Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fighting Freddy Final Post

Friday morning, 14 August 2009, at approximately 10:45am, I said, "I stand relieved." In an instant I transferred all responsibility and accountability to GONZALEZ' new Commanding Officer. In a moment, I no longer bore the responsibility for a national asset, her Sailors, and her families - a moment of equal exhilaration and sadness. In a single moment I knew I would no longer receive phone calls late at night from my Command Duty Officer, and yet I no longer ruled the world.

Bravo Zulu to the crew of Fighting Freddy who put on a fantastic change of command, thank you to my family and friends who came from so far to see me and my girls, and congratulations to GONZALEZ' new Commanding Officer Commander Lynn Acheson.

The highlight of the ceremony for me was recognizing all my girls in my speech and celebrating Mrs. Dolia Gonzalez' 80th birthday as part of our change of command. For my final post, I'll let my speech (it looks long, but took me less than 15 minutes) and the television coverage do the honors. I intend to leave this final post up for a day or two and then shut down the Fighting Freddy blog. Fair winds and following seas. Beyond the Call. - CDR Brian Fort, former Commanding Officer, USS GONZALEZ (DDG 66)

Excellent prayer Father Sousa! Very nautical in theme. Not too bad for an Army Chaplain. Commodore, thank you for your very kind words. It has been a pleasure to sail in DESRON Two. And to my fellow DESRON Two CO’s who could be here, thank you very much coming today. Your camaraderie always made this job even better than it already is.

Admiral Christenson, Commodore Williamson, Navy men and women, Marines (retired and active duty Рno difference as far as I know), Army brothers, Father Sousa, my family, shipmates, friends, and guests, while it may be clich̩ I am going to say it anyway - I am humbled to have the honor to speak again and for the final time as Commanding Officer of this magnificent warship in the presence of our sponsor and mother of the proud warrior Sergeant Freddy Gonzalez for whom we are named - a lady who is truly a national treasure, Mrs. Dolia Gonzalez. Kelli and I and the entire crew cannot thank you enough for traveling from Edinburg Texas to be with us here today and see your ship on the day of our Change of Command.

And Ladies and Gentlemen, as if having Mrs. Gonzalez here weren’t enough, we also have two of Freddy’s cousins with us, Mrs. Isabel Martinez who traveled with Mrs. Gonzalez and Mr. Cody Cazares. We are also honored to have Travis “MadDog” Fryzowics and his wife Grace. Travis served with Freddy in Vietnam in 1966 on his first tour of duty as part of 3 / 4 Marines. And Travis brought Navy Chaplain Stan Beach with him. Travis and Chaplain Beach were medevac’ed together in 1966. Mr. Jim Beale, part of 1 /1 Marines, who served with Freddy at the Battle of Hue City also made the drive here in this morning. You don’t have to serve with me for more than a day to know how much I value history and heritage, and I am overwhelmed at your presence here with us today. Thank you for making what I know were some long journeys.

As Captain, my Sailors know that in addition to heritage and history events, I also like to use sports analogies when I speak. Even for my Sailors who haven’t played on sports teams or didn’t even like to watch sports they could always appreciate the comparison. So, imagine you have been selected to coach a professional baseball team. Imagine your first day on the job as the new coach is the opening day of the season. None of your players know you, the fans have never heard of you, and your starting line-up is what it is, a group of players whose strengths and weaknesses you don’t have a clue about except for their relative position in the batting order. Your first game starts in a few hours. The expectations from your players, the fans, and the team’s front office are the same as the coach you just took over from. You are expected to win, win in a hurry, get your team to the playoffs, and win the Baseball World Series. Oh, and you have only one season to accomplish this. On February 19, 2008, I faced these challenges. On a brutally cold Norfolk, Virginia day I took command of GONZALEZ and on the very same day sailed over the horizon for a six month deployment. None of my Sailors knew me, and none of my Sailors’ families knew me. I did not know the strengths and weaknesses of the men and women now standing combat and bridge watches onboard my ship. My “game” had already started and expectations were extremely high. My Squadron Commander expected immediate and positive results, the NATO Admiral I would soon report to expected Gonzalez to show up ready to serve as Air Defense Commander for the multi-national Task Force he commanded in the Mediterranean, and of course, the families of almost 300 Gonzalez Sailors expected me to bring everyone home safely in six months.

