(Courtesy of Surface SITREP, published by the Surface Navy Association (www.navysna.org).)
Lundquist: You have two different but related jobs as Commander Surface Group MIDPAC and Commander Navy Region Hawaii. Could you kind of explain what the difference is between those two jobs and how it helps to be the same person in both those jobs?
Rear Adm. John Fuller: When I talk to the two staffs I can see where the seams are to mend the fence between what the region provides and what the ships need. For example, security is a very clear one where the region has ECP (entry control point) responsibilities on the base and the ships are responsible for the pier. If we identify seams, we can make sure the left hand and the right hand are working together. And I am uniquely positioned in my roles reporting to CNIC, Third Fleet and SURFOR to fix the problems that we find. It’s kind of liberating to know that with any problem we can get the staffs aligned. While they have different reporting streams and different funding, we can remove restrictions and barriers to help everyone work together.
Lundquist: How does that work with two different staffs?
Fuller: These are two different staffs, each with a chief of staff and a command master chief, and they report through different chains. The region reports through CNIC. The MIDPAC staff is operationally tied to Third Fleet, but effectively we are the executive agent for SURFOR. In dealing with ATFP (anti-terrorism/force protection), for example, we have Venn diagrams from all three headquarters commands that in some places overlapped and some places didn’t. Knowing that, we could make it efficient.
Lundquist: With ATFP, the problem is well-defined and goal is understood and the solutions are standard. If everyone agrees on that, you just do it.
Fuller: In some cases, the reporting requirements are not the same. You have three different check sheets, three different instructions, and they’re just slightly different enough because their perspectives are slightly different. So, as an example, when I first got here we were doing a force protection drill that I wanted the ships to participate in, but I could only make them participate in part of it – that was the CNIC piece – because I wasn’t tied operationally to Third Fleet. Now as the executive agent for Third Fleet, I have no problems tasking the ships and the base to align their timing so the training was more contiguous.
Lundquist: That seems like it was complicated.
Fuller: Before I couldn’t task the ships because we’d just done the OFRP shift and they now report to different squadrons depending on the strike group they’re assigned to. So to schedule the ships to have them participate in an ATFP drill on the pier, the Afloat Training Group had to schedule the ships through their respective strike groups and their squadrons, based on Third Fleet tasks. Now I can make it line up much more easily because I’m Third Fleet’s executive agent here.
Lundquist: Could it be inefficient to have multiple squadrons managing the ships here?
Fuller: I was concerned about that, but with the support of 3rd Fleet and SURFOR, we rewrote the mission functions and tasks. Instead of having four squadrons all call the shipyard about repairs, or call ATG and try to work their own ships’ training schedules, everybody has to go through MIDPAC, who is the adjudicator. We set the priorities for the waterfront. We work with everybody, and everyone involved has input, but it still has to go through us. Where there could have been a lot of chaos there’s a lot more order.
Lundquist: Are you the landlord for all of the utilities, training facilities, and the maintenance?
Fuller: I may be the landlord, but ATG MIDPAC still works through ATG PAC, and then it ultimately supports SURFPAC. But when it comes to the local training cycle we’re working with them to prioritize the maintenance and training and achieve balance.
Lundquist: With your MIDPAC hat you’re scheduling the maintenance?
Fuller: We manage the maintenance. We observe the maintenance and we’re part of the process, so we go to all the maintenance meetings and we’re there to do what SURFOR would do in San Diego. We’re just the local entity in Hawaii that looks at all those things in a holistic manner. We help the ships with their readiness and we can also advocate for them. They can still go to their ISIC, but now we’re ‘cc’d’ on these things so we get a broad look across all the ships on the waterfront. We can also share good ideas and best practices.
Lundquist: What are some of your other support functions?
Fuller: We’re there to make sure the manning, training, and equipping of the ships falls in line. And we also have a doctor and a lawyer on the staff, and all the things that a strike group staff has in terms of the administrative support. Under the region hat, we’ve got legal, medical, and all the type of support someone needs. As Region Commander, I’m the court martial convening authority. So if you need to, if your groups deploy and there’s something happening, you can have one stop shopping with MIDPAC in that Navy region.
Lundquist: Being the flag officer in Hawaii, you must have a lot of official duties or events you must preside at.
Fuller: The Region Commander is the mayor for all local Navy. But The PACOM, PACFLEET and SUBPAC commanders are here, and they are more senior representatives. But you’re right, I get involved in a lot of interesting things, such as all the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th. We did a lot of the work to set that up, but the four-star is the right person to be up front. It’s nice to see without being seen, in some cases.
Lundquist: Do you deal with PACOM and PACFLEET often?
