Thursday, July 31, 2008

USS GONZALEZ 4th of July and NATO Change of Command

It is tradition onboard USS Gonzalez for morning reveille on the ship’s announcing circuit to be preceded by a song chosen by the Officer of the Deck, but only when underway, not in port or at anchor. Yet, as Gonzalez swung on her anchor in the Italian port of Taranto on the 4th of July, the ship’s Command Career Counselor, NC1(SW/AW) Lisa Stocks, broke tradition by playing the American National Anthem to wake up the crew. Sailors rose out of their bunks to come to attention at the playing of the National Anthem, and then after the Anthem finished, the Commanding Officer, Commander Brian Fort, directed the crew to remain at attention. He then discharged and re-enlisted OS2(SW) Byron Harris over the same announcing circuit. After morning colors, CDMCM(SW) Keith Thomas re-enlisted IT3(SW) Franklin Fielder on the flight deck, and the Supply Officer, LT Kennis Sigmon, re-enlisted SK2(SW/AW) Mychal Travers in the Supply Support Office. What a great way for three outstanding Gonzalez Sailors to honor our National Day of Independence!
The 4th of July had only just begun for the crew of Gonzalez, however. On the same morning, 40 Gonzalez Sailors assembled on the pier at the Italian Naval Base of Taranto across from the Turkish Flagship, TCG Salehreis, and the Italian Flagship, ITS Luigi Durand De La Penne. Standing in a smart formation with platoons from Turkey, Italy, Greece, and Great Britain, they stood by for the Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG-2) Change of Command, in which Italian Navy Rear Admiral Giovanni Gumiero relieved Turkish Navy Rear Admiral Sinan Ertugrul. As is tradition, Rear Admiral Ertugrul commanded SNMG-2 for one year, always at the ready as the NATO Reserve Force and conducting a number of important exercises and operational training program events. During Gonzalez’ participation as the U.S. contribution to the task force, SNMG-2 participated in the Turkish Exercise Mavi Balina and the Italian Exercise Mare Aperto. Rear Admiral Ertugrul also led SNMG-2 through several periods Operation Active Endeavor (OAE) surge operations. As part of OAE, Gonzalez and the ships of SNMG-2 conducted maritime security operations throughout the Mediterranean. Using Automated Information Systems (AIS) carried onboard NATO ships, Gonzalez’ Combat Systems Officer, Lieutenant Brian Maynard summarized the purpose of OAE, “Our goal is to know who is who, and to detour merchant ships from any illegal activity. If we do that then our mission is successful.”
With the operational handover completed, Rear Admiral Gumiero will now lead the SNMG-2 ships into more further OAE missions and a similar training and exercise program. During his Change of Command speech he praised the work of Rear Admiral Ertugrul and the crews of the SNMG-2 ships. For the Gonzalez Sailors in formation on the pier, it was a moment of pride to hear both Admirals talk about how well the task force had performed. FC2(SW) Mona Healey recounted her thoughts, “I was very impressed with the honor Rear Admiral Ertugrul illustrated as he reviewed each platoon and saluted each flag one after the other. The symbolism was amazing especially being the Fourth of July, it was definitely liberating.” As the sun beat down on the band, color guard, and NATO platoons, STG3 Shawn Donahoe explained his feelings as part of the Gonzalez platoon, “It was great being a part of the platoon. Standing at parade rest for 30 minutes in the heat was difficult, but it was an honor to stand there with my shipmates, and all the NATO ships on the 4th of July.”
Gonzalez will conduct one more operational training program at sea and one more period of OAE surge operations with the Italian Flagship, ITS Luigi Durand De La Penne, and HMS Somerset before detaching from NATO and returning home during the NATO Summer Dispersal.

Teaching at a Different PACE

There have been many Navy College Programs Afloat College Education (PACE) Instructors who have walked the passageways of USS Gonzalez over the years, but none quite like Mr. Dennis Saliny. He was a unique PACE Instructor who not only understood the importance of education but also the discipline and dedication of military personnel, particularly those who invest in a higher education while deployed overseas.