One year ago almost to the day, we returned from that deployment, having sailed with the Standing NATO Maritime Group Two Task Force; in company with 9 other NATO warships. We visited eight countries, took GONZALEZ pier side 17 times, anchored 9 times, and refueled at sea 14 times from oilers from 5 different NATO countries. We participated in the largest annual Turkish and Italian Exercises held by each country, provided air defense in the Eastern Mediterranean for air lift missions flying into the American Embassy in Beirut Lebanon, participated in community relations projects in Palermo Sicily and Toulon France, hosted 150 dignitaries in Koper Slovenia, NATO Parliamentarians, 4 Ambassadors, a Secretary of Defense, and exchange officers and Sailors from Turkey, Pakistan, Britain, Bulgaria, and Germany.

Following a short post deployment breather, GONZALEZ Sailors next overwhelmed the city of Morehead City, North Carolina with their generosity during a port visit to the Crystal Coast, completed the most demanding training evolutions required of destroyers, expertly executed some sensitive NORTHCOM tasking – rescuing two wayward sailboats in the process and being named an honorary Coast Guard Cutter, trained with the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, was the only surface ship to participate in the Blessing of the Fleets Ceremony in Washington DC, and hosted Sailors from USS JOHNSTON (DD 821) who shelled Hue City two days after Freddy fell. Oh, and we steamed more hours than any other ship in the entire Navy in 2008. For our family and friends here today who are not Sailors, that is just a small snapshot in the day and the life of a GONZALEZ Sailor – the finest group of men and women I could have ever imagined having the pleasure to command. Please join me in acknowledging my Sailors.

Nobody will remember what I said 18 months ago when I spoke for the first time as GONZALEZ’ Commanding Officer, but for my Sailors I’m certain they won’t be surprised to hear again that these were my first words as their Captain, “What a great day to get underway! We have a strong wind to sail in, there is a cold bite in the air, and the sun shines on GONZALEZ.” That was my way then and is today, my way of telling the men and women of my crew - best crew in the Navy that I was blessed to serve with them. I looked forward to these last 543 days in command since the day I departed my last ship as XO, and I have enjoyed every one of them. Okay, there was the one day I sent a CAT 4 CASREP on my SPY radar without calling Commodore Williamson first, but who remembers all that stuff?

The next line in that very first speech to my crew 18 months ago went something like this, “Service for our country, in defense of the ideals and foundations which make our nation great; service on a man-of-war on the high seas, ready to unleash both the power of our weapons and the power of our presence; service for our families and our way of life…none of which can be accomplished without the awesome power of United States Navy Sailors.” United States Navy Sailors – my Sailors – GONZALEZ Sailors – that’s what I will always remember about my command tour – My Sailors. I will never forget each and every one of you, your honor, your courage, and your commitment, and I very much look forward to hearing of your many and continued successes.

I could tell a personal story about each and every one of my Sailors, but it’s August, some of us are in our Chocker White Uniforms, and it’s still pretty hot. But Sailors are the reason we serve and the reason our Navy is as strong today as it was in the days of John Paul Jones so as I turnover command it is only fitting that I share with you just a few of their stories.
Gas Turbine Specialist Third Class - A native of Poland and a United States Citizen having taken his oath of citizenship in the White House with President Obama in attendance. He holds a bachelors degree and taught English in Chicago after he immigrated to America. And the ship can’t get underway without him, or his counterpart, for that matter, as he is also one of my two Search and Rescue Swimmers. He is working on his application to become a Naval Officer via Officer Candidate School, but what I will remember most about him…the tears in his eyes the day we frocked him to Third Class Petty Officer.

Boatswain’s Mate Seaman - He would tell you his job is “painting the ship, keeping the ship looking good, busting rust, and driving the ship and serving as a look out when we are underway.” Be he is so much more than that. In addition to being an outstanding young boatswain’s mate. He is also a husband and a father, and a good one too. He has long term goals to own his own home and when he has the chance to visit his family in Maryland he helps his brother run a bowling league for handicapped children. When I see him wearing his Yellow Petty Officer in Charge helmet on deck, I know it’s going to be a flawless deck evolution.

