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JCOC Visitors Observe Forward-Deployed Navy at Work

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

YOKOSUKA, Japan, Sept. 15, 2004 – Civilian leaders from throughout the United States got a firsthand glimpse today at the forward-deployed naval force able to quickly respond to threats throughout the massive Pacific region.

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Participants in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference join crewmembers from the guided missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur in observing the raising of the colors during the group's visit to Yokosuka, Japan, Sept. 15. Photo by Donna Miles

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The business, civic, academic and local government "movers and shakers" toured two 7th Fleet ships forward deployed here to learn about U.S. naval technology and meet the sailors who operate it.

The visit was part of the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, which has introduced civilian opinion leaders with little or no military exposure to the workings of the armed forces since then-Defense Secretary James V. Forrestal created the program in 1948.

This conference, the first to go to the Pacific, involves a weeklong trip to military sites throughout the Pacific, where participants are observing Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard operations firsthand.

During today's visit to Fleet Activity Yokosuka, the civilians toured the USS Curtis Wilbur, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, and the USS Cushing, one of the Navy's last Spruance-class destroyers.

Aboard the Wilbur, they observed simulated vessel refueling and firefighting missions and toured the engineering department's central control system, which Senior Chief Petty Officer P.M. Morgan called "the life and power of the ship," with its four gas-turbine engines and three gas-turbine generators.

From there, group members visited the combat information center, the center of the vessel's long-range surveillance and ballistic-missile tracking capabilities.

"This is why we are here," said Cmdr. J.T. Lauer, the ship's commanding officer. He explained the vessel's ability to track incoming ballistic missiles that he said, if used against the United States, "would make 9/11 look like a small number of casualties."

Aboard the Cushing, a 25-year-old destroyer scheduled to be decommissioned next year, the group toured the hangar bay, from which the ship's SH-60B Seahawk helicopters operate, and peeked into the crew's sleeping quarters. They climbed up to the ship's pilot house and took turns photographing each other seated in the captain's chair.

Throughout the visit, the civilians chatted with the ship's crew, which 7th Fleet Command Master Chief Petty Officer Mike Grescol called "some of the most impressive, hardworking sailors in the U.S. Navy."

They quizzed the Cushing's crew about their recent deployment to Southwest Asia, where they conducted maritime interdiction and maritime security operations in the Arabian and North Arabian gulfs. During its four months in the region, Commanding officer Cmdr. Steve Muclow said the "Warlords" queried 465 vessels and conducted 47 boarding operations in addition to providing oil terminal security.

Use of a vessel forward-deployed in Japan to support operations in Southwest Asia, he said, stands as a testament to the success of the forward-deployed naval force concept, which he called "very important to U.S. security."

"We can respond to anything in the Asian area very quickly," he said.

Muclow said he hoped the civilians' visit to Fleet Activity Yokosuka gave them an appreciation for the work members of the U.S. military perform every day.

"We're out here working hard, and the sailors are doing their job," said Command Master Chief Petty Officer Buck Bailey of the Wilbur. He said it's important that civilian leaders "get out and see what we're doing and see how the resources we are getting from Congress are being used to ensure that we can go and do what we need to do."

Dr. A.J. Hashmi, director of interventional cardiology at University Community Hospital in Tampa, called the visit "a little mind-boggling," and said he was particularly impressed by the Wilbur's missile defense systems. "It gives you a lot of confidence, knowing the fact that you're being protected," he said.

Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, said she was excited to learn about the vessel's new ability to intercept incoming ballistic missiles possible only since the recent U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty. "I don't believe that many people realize that this actually increased our country's ability to defend itself from attack," she said.

But Philip Handleman, president of Handleman Filmworks in Michigan, said what impressed him the most was "the dedication of the wonderful young people who have dedicated their lives to defending the values of American society."

"It's one thing to read about these things," Handleman said. "It's another thing to see these people up close and personal, doing their jobs. And with America at war, we all have to be supportive of our military."

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Related Sites:
U.S. Navy 7th Fleet
USS Curtis Wilbur
USS Cushing
Joint Civilian Orientation Conference

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageParticipants in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference learn about ballistic missile defense capabilities aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur during the group's visit to Yokosuka, Japan, Sept. 15. Photo by Staff Sgt. Moreen Ishikawa, USAF  
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