of his Sailors, enabled DESRON 7 to achieve the highest levels of tactical excellence and operational success," said Williams. "The Kacher family has also been an integral part of the U.S. Navy community in Singapore and we wish them only the best in their next assignment."
Kacher arrived at DESRON 7 in October of 2012, first serving as the command's deputy commodore before assuming the role of commodore in July 2014. As deputy, Kacher helped execute DESRON 7's historic shift from San Diego to the Asia-Pacific, where the staff joined U.S. 7th Fleet's forward deployed naval forces in December 2012.
"As I look back on the better part of three years, I can't help thinking of DESRON 7 as the Navy's ultimate version of a Silicon Valley technology start-up," said Kacher. "We arrived in the region with a vision and tasking and a barebones office space, and over the course of the past few years, we've grown tremendously and worked tirelessly to make our mission a reality."
Just like a start-up, DESRON 7's growth was fast. Only three months in the region, the staff was tasked to execute tactical command of the first-ever deployment of a littoral combat ship, USS Freedom (LCS 1), which deployed from San Diego in March 2013.
"While a tough challenge at times, what we learned during Freedom's deployment set USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) up for success," continued Kacher. "In my 25 years in the Navy, I've never seen a more open and inclusive dialogue about what needed to be done better after that deployment. That process, combined with a lot of hard work from many, many stakeholders is a large reason why Fort Worth has hit every milestone and port visit on time, every time, throughout the past nine months of a 16-month long deployment."
One of the highlights of Fort Worth's current deployment was the ship's rapid response to the Indonesian-led search for AirAsia flight #QZ8501 in January 2015. With Fort Worth and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Sampson (DDG 102) on scene in the Java Sea, DESRON 7 assumed tactical command of the mission, leading both ships in their search for the missing plane.
"The AirAsia search was a pivotal moment for DESRON 7," said Kacher. "The mission marked the first time our staff led U.S. Navy assets during a real world event that included a multinational response, showcasing the value of having two DESRONs forward deployed to 7th Fleet. We live and work in Southeast Asia, so the crash took on a personal note for many of us, and we were honored to have played a small role in helping bring closure to the families affected by the tragedy."
Another major line of effort for DESRON 7 since arriving in the Asia-Pacific in late 2012 has been executing Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercises with nine partner nations on behalf of CTF 73. Now in its 21st year, CARAT is the U.S. Navy's premier naval engagement in South and Southeast Asia and includes bilateral exercises with Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Timor Leste.
CARAT is in direct support of the Navy's newly released maritime strategy, which stresses the importance of engaging allies and partners, specifically with many of the nations in South and Southeast Asia. DESRON 7 staff spends nearly 150 days of the year working with partner navies planning and executing the nine phases of CARAT, as well as with Vietnam during the annual naval engagement activity event.
"Over the past three years, DESRON 7 has been the familiar face for the partner navies we work with here," continued Kacher. "We've formed close connections with our counterparts, who we've seen year in and year out during planning conferences and exercises. And those close relationships will not only help strengthen the bonds between our countries, but will be invaluable should crises or challenges arise unexpectedly."
Kacher's ability to lead the forward deployed DESRON 7 staff from an idea to a reality did not go unnoticed. In May 2015, Kacher was announced as the 2015 recipient of the U.S. Navy League's John Paul Jones award for inspirational leadership. This past spring also saw a number of awards bestowed upon members of the DESRON 7 staff to include the 2015 Stephen Decatur award for operational competence; the 2015 junior officer recipient of the Captain Joy Bright Hancock leadership award; and the Thompson-Ravitz award presented to the 2014 junior public affairs officer of the year.
With his DESRON 7 chapter now closed, Kacher looks forward to his next chapter serving at U.S. Surface Forces in San Diego.
"I won't forget the DESRON 7 staff and families, both past and present, for their hard work, and incredible leaders like our task force commander, Adm. Charlie Williams, and my predecessor, Capt. Paul Schlise, who served as our first commodore in Southeast Asia. Because of their efforts, DESRON 7 is making an impact in this region on the rise, a region that may very likely define the next century," Kacher closed. "It's been a wonderful tour and I look forward to reading all about DESRON 7 doing 'even more, even better' under Commodore H.B. Le's extraordinary leadership."
Under Le, DESRON 7 will participate in even more exercises throughout U.S. 7th Fleet in 2016.
"I am incredibly fortunate to have served as Fred Kacher's deputy," said Le. "He truly is an inspirational and visionary leader, who has put DESRON 7 on the map and forged stronger relationships in the region. We wish him all the best and know that he's off to do great things for the surface fleet at SURFOR."
Le arrived at DESRON 7 in January 2015 following 17 months in the Pentagon as the junior military assistant to former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Le is no stranger to U.S. 7th Fleet operations. Previous tours saw Le serve as the commanding officer of USS Lassen (DDG 82) and executive officer of USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54)-both forward deployed destroyers, as well as executive assistant to two 7th Fleet commanders.
"With your new role as commodore, you now assume the great privilege and responsibility of leading a very talented squadron of officers and Sailors," Williams told Le during the ceremony. "Your vast experience operating in 7th Fleet and your stellar performance as the deputy commodore will serve you well as you take command today."
In his role as DESRON 7 deputy commodore, Le served as exercise commander during CARAT exercises in the Philippines, Timor Leste and Indonesia. He also was the senior naval officer present during April's Naval Engagement Activity Vietnam and was co-task group commander during the Guardian Sea exercise with the Royal Thai navy.
"Under Commodore Kacher's leadership, we've built a solid foundation in a short period of time in the region, and we look forward to continuing to flex our warfighting skills in future exercises and operations throughout the fleet," said Le.
Le is fresh off having led more than 1,000 U.S. Sailors and Marines during the execution of CARAT Indonesia Aug. 3-10. This year's exercise with the Indonesians was the most complex iteration of CARAT thus far and featured an LCS, DDG, an amphibious dock landing ship with embarked Marines, a P-3C Orion, a rescue and salvage ship with an embarked diving unit, Seabees and Coastal Riverine Group Sailors. The Indonesian navy brought more than 1,000 personnel dispersed across two frigates, one corvette, a dock landing ship with embarked Marines, a type 209 submarine and multiple fixed-wing maritime domain awareness aircraft.
The exercise spanned a wide array of naval warfare areas to include simultaneous amphibious landings and surface and anti-submarine warfare, visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) demonstrations, mobile diving and salvage training, coastal riverine operations, maritime patrol and reconnaissance operations, a gunnery exercise, and an anti-air warfare missile live fire training exercise.
This year's CARAT with Indonesia also marked the first time a LCS has participated in the Indonesian phase of the 21-year old exercise series. With two LCSs slated to arrive in 2016, and four operating throughout the region later this decade, DESRON 7 has significant room to grow and will continue making operational contributions throughout U.S. 7th Fleet.
"The future is bright at DESRON 7," said Le. "We have a talented team of professionals here - from our most junior Sailor, to our most senior department head - each individual has been given an incredible amount of responsibility in this important region of the world. They're excelling and making a difference, and I am lucky to be part of such a great group of sailors."