Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Summer Cruise_FINEX

Yesterday morning, GONZALEZ returned to our home port at the Norfolk Naval Base. While we missed our family and friends in Hampton Roads, it was great to be out to sea (including our 4th of July weekend stop at Mayport) for three weeks. And it was an excellent three weeks! I was exceptionally proud of everyone onboard. We worked and trained around the clock, accomplished our objectives, and did a phenomenal job of integrating our new Sailors into our underway routines. I was particularly proud of our 20 USNA Midshipmen and their GONZALEZ running mates. By the end of the three weeks, our Mids were indistinguishable from the crew. The deckplate skills and leadership lessons they learned will serve them well as future naval officers.

Our last 24 hours at sea certainly put our skills and endurance to the test. Following a morning General Quarters training session, we completed a two hour refueling at sea in the late afternoon and then five hours of day/night flight deck operations – finally finishing just after midnight. True to their resilience GONZALEZ Sailors were up early our final morning at sea, fresh water washing the decks in preparation for a flawlessly executed sea and anchor detail before returning to port.

So, we are now in our final preparations for our engineering assessment next week, and then we can settle into change of command preparedness. Only four weeks and two days remaining for me to command the best crew in the Navy. I envy my relief.

Change of command is shaping up to be a very special event though. In addition to the honor of hosting Mrs. Gonzalez and celebrating her birthday with her, we expect to also host her niece, a cousin of Freddy’s, possibly some Marines and a Navy chaplain who served with some of Freddy’s units, and even Freddy’s biographer. We are indeed a fortunate ship. - CO

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

FC1(SW/AW) Alvelo_Guest Blogger_2

Another guest blog post from FC1 Alvelo...

Last saturday we enjoyed a little relaxation as our Food Service Division prepared a Pizza and Hot Wings night for dinner, followed up with a traditional Ice Cream Social, and MWR sponsored Spades Tournament. While seemingly small, these simple things are important to our morale…just ask a new Sailor like STGSN Cisneros who had Happy Birthday sung to him by the entire messdecks when it was learned last Saturday was also his birthday! The food was phenomenal and the rest of the evening went well as the team of GM1(SW) Johnson and HM3(SW) Martinez won the Spades tourney. Congratulations!

Ice Cream Socials have always been a great treat for the crew of a ship while underway. They are more than a chance to pile up your favorite toppings on your favorite flavor of ice cream though. It’s one of the few times when the entire crew eats together (officers normally dine in the Wardroom, chiefs in the Chief’s Mess, and the crew on the messdecks), and it's a nice reminder that we are “One Ship, One Fight” in more ways than one. Besides, you don’t have too many opportunities to have your Command Master Chief and Senior Chiefs serve you, so you take advantage of that!

The Captain said we did well on our recent evolutions, which is always a relief to see the hard work of so many pay off. The weary faces are evident as I know all of us are ready to be back in homeport, so it’s better to come back knowing we did our jobs well and that we can press on with the many things ahead of us.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Summer Cruise_Day 21

Three weeks away from homeport with a weekend stop at the Naval Base in Mayport Florida over the 4th of July - And what a great three weeks it's been for GONZALEZ Sailors and our 20 USNA Midshipmen! The crew has worked exceptionally hard and performed magnificently. Our new Sailors have received excellent training and our Midshipmen have simply become part of the crew. It is an amazing transformation to watch our newest shipmates and guests integrate as one team. Today was no different than any of our other busy days at sea...more engineering training, a final general quarters drill, a two hour underway replenishment, and finally day and night training with an HSC squadron for deck landing and vertical replenishment qualifications. We improved every day underway and have really honed our skills. As our Chief Boatswain's Mate put it regarding today's refueling at sea, "The best UNREP we've done in some time." That's a nice compliment from the best Deck Department in the business - a team who holds themselves to exceptionally high standards. Enjoy the photographs...can you tell which are Mids and which are GONZALEZ crew members? Not so easy anymore. - CO

