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By U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa Public Affairs Office
Vice Adm. Thomas Ishee, commander of U.S. Sixth Fleet (SIXTHFLT) and Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKEFORNATO), hosted a Commander Task Force (CTF) Commander’s Conference in Naples, Italy, Nov. 29 – Dec. 1, 2022.
Over a three day period, the CTF commanders, command master chiefs, and spouses met at U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) and SIXTHFLT headquarters to discuss present and future maritime warfighting in the European and African theaters and how the leaderships can improve the personal and professional well-being of Sailors and their families.
“As we look at the mission we’re assigned to conduct and complete in this theater, we need to ensure that our Sailors – the same Sailors that conduct and realize that mission, are taken care of,” said Ishee. “Taking care of Sailors means taking care of their families.”
After completing the opening remarks of the conference at the NAVEUR-NAVAF and SIXTHFLT headquarters, the commanders and command master chiefs transitioned to the USS George H.W. Bush, to discuss the how CTF leaders could improve regional security, and advance the unity of U.S. partners and allies. These discussions included an in-depth look at the fleet’s current rules of engagement, and how each command should professionally interact with foreign navy’s at-sea in accordance with international law.
Ishee said aligning fleet-wide intent was important especially with regard to the heightened tensions throughout the European theater.
“We need to focus on where we are today,” said Ishee. “And where we are today is a focus on ‘Deter and Defend.’ This is the time we need to think about, and really incorporate this mindset – especially because we are the forward-deployed forces. We are out here every day operating with Allies and partners.”
The discussions on operational mission-standards also highlighted the importance of deterrence and defense by Allies and partners. Over the last year, both European and African naval theaters have seen an increase in multi-national engagement, with greater contributions to NATO exercises and operations by all Alliance members.
Enduring interoperability among NATO Allies and partners is key to sustaining the Force’s operational readiness – a sentiment echoed by Adm. Stuart B. Munsch, commander, NAVEUR-NAVAF and commander, Allied Joint Force Command (JFC) Naples, during his opening remarks.
"Our purpose in this theater is to deter and defend, which requires us to increase our warfighting advantage at every opportunity," said Munsch. "One key way we do that is by deepening interoperability - how well we work with other nations, within our Joint and Navy-Marine Corps teams, within our commands, and within our communities. Interoperability rests on a foundation of mutual trust, and it takes both time and consistent effort to build that foundation."
That trust is also required not only across countries and armed services, but also within each service, and between CTFs.
“Being here is really a benefit; for me as CMC [command master chief], for NAVSUP [Naval Supply Systems Command] as a whole, and also engaging in those relationships with the fleet CMCs and carrier strike group CMCs, builds that trust, and allows us to better operate as a team.” said CMDCM [Command Master Chief] Donald R. Alvarado, Naval Supply Systems Command Fleet Logistics Center Sigonella.
The conference occurred amidst the backdrop of heightened tensions in Europe due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the continued vigilance of naval forces, emphasizing the importance of seamless communication and closer ties to balance the operational demands and personal and professional well-being of the Sailors conducting those missions.
The CTFs represent a wide swath of Sailors throughout the region and most are permanently stationed on naval bases throughout the region. Sailors, often deployed from the U.S. for two years or more, can find themselves marginalized as expats in foreign territory. The naval bases throughout the region, and the support systems established at the fleet level, are meant to combat this marginalization, and offer services that range from quality-of-life comforts to dire necessities.
Who better to compare the different standard-of-living throughout the region than the spouses of CTF Sailors who live on, work within, and require support from those bases?
While the commanders and command master chiefs toured Bush, the spouse program attendees toured the base support services offered across Naples, including the Naval Hospital, Navy Exchange, Fleet and Family Support center, and other critical base infrastructure and services. They were then asked to identify strengths and weaknesses of the programs and services that directly affected Sailors and their families.
For most of the programs and services a think tank-like discussion took place offering unique insight into common personal and professional issues, as well as suggestions to overcome any obstacles preventing the best experience for the Sailors and their families. Uniquely – the spouses were asked to compare their services, and offer their unique insight from their home-base services at Naval Station Rota and Naval Air Station Sigonella to baseline the quality of life services across all of the bases directly supporting operational Sailor’s and family. This sharing of experience proved rewarding.
“I would like to thank you for inviting the spouses," said Edna Conry, a U.S. Navy spouse, during the opening remarks. "Already, the conference has helped me understand the role of my husband in the command. As I’ve gotten more involved in the community, I’ve gotten to know the others involved. We start with a different understanding and perspective, and I appreciate the opportunity to see and hear from everyone.”
For over 80 years, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-U.S. Naval Forces Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) has forged strategic relationships with allies and partners, leveraging a foundation of shared values to preserve security and stability.
Headquartered in Naples, Italy, NAVEUR-NAVAF operates U.S. naval forces in the U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) and U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) areas of responsibility. U.S. Sixth Fleet is permanently assigned to NAVEUR-NAVAF, and employs maritime forces through the full spectrum of joint and naval operations.