Fuller: Quite a bit, actually. We take part in the weekly Fleet Commander’s update brief. Through the CNIC hat, we support their families, their base security, and a lot of other things. Most things are taken care of by the normal staff processes that are working. In my business, there shouldn’t be a lot of surprises. My immediate responsibility as a regional commander is to protect and support warfighters and their families and make sure we take care of their needs.
Lundquist: With all of your responsibilities, what’s the biggest challenge you have?
Fuller: We need to deal with the problems at hand, but also how to prepare for the future. I need to inform my bosses about the things that will affect us years from now and where we need to invest resources today that will help us out in the future. When Admiral Nora Tyson (Commander, U.S. Third Fleet) was here for RIMPAC, We wanted to make sure we had everything in place so when she arrived she could focus on operations. We wanted to make sure the foundation was in place. Safety and security are my highest priorities, so we are constantly vigilant, ready and responsive. Living in Pearl Harbor, in sight of the USS Arizona Memorial, we are always reminded of the need for vigilance and readiness.
Lundquist: Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus talked about energy as being one of his big priorities. Hawaii was kind of a focus at the outset for conservation and alternative sources of energy because Hawaii is so dependent on energy being brought in at great expense from a great distance. Can you comment at all about the efforts that you’ve made there to try to institute energy saving or develop alternative sources?
Fuller: For the past two RIMPACs, MIDPAC has been the task force lead for Task Force Energy and Environment and the Great Green Fleet. We didn’t start new programs but instead we focused on capturing all the things that we were already doing. It’s a fact that if you’re more energy-efficient, then you have the ability to go farther, stay on station longer, and do your mission better. The more capacity you have, the less likely you are to struggle when there’s a crisis or something unexpected. A fuel efficient base can operate longer, or have more load on it, and still be able to go as long. Being on an island and being energy efficient is just a smart thing to do. In my region we spend a lot of time thinking about that because utilities are such an expensive part of what we do. That’s why we have an energy conservation board that meets every month and we talk about how are we saving energy, how are we doing this for housing, how do we make sure the buildings are more efficient, who’s burning the most, who’s been the most efficient overall. A huge part of it is just understanding what your energy usage is. We look at it offensively and defensively – use less and save more – because it saves us money, so that’s another resource that we can apply to something else.
Tied closely with energy is environmental stewardship, and both are tied to accountability and doing the right thing.
The first Hawaiian word I learned, besides “aloha” and “mahalo,” was “ohana” – family. I learned it even before I reported aboard, and the longer I’ve been in command, the more I discover how important and deep the meaning behind that word. In Hawaii, the Navy is part of the overall ohana. We’re good neighbors, but even more than neighbors, we’re part of the family. Therefore we have a responsibility and commitment to do right and do good.
I’ll give you some examples how we work together with groups and individuals in Hawaii in outreach efforts – using just environmental stewardship as an example. Sailors, families and Navy civilians volunteered to refurbish the ancient Loko Pa‘aiau fishpond located at McGrew Point Navy housing. Our volunteers work closely with Hawaiian civic clubs and school groups to periodically conduct cleanups at streams, bike paths, beaches, reefs and roadways. We protect endangered birds, marine mammals, sea turtles and sensitive plant species.
Officials – including from Hawai‘i House of Representatives, National Military Fish & Wildlife Association and city councils continuously recognize our Region/MIDPAC team.
And we believe in accountability. Several years ago, during excavation at Radford High School’s track and football field, workers discovered debris that our military left there many decades ago. U.S. Navy partnered with the Department of Education and the Department of Health to study, safeguard and remove debris. The Navy spent $9.2 million to help restore the track and field area.
Another component to the concept of ohana is something we all relate to: treating each other – and ourselves – with dignity and respect. The CNO says, “No bystanders,” and at Region/MIDPAC we take that to heart throughout the installations and all along the waterfront. When we see bad behavior toward our shipmates we don’t stand by. We stand up. We confront these issues, just as you would in a family. That’s “ohana.”
Lundquist: Your support mission is a tactical enabler.
Fuller: If you can’t have drinking water, if you don’t have flushing water, if you don’t have food, you can’t operate. We always knew that. But as the team who’s responsible for providing that, it’s become a much more acute issue for us to understand all those things that allow the sailor or the airman to focus on their mission. If you know you have a good child development center and your family member is well taken care of when you’re at work, that’s a good thing. If the warfighter is confident that his or her house is secure and the neighborhood is safe, then I’m helping them be a better warfighter. And that also helps with morale and everything else. So there are all these second and third orders of goodness that come out of taking care of people’s basic needs and allowing them to focus on their mission. I’ve been deployed and nothing is more unnerving as having a distracted sailor. Our training is such that we have to rely on each other. So not having the commander or the staff or the most junior person in the command distracted or concerned about his family at home is a good thing. But it takes effort to do that.