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Summer Cruise_Day 20

Unlike our last Sunday at Sea, today was a full and busy workday. We started the day with another set of engineering drills and evolutions and have another set of drills and evolutions scheduled this evening. We also took one more opportunity for some more undersea warfare training this afternoon. One of the implicit themes of our Command Every Day philosophy is not taking “no” for an answer. On our departure from Mayport last week, our very first undersea warfare training in junction with one of the Jacksonville Naval Air Station LAMPS Squadrons had to be cancelled because of inclement weather. Knowing that we would be passing back through the same operating area, but on a Sunday, we worked diligently with our Squadron back home and the LAMPS squadrons in Mayport to see if we could make the training opportunity work in everyone’s favor…and we were successful with all the right help. So this afternoon, we had the opportunity to conduct more undersea warfare training with HSL-60. Thanks guys!

As for other events, we also qualified another Engineering Officer of the Watch and another Officer of the Deck underway. As I look back over the last 17 months, it’s great to add up the number of GONZALEZ men and women who have achieved a range of qualifications. Bravo Zulu to FCO and GSEC who added two more significant qualifications to the ship! As for the strange picture at the top of the post...jelly fish. Surrounded by them today!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Summer Cruise_Day 19

A great day for GONZALEZ! After last evening’s events went just past midnight, we had a bit of a slow morning (drills briefs, classroom training, Midshipmen self-defense training, etc) before lunch. We then followed the afternoon meal with an excellent set of engineering drills and evolutions capped off by our best main space fire drill and General Quarters drill during our summer cruise. GONZALEZ Sailors are the most resilient Sailors with whom I have ever had the pleasure to serve. Some of the Sailors in the Repair 5 Damage Control Locker even came up with a few creative ways to motivate the Sailors in their locker with Luchador masks. During the drill we also received a message from the range controller where we conducted our undersea warfare exercises that all of our maneuvers and simulated attacks were evaluated as satisfactory. Following the drill we then hoisted Bravo Zulu CA and Bravo Zulu OI on the starboard and port halyards respectively to recognize the excellent work of GONZALEZ sonar techs and operations specialists.

Finishing off the day in style, our culinary specialists served pizza and chicken wings, our leading culinary specialist senior chief organized an ice cream social, and the MWR committe organized a messdecks spades tournament. - CO

Friday, July 10, 2009

Summer Cruise_Day 18

Just a short blog entry from me today as I spent most of my day on the bridge and in Combat Information Center – a busy day onboard GONZALEZ conducting a whole host of undersea warfare training events and exercises. But check out the shot of the day – Bravo Zulu to the GONZALEZ Sonar Techs on a successful, exercise torpedo shot! - CO

Thursday, July 9, 2009

CTT3 Riggleman_GONZALEZ Guest Blogger

NASCAR: First, I would like to thank our MWR Team for putting together such wonderful events. We were lucky to be able to attend the NASCAR event and be so close to the action. The day started with a bus ride down to the very sunny Daytona Beach. It took a while for us to get settled, but after that it was amazing. We first witnessed a Bromus- Porsche race which was intense. The drivers were fighting and whipping around to get to the top spot. There were a couple of accidents but no major damage. After a break and before the NASCAR race, we were able to sign the start and finish line. I jumped at this chance knowing it would be very cool. I had my picture taken on that raceway and it smelt of burnt rubber even then. The Coke Zero 400 started, of course, with famous NASCAR words, “Gentleman, start your engines!” I had never been to a NASCAR race, but had seen them on TV, and I can tell you they are a lot better and louder in person. It was a night to remember, one I will never forget it. The last lap was the best! With the #18 and the #11 car battling for the top spot and a multi-car pile up at the finish line right in front of us - a great ending to an awesome, fantastic day.

FC1(SW/AW) Alvelo_GONZALEZ Guest Blogger

We had a great July 4th weekend in Mayport/Jacksonville. And one thing that (shouldn’t have) surprised me was the number of shipmates spending the holiday together…golfing, taking advantage of free Daytona 500 tickets, and generally enjoying each other’s company. And that seems to be the main theme here…this ship more solidifies a family atmosphere than any other I’ve ever been a member of.

