Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Navy History and Heritage - GONZALEZ Style

When the March issue of Proceedings magazine arrived this week, I was instantly drawn to an article in the "Nobody Asked Me But..." section entitled, "The Navy Is Giving History a Bad Name" by Lieutenant Colonel Brian Hanley, U.S. Air Force (retired). Unfortunately, over the last few years, this is not the first time a member of another armed Service has commented in Proceedings on the Navy missing the beat or the boat when it comes to history and heritage.

Anyone who has ever served with me knows I am a Navy history and heritage enthusiast. Oddly enough, I don't come from a Navy family, was born in the landlocked state of Arkansas, have a degree in Electrical Engineering not history, and earned my commission through Officer Candidate School not the Naval Academy. So where does my history and heritage enthusiasm come from? I credit, or blame depending on point of view, my two year service with the Royal Navy. Why mention this on the GONZALEZ blog? Well, as long as I have served in the Navy, there seems to have been a consistent cry that Navy history and heritage don't play the important role they should. Yes, even I voiced my opinion in the June 2006 issue of Proceedings. For all the ideas, changes and proposals which have been put into place over the years, I think a fundamental point has been missed - history and heritage begins on board ships, submarines, and squadrons. It can't be force fed to Sailors. It must be fun, and it must be a part of what Sailors at sea do. Ships and Sailors are involved in history and heritage events all the time, and there are a lot of easy ways for Sailors to be involved...so naturally I decided to post a few thoughts on Navy History and Heritage - GONZALEZ style:

Embrace the ship's namesake: Every ship has a great name. On board DDG 66, we bear the proud call sign of a great Marine Corps warrior and hero, Freddy Gonzalez. Every Sailor who qualifies Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist (ESWS) and every officer who qualifies Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) knows that to pass their qualification board they must be able to answer questions related to Freddy. At SWO boards, junior officers are also required to describe a naval battle and naval hero of their choice. I used to ask questions about specific battles or naval heroes, but I wanted my Junior Officers to learn on their own and read, so rather than have them memorize answers to questions about history that they know interest me, I leave it to them. All of my new Sailors also learn about Freddy Gonzalez during command indoctrination.

Seek out a Singular Moment To Make History (big or small): While on deployment last summer, we arranged a PASSEX with USS HUE CITY (CG 66). Whether by accident or by design, both GONZALEZ and HUE CITY have the same hull number, and Freddy Gonzalez was the only Marine at the Battle of Hue City to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. As far I know, no one had previously taken a photo of GONZALEZ and HUE CITY sailing together, and our PASSEX was a fortuitous passing on a Sunday afternoon in May 2008. The PASSEX occurred while both ships were deployed and was simply a matter of luck. GONZALEZ was heading to the Eastern Mediterranean for a mission while HUE CITY was heading west across the Med.

Share a Heritage Moment With Family: Given that I am fortunate to command a warship named for a Vietnam War hero, before I took command, I took my children to Washington DC to the Vietnam War Memorial. While there I had them find Freddy’s name on the wall, create a pencil impression and then they helped me create a shadowbox which is displayed in my stateroom on the ship.

Maintain a Relationship With the Ship's Sponsor: Next to my relationship with my officers and crew, my personal relationship with my ship’s sponsor, Mrs. Dolia Gonzalez, is the best part of commanding GONZALEZ. I wrote Mrs. Gonzalez my first week in command, and she plays an important role in many parts of all of our lives on board the ship. I write her often, we speak on the phone, and she has visited the ship once during my command tour. The highlight of my relationship with Mrs. Gonzalez came when we helped her celebrate her 79th birthday on the day of our return from deployment last year. Mrs. Gonzalez was there to greet us on the pier, and more than 200 of her Sailors sang Happy Birthday in their white uniforms from the foc'sle after we moored.

Involvement with the USNA: While I am not a USNA Graduate, the USNA is a cornerstone of officer training and tradition for wFont sizeardrooms. We are fortunate to have a hull number which allows us to have a very special relationship with the USNA Class of 66. Each year the President of the Class of 66 presents a very special leadership award to one junior officer and one petty officer selected by the command. The award is great, but the interaction with the Class of 66 is the best part.

Commemorate the Battle of Midway: Given the opinions I have offered about ships commemorating the Battle of Midway, naturally, Gonzalez did so last year and will do so again this year. Last year's commemoration was particularly special because it was the 66th Anniversary of Midway, matching our hull number. In addition to hosting a special wardroom dinner at sea and taking vintage WWII photos, we also held a swim call in honor of Ensign George Gay, Jr., who was shot down during VT-8’s torpedo run during the battle. Ensign Gay then watched the battle from the Pacific until he was rescued. As far as we know, our event was truly the Inaugural George Gay, Jr. Swim Call.

Involve the Chiefs: Nothing is done well without the involvement and support of the Chief Petty Officer’s Mess. All of the Navy’s new uniforms notwithstanding, a great way to involve the Chiefs in heritage and history was my Command Master's direction to have GONZALEZ Chiefs put on their old school khaki for a day on the anniversary of the Chief's Birthday. We happened to be making a port call in Haifa, Israel with our NATO Task Force last year for the Chief's Birthday so it was a great way to celebrate with our NATO shipmates.

Don't Just Take the Day Off on Holidays: Holidays are more than simply days off or times for safety stand downs. In addition to taking a day off and talking about safety, we used these holidays to specifically remember those who have gone before us. For instance, on both Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, after opening remarks we played Taps. On Memorial Day we also read aloud Freddy Gonzalez’ Congressional Medal of Honor citation.

Outreach Events: In April of this year, a group of GONZALEZ Sailors will participate in the Blessing of the Fleets Ceremony in Washington D.C. In addition to the opportunity to interact with Sea Cadets and Veterans, it's an easy way for my Sailors to reach out to the community as well.

No organization grades us or assesses us on how well we honor our heritage, but I think we are giving history a pretty good name. -CO

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