Culinary Specialist Second Class – This young lady has been doing the work of a Chief since she was a Third Class Petty Officer, and has too many collateral duties for me to list. She is one of the primary reasons GONZALEZ is eligible for the first time in 5 years for that BLUE E Award. She takes college classes and wants to retire after 20 years and become a Child Services Protective Agent. She writes the best evening prayers I have ever heard in 20 years onboard 6 ships, and I know I’m going to get in trouble for this, but that includes 4 ships with chaplains. She can’t be here today, but when as I wrote the first draft of this speech she was a Sailor I chose to recognize and so I didn’t change a thing when I knew she couldn’t attend.

And that’s only three Sailors of the best crew in the Navy.
Similarly, I wish I had the time to recognize every Chief in the Mess, but just a few parting shots: HMC Ferretta…Doc…thanks for keeping me in and out of stitches and perhaps at least one sling and yes, I’ll get my next flu shot but not without complaint; GMC Brown thanks for making sure the guns always worked and that the number of bullets always counted correctly; BMC Quick thanks for the best 150 sea and anchor details of my life, and Senior Chiefs Stallard, Thomson, Nichols, Sipes, thanks for running the ship. Master Chief Diane Ruhl, thanks for making my last 2 months in command as enjoyable as the first 16 and Master Chief Keith Thomas thank you for your mentorship, your friendship, and your leadership when I needed it most.

Lastly, my Wardroom – My Division Officers I hope you all realize just how special you are to me, and I expect you all to be great Captains of your own ships one day. I will remember you much like my fellow Division Officers in my own first wardroom: one of whom is in Major Command, one of whom has already completed his command ride, including myself 3 in command, 2 enroute to command, 4 Naval Reserve Commanders and OICs, and two EDO(N) Commanders. Not a bad run for a single wardroom on my first ship, USS BAINBRIDGE (CGN 25), and I think you have the potential to do better. By the way, thank you CDRs Jason Lloyd, Mike Gillette, Kurt Jacobs and your families. I am thrilled to have some Billy-B shipmates here today.

My Department Heads – you have the toughest jobs in the Navy. I worked you extremely hard and you never let me down. Former DH’s Jennifer, Derek, Brian, and Ed, and my current group, Rebecca, Audry, Kennis, Ashley, Jim, and Mark – you guys are the best. I very much look forward to your continued success. There are some lucky ships on the horizon with your names on them. Old CHENG, it great to see you and Kate here today – although I’m not sure you ever left, you seem to keep coming around.

I was also blessed with two outstanding XO’s during my tour and to both CDR Todd Whalen who is in Japan and the toughest XO on the waterfront, CDR Curtis Calloway, thanks for running the show for me and allowing me to have so much fun. Both are screened for command and both are going to be phenomenal Captains.

Lynn – congratulations – you have a phenomenal team to lead.

As I continued writing this speech, I learned quickly why they have the little blinking light at the Academy Awards – it’s to stop guys like me from cutting into commercial time. But quickly…

Thank you to my sister Laura who flew in from Arkansas and my Aunt and Uncle, Sarah and Al, who drove from Mississippi. My college roommate and his family, Brad, Carol, Ashley, and John Robert who came all the way from Oklahoma. Our former PACE Instructor, Mr. Dennis Saliny who came in from Illinois. Lt Col Bob Klein USA from my Joint Staff days, his wife Grit and their children. Our Port Engineer and Ship Supe, Mr. Tom Ellis and Mr. Jim Young who take such good care of the ship. Members of the Naval Academy Class of 66, former shipmates, neighbors and friends. And please excuse me for being remiss if I didn’t call your name personally and thank you for being here.

But I need to wrap it up and it’s only fitting that I close my speaking about all the women in my life.

Prior the 16th century, Sailors used masculine pronouns when speaking of ships. Interestingly enough, as it became more commonplace to sail over the horizon, Sailors began referring to ships by feminine pronouns. It’s not surprising that as voyages increased in distance traveled, ships took on the feminine form, things to be cherished and loved…things to be revered and respected. The same is true for the sea herself. And while the sea and my ships, particularly this great lady behind me, have been important in my life, they don’t compare to the three women in the front row. To my daughters Madison and Olivia, thank you for being such great kids and beautiful young ladies. Thank you for taking such good care of Mom for the past years while I was at some Navy school and deployed over seas. I hear we have a great home in Hampton somewhere. Don’t worry, I’ll be home tonight.