As we are back underway now, the routine has set back in, and everyone seems to be refreshed and ready to go. Training is at the forefront, as we have a very important Engineering inspection coming up. With so few days underway, the chain of command wants to ensure we are trained correctly, so that means more drills despite an already full schedule. Nobody said underway was easy, but everyone really seems to get the idea as all facets of the deckplates have been focusing on training the younger personnel, and knocking the rust off of procedures to ensure we are ‘beyond the call’ come inspection time. Constant Damage Control training has helped everyone reach a good working level of knowledge to do their jobs as investigators, boundarymen, and other fire party members. I have no doubt we will shine on inspection day, thanks to the ability of this ship to pull together and not only get the job done, but enjoy it as more than a job because they respect and enjoy the people they work with.

Summer Cruise_Day 17

Another busy day of engineering drills, evolutions, and a general quarters drill. Clearly, a successful engineering certification is our top priority! There is always a lot more happening on the ship though. Following all the morning fun, CF Division proudly showed off their more than 30 spaces during a zone inspection, we held CPR training in medical, ran a visit board search and seizure exercise, and our Midshipmen finished off the afternoon sunshine with a damage control wet trainer (which naturally involved a friendly fire hose handling competition). Our weather is magnificent and tomorrow is shaping up to be an excellent day for undersea warfare training and exercises. - CO

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Summer Cruise_Day 16

Just Another Day At the Office! As I have said in many previous posts, the Fighting Freddy Blog is designed for family and friends of GONZALEZ Sailors. It’s not for commentary on operations or Navy policies or opinions other than those regarding my outstanding Sailors. So while I actually thought about offering an opinion on the concept of the “Hybrid Sailor,” that’s not what our blog is all about. Instead I thought I would offer a glimpse into what we "Non-Hybrid GONZALEZ Sailors" did today.

After an early morning workout and hearty breakfast, our first significant event of the day was an aircraft fire fighting drill. The drill included an emergency flight quarters situation resulting in a helo crash on deck and mass casualty. Our Flight Deck Fire Fighting Team is made up of Sailors who are Damage Control Specialists, Sonar Technicians, Yeomen, Gas Turbine Specialists, Culinary Specialists, Boatswains Mates, Gunners Mates, and more. And as for the mass casualty aspect, while our Midshipmen played the roles of the injured personnel today, they were patched up by a similar assortment of enlisted ratings. Fire fighting and first aid - skills sets for all Sailors.

Following our flight deck drill we expected to conduct some undersea warfare training, but inclement weather at the Naval Air Station prevented the helos from coming out to operate with us. So with so many new officers onboard, naturally I decided to shift gears right into some shiphandling training. We have 9 new Ensigns onboard so bridge time to practice man overboard recoveries and undersea warfare maneuvers is precious. When we have the time though, anyone who wants is given the opportunity to cross train and conn the ship. Operations Specialists, Cryptologic Technicians, Deck Seaman, Electronic Technicians, Quartermasters (even the Pace Instructor once last deployment) have all taken the opportunity to practice conning the ship. When my enlisted Sailors conn, I often put my junior officers on the helm. It’s not random folly either. Everyone onboard needs to be able to do someone else’s job. We have been known to run General Quarters drills where a simulated missile takes out most of the bridge crew resulting in someone other than the usual suspect conning the ship. In fact, as I write this blog post, an OS1 is standing watch as Officer of the Deck.

The best part of every Wednesday is lunch – Slider Day – Navy burgers. And the GONZALEZ Culinary Specialists make the best burgers in the business. After a hearty lunch, we then held two of my favorite ceremonies: re-enlistment ceremonies! This afternoon two outstanding First Class Petty Officers shipped over for a few more years.

Later in the afternoon we held an Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist Rodeo for Sailors working on their ESWS pins and then held several training and preparatory meetings for our upcoming engineering assessment. Onboard GONZALEZ, while a single department might be the lead for a specific assessment or certification, like everything else we do, these are all hands events. Everyone is onboard for success, particularly when it comes to damage control training, and more specifically when it comes to main space fire drills requiring the ship to go to General Quarters. More skills we all need to be able to keep our ship in the fight at all times.

