Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Short Story of Brotherhood and Solidarity

As I have said in many of my posts, my blog is designed for the family and friends of GONZALEZ Sailors. It is also my personal blog though, and so I am taking a moment with this post to share an amazing story of brotherhood and solidarity.

Following an appointment at Portsmouth Naval Hospital today, I stopped by the barbershop in the hospital to get a haircut. I had to wait for a short time as one barber was cutting the hair of another man and the second barber was preparing to give a young man a haircut. The young man whom I would have guessed to be about 17 or 18, had somewhat long hair and was accompanied by his mother, his aunt, and two younger cousins who also had long hair. As he sat down in the barber chair, I realized this was a special day and a special haircut. As the barber proceeded to give him a military style crew cut, his mother took pictures while his younger cousins watched with smiles of anticipation. Because I was in a military hospital and in my opinion, at least one if not both of the women where clearly military spouses, I presumed the young man was having his head shaved in advance of joining the military, probably the Marine Corps, or so I thought to myself.

It was what happened next that surprised me. As I sat down in the other barber chair for my own haircut, the other barber finished shaving the young man's head, and then the two younger cousins each took a turn getting their own heads shaved. All the while more photos were taken, and I started to overhear comments between the two sisters, the mothers of this trio of boys, of how nice it was of the two younger boys to support their older cousin.

After the five of them left the barbershop, the barber now cutting my hair said to me, "Wasn't that nice. That young man has cancer and has to receive chemotherapy treatment. His cousins had their heads shaved too to support him."

I do not know the families involved and I may not have all the facts right based on my observations alone, but without question for me it was one of the most heartfelt moments of brotherhood and solidarity I have ever personally witnessed.

Friday, February 20, 2009

USNA Ship Selection Night 2009

Being a University of Arkansas Alumnus, my blood will always run red and white for the Razorbacks. Go Hogs! But being a Naval Officer, my blood also runs blue and gold, and on February 19th, I enjoyed the opportunity to make a visit to the United States Naval Academy in the great city of Annapolis, Maryland. Two of my Division Officers who are Academy graduates and I made the drive up from Norfolk for the 2009 Ship Selection Night. This is the night when the Senior Midshipmen who have chosen to become Surface Warfare Officers select their first ships. The Midshipmen are organized by class rank, and then one by one, each chose their ship by selecting a placard with the ship’s name off the big board. It’s an exciting night for the Mids, the parents in attendance, alumni, and visiting officers. For me, it was just as exciting to see the two GONZALEZ name placards on the big board. And yes, much like an expectant father, I waited in anticipation for two Mids to make the best selections of the night. And yes, my Division Officers and I did some recruiting both before and during the event! We presented each Mid who chose GONZALEZ with a ballcap, t-shirt, patch, coin, and welcome aboard package. At the right, my Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer and I welcome the first Midshipman to choose GONZALEZ to the Wardroom.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Routine But Inherently Dangerous

The USS GONZALEZ blog is different from many of the excellent blogs on the web. As Commanding Officer of an Arleigh Burke Class destroyer, this is my personal blog and an avenue for me to reach out to the family and friends of GONZALEZ Sailors and give them an insight into the good things their sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends and shipmates are doing. I do not view it as an appropriate venue for me to comment on the goods and others related to my own training, maintenance, or operations for instance. For that type of commentary there are many excellent Navy sponsored and Navy-centric blogs such as:
The U.S. Naval Institute's Blog:
US Southern Command's Blog:
Observations of an Armchair Admiral:

Of course, there are many others, but the above are three that sprang to mind as I started writing this post.

But for this post, I am going to offer something a bit different. Over the last two weeks the Navy has endured two tragedies I felt compelled to comment on for GONZALEZ family and friends. Earlier this month, a Sailor onboard USS SAN ANTONIO (LPD 17) died at sea during an accident which occured while lowering a small boat. Less than a week later, USS PORT ROYAL (CG 73) grounded off the coast of Oahu while conducting a small boat transfer at night. Both of these events hit very close to home for me. The Commanding Officer of SAN ANTONIO is a very good shipmate of mine, and I am a former Executive Officer of PORT ROYAL. Particularly after the grounding of PORT ROYAL, I received many questions from Sailors onboard my own ship and from my own family and friends asking how these events could have happened? First, I do not have any personal insight into either event, and it would be inappropriate to speculate as to the circumstances of either event otherwise. In fact, what I told my Sailors and family and friends is that speculation is exactly what is not needed at times like these. What is needed is thoughts and prayers for the Sailors and families involved. The Sailors involved in both tragedies are shipmates and what they need is our support. At the end of the day, the Navy will conduct an investigation into both events, and we as professional mariners will learn from any mistakes made. What we do every day at sea, whether forward deployed or in home waters, is often routine, but always inherently dangerous. All Navy men and women are professionals who serve their country with honor, courage, and commitment, but even in the most professional organizations and services, tragedies occur. Until the investigations are complete, our continued thoughts and prayers are what the Sailors and families of SAN ANTONIO and PORT ROYAL need more than speculation.