Lundquist: You’ve probably had to learn a lot about things that you never knew about, such as clubs and recreation programs, child development centers, and unions, and exchanges and commissaries now.
Fuller: Most of us take it for granted when we flip a light switch and the light just comes on. Or when we flashed our ID, what the Pass and ID office or Security team does. Now I’m seeing all that goes into that. There are a lot of incredible but unappreciated professionals. There are a lot of things that have to work well together to make sure base access works seamlessly and is not a distraction to people.
It can be frustrating not having the authority or the wherewithal or the teamwork to fix some of these small problems. And now we have the ability to bring people together to fix them.
Lundquist: Is there a Naval Base Commander who reports to you?
Fuller: There are two: Commander, Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) and Commander, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. As the nation’s strategic joint base in the center of the Pacific, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam provides critical readiness support to warfighters operating forward, both Navy and Air Force. And that’s an interesting thing, being on a joint base and learning the Air Force culture and how to make sure we can find the commonalities to work together. In some cases we can take what they do better and use that as our own. So it’s been interesting to learn the culture of another service that is also equally proud.
Lundquist: Does it rotate between a Navy and an Air Force command?
Fuller: No, CNIC is in charge of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, so the CO will always be Navy, and then the Deputy Commander will be an Air Force O6.
Lundquist: Does that work well?
Fuller: It does. We started this back around 2010, and there have been some rough edges. But I think the relationship between the Navy and the Air Force is very good. Now that we’ve been together we can move beyond, “This is good enough, let’s see how it works.” There may have been some drama at the beginning, but most people don’t look at the way it used to be. We recognize we’re together and there are efficiencies that we can gain by working together.
Lundquist: You also have the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai.
Fuller: Yes. PMRF “Barking Sands” is the world’s largest instrumented multi-environmental range. The range can support surface, subsurface, air, and space operations simultaneously, and it’s a key component to our national defense, especially in essential training and testing.
Thanks to PMRF we’re able to provide realistic training to prepare our Sailors to be ready to fight. The key to ensuring national security, maintaining freedom of the seas, and avoiding tragic loss of life is to ensure that Sailors receive realistic training. Part of that, of course, is the knowledge that the equipment they rely on is thoroughly tested and ready, too. That’s an important part of our mission.
Day to day, most of my focus on the region side is on the joint base because that’s the much larger entity that we have to support, and the density of senior officers is pretty impressive. PACOM, Admiral Harry Harris, who has an area of responsibility covering half the world, plus the components – PACFLEET, MARFORPAC, PACAF – along with other flag officers and staff, live on the joint base. And we have a lot of visibility. We see the Governor a lot, the mayor, our senators and U.S. representatives. It’s a really densely-packed environment where we see our elected officials often.
Lundquist: What’s the most amazing thing you’ve been able to do?
Fuller: I’ve been involved with three of the interments of Arizona survivors who passed away, and were interred with their shipmates. I have done three.
Pearl Harbor obviously has sacred and special meaning for our Navy.
Two years ago was 70th anniversary of end of World War II. Together with sister cities Nagaoka and Honolulu, we hosted a spectacular fireworks show above the joint base, with nearly 30,000 people from the public attending. Then, last year was 75th Anniversary of beginning of WWII in the Pacific, with the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway this year and other milestones ahead, all leading up to the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in 2020 which, by the way, coincides with a RIMPAC year.
We also got to do some fun things over the last two years with ESPN, FOX Sports, and when the Rock came on base for Rock the Troops. Plus I get paid to live in Hawaii.
Lundquist: Do you get down to the waterfront to see the ships and talk with the sailors?
Fuller: I wish I could spend more time with the ships. My staff is very involved and I think I’m there enough, but I have to balance my time between the two jobs. I purposely have not gotten underway – my staff does that – because I know how disruptive it is. I do enjoy take time to speak to sailors and their families, as well as sailors-to-be – JROTC and NROTC – whenever possible.
Lundquist: Any last thoughts?
Fuller: I’m in my 30th year now, and I remember how the perception was that surface warfare used to “eat our young,” how we were the community of last choice, where if you were a fallen angel or a nuclear attrite you could still go SWO. So it’s very encouraging to see the energy within the community today. We are at the point now that we sometimes have to turn people away from surface warfare because the demand and the quality cut is such that we’re not the “community of last choice” anymore. People want to be SWOs now. They’re excited about it. And we’re doing good things and I think people value the hard work and the ethos of what the community teaches people. It’s good to be a SWO!