We closed out the day with a meeting of all Sailors from Texas. Why Texas? Mrs. Gonzalez is visiting the ship for change of command in August! In addition to the honor of just getting to visit with her, we will also be helping her celebrate her birthday. A special committee of Texas Sailors is taking charge of helping plan her birthday celebration. It’s great to be back underway again! - CO

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Summer Cruise_Day 15

Underway Again! After a great 4-day weekend in Mayport, Florida GONZALEZ is back underway again. We got underway early from the Naval Station this morning, tested out our new 25mm guns, fired some M240 rounds, and then went right into combat systems and engineering drills in the afternoon, which of course included a General Quarters drill. After some good liberty it was time to get right back to work. As for the excellent (but hot) Florida weather, I think we left that behind. The winds and seas have picked up quite a bit! Today’s photos include a rear view of our departure and a few practice shots against a very small target of opportunity. - CO

Monday, July 6, 2009

Summer Cruise_Day 14

Softball Challenge Rain Out! Unfortunately the afternoon Mayport rainshowers came early today and rained out the Wardroom Softball Challenge between Fighting Freddy and USS HUE CITY (CG 66). XO already spoke to the CO of HUE CITY though and we'll be looking for another opportunity the next time they are up in Norfolk.
It's been a great 4-day weekend. I won't speak for the entire crew, but I know I am personally ready to put to sea again. Hope all our GONZALEZ family and friends had a great 4th of July. We'll be home soon. - CO

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Summer Cruise_Day 13

Morale Welfare and Recreation – Every Navy ship has a Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) Committee. The MWR Committee is a team of Sailors who do just what their title implies – they are always on the lookout for good deals for Sailors. Naturally, GONZALEZ has an outstanding MWR team! In addition to ensuring the Sailors who had duty on the 4th of July had a Steel Beach Picnic, MWR arranged numerous tours and excursions for my Sailors during our 4-day weekend in Mayport. While I haven’t heard all the sand stories yet, I’m looking forward to learning about trips to the Disney Theme Parks, water parks, Busch Gardens Tampa, and of course just the regular trips to the beach. Thanks to our Operations Department Leading Chief Petty Officer (and MWR Committee Member Emeritus), a group of 40 GONZALEZ Sailors got free tickets to attend yesterday’s 4th of July Coca Cola 400 at Daytona International Speedway. Courtesy of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter, 40 Sailors were treated to awesome Sprint Tower seats – just a few rows away from the checkered flag finish line – and what a race! Hope you enjoy a few photos. - CO

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Friday, July 3, 2009

Summer Cruise_Day 11

In yesterday’s post, like many previous posts, I spent time to write a few thoughts about how proud I am of the men and women who serve onboard GONZALEZ. I have been blessed in my Navy career to have served on numerous Battle Excellence award winning ships, was OPS onboard LAKE ERIE during her remarkable Blue-Gold days, and was XO of PORT ROYAL when she won the Spokane Trophy for 2002 as the best ship in the entire Pacific Fleet. And for all of that, I stand by my words that the GONZALEZ crew is the best crew in the Navy. They are the most resilient group of men and women I have ever served with and they have never let me down. In fact, during a recent interview for my next assignment I was asked to describe my ship and my crew. My answer to the Admiral was simple, “I don’t think we are the best at any one thing, but we are damn good at everything.” And that’s the truth. So with that in mind, I thought I would share a few edited words from my most recent Captain’s Call before we arrived at the Naval Base in Mayport to offer a small glimpse into the way we do business onboard…

“Very late last evening we had an engineering casualty which kept many of us busy until we corrected the problem. As I looked around at some tired faces in Engineering Department, I asked myself, and the XO who was also up with me well after midnight, if it were worth running our predawn General Quarters drill early this morning concurrent with our attack on the BLUE forces. If training has no value, then what’s the purpose? Everything we do must have purpose, or what’s the point? And as I looked at my Engineering Department Leading Chief Petty Officer who had been standing port and starboard watch as an Engineering Officer of the Watch, and as I looked at my Chief Engineer who had stood the previous day’s 0200-0700 Tactical Action Officer watch, supervised our refueling during the 0700-1200 watch, was up for a main space fire drill on the 1200-1700 and had the 2200-0200 watch with another General Quarters drill on the 0200-0700 watch forthcoming, I thought hard about training value. And those are just two personal examples, I have pushed us all hard this underway.