A commissioned officer in the United States Army with a Bachelors Degree in Chemical Engineering from Purdue University, he served seven years in the Army including more than two years working with the South Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. As a Vietnam Veteran he was particularly in tune with Gonzalez’ namesake, Sergeant Freddy Gonzalez, who received the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty at the Battle of Hue City during the Vietnam War. Upon his discharge from the Army, Dennis worked for the Western Electric Company, Bell Laboratories, and Motorola, completing a Masters in Business Administration from Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois. In 2001 he after serving as the Manufacturing Director for the Automotive and Consumer Electronics Group for Motorola, he took an early retirement. Not long after retirement, however, he returned to Northwestern were he taught business and math courses. After four years at Northwestern, he needed a change of pace and a change of environment. In May 2006, Dennis joined the ranks of NC-PACE instructors, having found the perfect opportunity to combine his love for education and his dedication to the military.

Prior to reporting to Gonzalez, Dennis deployed as the NC-PACE Instructor onboard the cruisers USS Shiloh and the Chancellorsville where he taught business and math courses and most recently onboard USS Carter Hall where he taught another math course will deployed to the Horn of Africa. Like all Sailors, he had to learn to make the transition from life ashore to life afloat, getting great support one the home front from his wife, Melva, who also served in Vietnam as an Army MASH nurse. Dennis joined Gonzalez on March 16, 2008 while the ship was at anchor off Antalya, Turkey. From the day he joined, not only his Sailor students, but the entire crew knew he was going to be special – an outstanding shipmate. As the NC-PACE Instructor, he taught College Algebra I and II over the course of his four months onboard. Like the Gonzalez motto, he went “Beyond the Call” of mere instruction. He conducted two teaching sessions a day to ensure that any Sailor who wanted had the opportunity to attend his classes, and he conducted additional study sessions throughout the day so Gonzalez Sailors who may have been having difficulties in some areas would have the opportunity for personal tutoring. Added the Commanding Officer, Commander Brian Fort, “During Dennis’ time as our PACE Instructor, he was truly a member of the crew. He participated in everything we did underway and inport – drills, awards ceremonies, Captain’s Cup events, re-enlistments, fresh water washes, sea and anchor details. He even helped out on working parties and conned the ship for a man overboard drill. You name it, Dennis was there and involved.”

Being deployed with the Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG-2) Task Force, Dennis’ devotion wasn’t confined within the bulkheads of Gonzalez either. After seeing Dennis topside during some close order tactical maneuvering the Commanding Officer of the British ship in SNMG-2 asked about the presence of a civilian onboard. After learning of Dennis’ qualifications, HMS Somerset (F82) asked if he might be available to assist some their Sailors as well. He then spent a week onboard the Royal Navy frigate where he conducted a preparatory course helping British Sailors prepare for a mathematics test given by Cambridge University, pertinent to them for either advancement purposes or as a pre-requisite for a GED-like test or college placement upon discharge from the Navy. He held classes twice a day for six days and tutored eight students in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, statistics, and beginning Calculus. He even assisted a British Sailor who was taking a physics course as part of a distance learning course.

Dennis further influenced Sailors onboard Gonzalez in teaching them that there is no limit to learning. STG2(SW) Benjamin Lane stated, “Mr. Saliny is a real go getter, and also a very unique instructor whose passion for teaching or passing down any type of knowledge is apparent. Even students who have had little knowledge for math in their previous years were brushing the cobwebs off with ease.”

Of course when asked why he loved to teach Dennis simply smiled and said, “I love and respect the Sailors. They are giving up their free time to do this in addition to working and completing pertinent qualifications. I have been impressed with their interest and dedication.” After a special ceremony to recognize Dennis’ service to Gonzalez, when asked what he liked most about the ship, he added, “I love how the ward room and Chiefs and the Sailors are so close and supportive of each other. I have also had the chance to interact more with the crew onboard this ship.”

Dennis departed Gonzalez and returned to his family with one month left to go in the ship’s deployment. To date, this was his longest period at sea as a NC-PACE Instructor. On behalf of the men and women of Gonzalez, fair winds and following seas to an outstanding instructor, Sailor, and shipmate.