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Interview With Vice Adm. Tom Rowden

Commander, Naval Surface Forces



Courtesy of Surface SITREP.  Republished with the permission of the Surface Navy Association (

Edward H. Lundquist: You’ve been in this job now for four months, and you’ve had a chance to see the ships from bow to stern. What’s your initial impression of the surface force today?

Vice Adm. Tom Rowden: Two years ago when I arrived in Washington to take the N96 job I told myself, “No matter what I do, I do not want to let the sea water run out of my veins.” I understood what the situation was when I left the waterfront, and I wanted to continue to drive toward making things better for the men and women who are serving on our ships, now and in the future. I spent 30 months building the budget, and had a pretty good understanding of what we’ve invested in. Now I am the “man, train and equip” boss for the surface forces. Once I arrived, I figured there’s no better way to determine what the situation is than to spend some time on the waterfront, walking the decks of the ships, and talking with the wardrooms, the chiefs’ messes, and the Sailors on the deck-plates and down in the propulsion plants. Our Sailors have always been, and will always be, the most refreshingly honest people you would ever want to meet in your life. I was able to look at what we’ve been investing in, see if it’s coming through to fruition, and if it is making life better for the men and women who serve on our ships. Obviously, I was keenly interested in the readiness piece.

On the manning side, while I don’t think we’ll ever get to 100 percent of exactly where we want to be, I found that there was good information flow and an understanding of the challenges. I think we’re in a position to move forward rapidly to appropriately address the manning challenges we have on our ships. Will it ever be perfect? No, but we’re moving in the right direction.


The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG 85) leads ships of the USS John C. Stennis and USS George Washington Strike Groups move in a formation in the Andaman Sea. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kenneth Abbate

As for the training side, I learned from my strike group experience that there were some challenges we had gone through; one of them being that we had eliminated the SWOS division officer course.


Did that happen while you were the commanding officer of Surface Warfare Officer School, or before you got there?

It happened before I was the CO of SWOS. I saw the manifestations of what we had done when talking to the ensigns on the ships before I left the strike group. Vice Adm. Rick Hunt was at Third Fleet and coming to SURFOR, and I told him that we had done ourselves a disservice by eliminating this crucial training for the young men and women who we are bringing into the force. And he said, “I am right there with you.”   He comes here to SURFOR, and I become the resource sponsor, and we start to address this significant training. Admiral Hunt worked with SWOS in order to bring the Division Officer Course back, and I started laying it in the budget. Because we couldn’t wait for the POM cycle; we had to do it (snaps fingers) now. That’s one aspect. I saw other training deficiencies in engineering and navigation.   They manifested themselves, I think, in a very real and a very dramatic way in the grounding of the Guardian. [USS Guardian (MCM 5) ran aground on Jan. 17, 2013, on Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea between Palawan and Mindanao in the Philippines. The ship was a total loss.] When Adm. Greenert became the CNO, Vice Adm. Hunt ran the transition team. I was on that team too, and we discussed the realignment of OPNAV at that time and subsequently changed the OPNAV staff and created the N9. Training and maintenance came back to the resource sponsors and we had the opportunity to really look holistically at the surface forces and make the equitable trades we needed in order to address the readiness concerns that I had seen when I was running the strike group.

Simultaneously, working on the budgeting side, we put together a good program in order to determine exactly where we needed to invest in training. And we invested a lot of money in training. So I come out here and I say, “How are we doing?” Well, the Division Officer Course is stood-up, I asked the young men and women in the wardrooms, “How’s it going?” They say, “It’s good.” But we can’t take our eye off the ball; we have to make sure that we’re constantly refining it and making that course better.


And they’re doing that in the fleet concentration areas?

Yes, over at 32nd Street in San Diego and on the waterfront in Norfolk. And then between the first division officer tour and the second division officer tour we have piloted, and are now executing, the advanced division officer course. There’s also been a lot of investment in engineering and navigation – and a lot of processes put in place to ensure we’re getting those investments laid down properly. I’m seeing the money start to flow and starting to see the value on the deck-plates of the investments that we’re making in training.

USS Guardian aground

Heavy waves crash against the grounded mine countermeasure ship USS Guardian (MCM 5), which ran aground on the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea on Jan. 17. The grounding and subsequent heavy waves constantly hitting Guardian caused severe damage, leading the Navy to determine the 23-year old ship was beyond economical repair and a complete loss. U.S. Navy photo

The third big area is in “equipping” the surface force. As maintenance came back to the resource sponsor, I worked very closely with Maj. Gen. Tim Hanifen and then Maj. Gen. Bob Walsh, [Expeditionary Warfare Directors in N95] who were just both tremendous partners in the resourcing for surface warfare on the OPNAV staff. We worked very hard to ensure that we, to the maximum extent we could, defined the requirement for the maintenance and modernization of our ships, and moved through the execution of that piece. And so for 30 months we moved our way through it. We’ve gone through a couple cycles. There’s some more maturation we have to do in the definition of the requirement, but it was well recognized within the OPNAV staff that the surface warfare community is seriously defining the requirements for the maintenance and modernization on our ships. The first overseas trip I took after relieving Admiral Tom Copeman was to fly directly to Sasebo. I wanted to know what the situation was with the amphibious ships we have forward-deployed to Sasebo. And one of the things I found is that the maintenance organizations that support the execution of work of our amphibious ships in Sasebo are very different than the maintenance organizations that exist here, in Hawaii, or Pac NorWest. I’ve also had the opportunity to visit our East Coast ships, and they’re different over there as well. So it’s a much more complicated problem to solve as you’re trying to get from “planning” the maintenance and modernization availabilities, to “executing” the availabilities.

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Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...