So, yes I decided to go ahead with the drill.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a ship of war, and while what we just completed was an exercise, our warship needs to be ready for tasking at all times, 24/7, 365 days a year. I have spent the last 17 months being up front with you and telling you what I thought we are good at and what we needed to work on. And there are things we need to work on…

So why, would a CO who is about to turn over command, come out and push the crew harder. Why would I come out and talk about anything other than all the good things we are doing….because we need it…because all of us need to have the same long term view. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to our ship, our Navy, and we owe it to our nation and people like Dolia Gonzalez, the mother of Freddy Gonzalez who if anything should inspire us all. She turns 80 years old in less than two months and still works two jobs. She, better than all of us, understands the long view. She will be here to visit us in just 6 weeks and we had better be up to her inspection standards.

This ship has come a phenomenally long way. It started with a remarkably successful INSURV inspection and Engineering Operational Certification prior to deployment, long before I got here. It continued with a remarkably successful deployment and post deployment period during my time in command, and ladies and gentlemen we are going to cap this summer by crushing our next engineering certification in just a few weeks, but it is going to take a team effort. And that you owe to your new CO. That is what the long term view is all about. Many of us will not be here when the ship deploys next year, but shame on us if every one of us who is here right now is not fully involved in doing everything we can to make our ship, our home as combat ready as possible.

We are going to jump start that this afternoon the way we always do before pulling into port, by taking care of the ship with a fresh water wash and then continue that all day tomorrow with all hands topside preservation.

We are then going to enjoy some very well deserved time off over the holiday weekend and then we are going to get right back to it for another week at sea before we return. Our engineering certification is the week after we return. Following that, we are going to embark some more midshipmen, and then we are going to get the ship ready for change of command. Following that, our attention will focus on pre-deployment preparations and continued operational prowess - the long view.

That’s why I ran the drill, and we can all expect more.”

After a long 24 hours before entering port and after taking care of our ship, the crew of GONZALEZ is enjoying a very well deserved and well earned 4-days off. Have a great weekend! - CO

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Summer Cruise_Day 10

GONZALEZ Pride – Next to freshwater wash down, the best crew in the Navy knows that my second favorite event is all hands topside preservation. During this all hands event, we relax to PT gear and play music topside which today got us only a few strange looks from the local Mayport ships. The primary purpose of topside preservation is obviously to maintain the material condition of the ship. Secondarily, taking care of the ship is a source of pride for the entire crew. GONZALEZ is our home at sea and is truly home to my Sailors who live onboard. Pride is just one of the ingredients which make GONZALEZ Sailors the best crew in the Navy. All hands topside preservation is also about leadership – leadership at every level onboard the ship. Fighting Freddy Sailors know that success comes from teamwork and camaraderie. The Officers and Chiefs work right alongside their Divisions on days like today. All hands topside preservation also requires organization and preparation. It’s not just a Deck Division evolution either. In addition to materials and supplies, there are hydration and heat stress concerns (particularly on hot days like today), hazardous material disposal concerns, and sunscreen concerns just to name a few. It is truly an all hands event, and it is our routine every time we pull into port. One of my favorite aspects of topside preservation is that whenever we have ship riders from other commands, they pitch right in and help. Just like our Marine Corps namesake – once a GONZALEZ Sailor, always a GONZALEZ Sailor. Today, our 20 USNA Midshipmen helped take care of Fighting Freddy just like they were going to be with us through our next deployment. By the way, nice parking job by Ensign Jaeger. Not too shabby, only 25 feet or so from USS ROOSEVELT (DDG 80).