Friday, February 6, 2009

DDG Sailors - A Day in the Life

Earlier this week, we arrived at BAE Shipyard for a maintenance availability. This will be the longest GONZALEZ has been pierside since I took command a year ago last February, and I know that by the end of our shipyard period I will certainly be ready to take her to sea again. With that in mind, I asked my two Assistant Public Affairs Officers to put together a short piece on what life onboard GONZALEZ was like over the last two months leading up to our maintenance period. Their article speaks volumes about the resiliency of Navy Sailors and offers a snapshot of two months in and out of homeport onboard a DDG. And as you will read, even though the two months of December and January encompassed a short holiday leave and upkeep period, a Day in the Life of a DDG Sailor is never short of tasking...


On the morning of 10 December, USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) sailed from Norfolk into the unforgiving winter Virginia Capes Operating Area. Gonzalez was not sailing for deployment nor conducting a homeland security or humanitarian assistance mission though. The men and women of the Arleigh Burke class aegis destroyer were sailing on a series of training missions under the observant eye of the Afloat Training Group to complete the Unit Level Training and Readiness Assessment Certification (ULTRA-C). Following two days of preparation, drills, and admin review in port, Gonzalez Sailors were heading out to sea to demonstrate their war fighting prowess. Over the course of an intense three days, the crew worked long days and nights to fight fires, flooding, fend off simulated sea based and terrorist attacks on the ship, and even take on fuel before returning home. Through high seas and chilling winds, the crew pushed on, excelling drill after drill. Each and every Gonzalez Sailor worked as a team, from Engineers to Hospital Corpsman and Food Service Attendants, burning the midnight oil. Culinary Specialist Senior Chief Ken Stallard, who checked onboard only one day before ULTRA-C said, “This is a well oiled machine. I couldn’t have picked a better ship to retire on. The crew works well together and holds pride and professionalism to the highest level. I wanted to go out of the Navy on a positive note and I feel I can certainly do that onboard Gonzalez.” Impressed with the Sailors he met during each training evolution, he stood back and watched with pride as enthusiasm and training carried the day toward an extremely successful ULTRA-C by the end of the week.

Two days later on the morning of 12 December Gonzalez returned pierside ready for Command Master Chief Keith Thomas’ popular “Liberty Call! Liberty Call!” ready for the next set of evolutions, the Command Holiday Party and the Gonzalez Children’s Holiday Party. Fresh on the heels of ULTRA-C the ship hosted the annual Holiday Party at the Lesner Inn the Saturday after returning from sea. With door prizes ranging from a big screen television to a laptop computer and much more, Gonzalez Sailors kicked back and enjoyed an outstanding meal and live entertainment which included a dance contest. During an exciting dance off, the three dance contest finalists brought out their best moves. LTJG Chris Edwards showed his best moves and seemed to be the front runner, until GM2 Miquel Vargas won the crowd over with his combination of footwork and dark sunglasses. Neither finalist could ultimately compete with ENS Kurt Bogart who broke out an 80s old school move called “The Worm.” While he enjoyed the fun of the Holiday Party and dance off, GM1 Lamarcus Hopson said his highlight of the evening was simply, “enjoying the camaraderie amongst the crew. It was nice to see smiling faces, relax and enjoy some good conversation.” While the Holiday Party was full of laughter and fun, there was still something missing: the amazing children of the moms and dads who serve on Gonzalez. The very next day, after breaking down from the Holiday Party, the ship’s MWR Committee set up and entertained more than 65 children ranging in age from a one-month to twelve year old pre-teens at a special Children’s Holiday Part at Liberty Lanes Bowling Center. Each child received a special gift from Santa and had fun bowling, playing games, and eating as much pizza as their hearts desired. The MWR committee wrapped over 70 presents decorated the bowling hall and threw an amazing party which everyone, moms and dads included, enjoyed.

The week of ULTRA-C and Gonzalez holiday’s parties was only one week in the life of DDG Sailors. After a short holiday leave and upkeep period, Gonzalez was back underway again for two weeks from 5-18 January supporting the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group’s Composition Two Exercise as an Opposing Force (OPFOR) ship in the Jacksonville Operating Area. Two days after returning from sea, Gonzalez plunged right into two major inspections, the Supply Management Certification and the Maintenance, Material and Management Inspection. The very next week Gonzalez sailed up the York River, spending a week at the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station Offloading all primary weapons from the ship before arriving at BAE shipyard this week for a maintenance availability.

Every week brings new challenges and new opportunities, but don’t expect to find a tired or weary crew when you cross the Gonzalez Quarterdeck. In fact, what you will find instead is the most resilient group of men and women on the waterfront, Sailors ready to defend their country, ready to greet guests with a smile or a kind gesture, and always ready to go “Beyond the Call.” - IT2 (SW/AW) Donaldson and CS2 (SW) Clark