To my beautiful and elegant bride, thank you for every day of our first 19 years together. Thank you for always making families so important at every command we have served together at. Thank you for inspiring me, encouraging me, for being my best friend, and never letting me give up. My service would have been for naught without your support every day. I love you more, Babe.

There are other women in my life I need to also mention. More so than any other month, August has a broad swing of highs and lows for me. Two weeks from today, August 28th marks the 22nd anniversary of the day I raised my right hand and swore my first oath of service to our country. August 28th it is also a day of sadness, because on the very same day two years later, 20 years ago, my mother passed away while I was in training at Officer Candidate School. And while she never saw me in uniform, never saw me get married, and never met her grandchildren, she has never left my side. In fact, I am quite certain she helped get me assigned to GONZALEZ where I had the chance to bring another woman into my life, Mrs. Dolia Gonzalez. I tell every new Sailor who checks onboard that this is her ship and all her serve onboard her are sons and daughters of Dolia. We are all her family, but she holds very special place in my heart – not a void left behind by my own mother, but a cherished place alongside her. And if you don’t believe in miracles and the power of the human bond, please give me one final moment to make you a believer. Just last month at 2:13 in the morning I said farewell to my grandmother from my cabin onboard the ship before she took her last final breath. Kelli was with her along with my sister in her hospice room in Little Rock, Arkansas. And as if feeling the loss, Dolia called Kelli on the very same day just to check on her and let her know everything was going to be okay. Thank you for allowing me to serve on your ship, Dolia, may she continue to always have strong winds for the long run downwind.

And so today, just as I closed my very first words 18 months ago, I spoke to my crew, “I know our families and friends will be watching us closely from afar, as will Mrs. Gonzalez. As she is fond of saying, this is her ship. We owe her and our families our best at all times. They are the reasons we go Beyond the Call.” And so it is.

Before I finally read my orders, I have two official remaining acts as Captain.

The month of August is special for one more reason. We brought the ship home from deployment last year on 18 August. That was the first day I had the chance to meet Mrs. Gonzalez in person. It was also her birthday. And so while we may be 4 days early here on August 14th, it’s only appropriate that your Sailors sing Happy Birthday to you one more time. Please join the GONZALEZ crew…..Happy Birthday…

We also have two gifts to present to you as well, Dolia. A couple of weeks ago, a few of us happened to be on the flight deck, and as if my strange coincidence we found ourselves standing in formation in the shape of a 66….so we took a picture and thought we’d all sign it.

We have one more gift. Anyone who knows anything about historic painting of famous Marines will know the name Colonel Charles Waterhouse. Colonel Waterhouse fought as a PFC on Iwo Jima during WWII. On the morning of February 19, 1945, PFC Waterhouse landed on the extreme left flank of Green Beach, in the shadow of Mount Suribachi and suffered a gunshot wound to his shoulder severing two nerves and nicked his artery, resulting in circulatory problems and loss of feeling in three and a half fingers. Fortunately, the right hand, his drawing hand, remained untouched. Thanks to my good friend, neighbor, and Marine, Retired Command Sergeant Major Mac Elvington and Mr. Hank Zartman of the Yorktown VA Detachment of the Marine Corps League, we are proud to present a special edition print to you Dolia of Freddy in action at Hue City. Embossed in the frame are coins from GONZALEZ, HUE CITY, 3 /4 Marines, and the Marine Corp League of Yorktown. Happy Birthday. We love you.

I will now read my orders…


blunoz said...

Congratulations on the successful completion of your command tour.
I've enjoyed reading your blog and hope I can find time during my command tour to do the same. Do you have any lessons learned or advice to offer other COs on how to go about starting and maintaining an official command blog?

Fighting Freddy said...

BLUNOZ - A couple of options for you...(1) contact the CO of USS STOUT - he and I are great friends and he recently started a blog for his ship...I shared LL with him, (2) contact the GON PAO ( can put you in touch with me, or (3) swing by NR at the Washington Navy Yard. I'll be there for the senior nuke officer course this fall.

Jimh. said...

Thank you for your service. I hope you will leave the site up for a longer time than just a few days or weeks. I am a History teacher, and I believe kids could learn a lot about patriotism and the Navy from your blog.

Thank you again,
Jim R. Huffman