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Coronado arrives to serve as Seventh Fleet command ship

7th Fleet Release

Release Date: 3/24/2004

Chief Journalist (SW) Rick Chernitzer, Seventh Fleet public affairs

YOKOSUKA, Japan - U.S. Seventh Fleet welcomed its temporary home March 24, when USS Coronado (AGF 11) arrived at Fleet Activities Yokosuka, 40 miles south of Tokyo.

Coronado will serve as the Seventh Fleet flagship while USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) undergoes an extensive dry dock maintenance period. Coronado departed San Diego on March 5 for the deployment to Japan. It will remain in the Seventh Fleet area of responsibility throughout the length of Blue Ridge's dry dock period, which is expected to last several months.

"It's a particular pleasure for me to take this assignment," said Capt. Chris D. Noble, Coronado's commanding officer, at a press conference on the pier shortly after the ship's arrival. "It's made altogether better to be able to do so in this great country."

But this move aboard the former Third Fleet command ship is far from typical. The Navy is using the opportunity to conduct a test program aboard Coronado to demonstrate an innovative manning concept. The majority of the ship's crew will be federal civil service mariners, or CIVMARs, employed by the U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command (MSC), instead of U.S. Navy Sailors.

In the past, Coronado had a crew of 481 Sailors. But under this new arrangement, Coronado has only 117 Sailors, along with 146 CIVMARs, for a total crew of 263.

The CIVMARs run the basic shipboard functions, such as navigation, propulsion and auxiliary machinery operation, maintenance and repair, laundry and food service responsibilities. Military personnel retained operation of the communications, computers and intelligence equipment, helicopter detachment, weapons systems and other command and mission capabilities.

Coronado, a 16,400-ton command ship, recently completed a two-month maintenance period, during which its basic engineering, navigation and hotel services were converted to civilian specifications.

Transitioning U.S. Navy auxiliary ships to MSC is nothing new; however, this is the first time the Navy and MSC have transitioned only a portion of the crew while the ship maintained its commissioned status as a "USS" ship.

To prepare for the move, the Seventh Fleet staff initiated a Coronado Embark Planning Group in October to look at all aspects of the embark to ensure a smooth transition from one command ship to the other. The platform is vital to the mission of the Seventh Fleet commander and his staff.

Maintaining operational control of up to 60 ships and 200 naval aircraft in an area of responsibility (AOR) that covers 52 million square miles of the Pacific and Indian Oceans is a huge responsibility that requires a robust computer and communications facility. The U. S. Navy operates only four such platforms that are capable of providing that type of connectivity.

According to Capt. Dave Dittmer, Seventh Fleet's lead officer for the Coronado Embark Planning Group, the choice of Coronado as a substitute platform was obvious.

"It has mobile office space," he said. "USS Coronado will provide over 200 desks for the 300-person Seventh Fleet staff, and an additional 200 for an augmenting staff for a joint task force. These workstations come equipped with modern computer systems and robust communications. Even USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) and USS Essex (LHD 2) combined could not provide the capabilities Coronado brings for an embarked staff." The concept of moving the staff to another ship was made more complex when logistical considerations came into play. Blue Ridge is manned and operated solely to support the staff, Dittmer said, and with almost 800 personnel in her crew, is able to meet the Staff's needs. "This is the first time the Seventh Fleet staff has moved off Blue Ridge in anyone's memory," he said, "so there were many processes that had not been evaluated in anything other than a Blue Ridge context."

Part of making the move easier involved not only the contributions of the planning group, but the oversight of Capt. Donald Kuellmer, the embark's project manager. Kuellmer, a Naval Reservist Civil Engineer Corps officer, was activated to oversee the vast organization required to move the staff.

"Numerous billets in Naval Mobile Construction Battalions, Naval Construction Force Support Units, Naval Construction Regiments, and Naval Cargo Handling Battalions provided me a background on the requirements to move a unit," Kuellmer said.

What made this move more challenging, he said, was the fact that Blue Ridge Sailors provided a great deal of support to the embarked Seventh Fleet staff. To ensure the same level of support is provided to the staff once aboard Coronado, with its unique CIVMAR manning, every detail had to be looked at.

That support is outlined in separate agreements, called memoranda of understanding (MOU) between the Seventh Fleet staff, Blue Ridge, Coronado and MSC to clearly define each command's role during the embark period. The MOUs define who is responsible for all functions, from running the ship's store to providing medical support and handling payroll.

While beneficial to Seventh Fleet in the short run, the embark is also testing whether the Navy will benefit from adopting an innovative manning concept into the service's culture that emphasizes effectiveness and efficiency.

"This embark will test the feasibility, both financially and in terms of a working relationship, of future initiatives to partially convert other ships' crews to a CIVMAR workforce," Kuellmer said. "This has proven cost effective for particular platforms with particular missions, however, the command ship platform has not been tried before."

According to Noble, this new process will bring positive results.

"I could compare having both Sailors and CIVMARs to having more variety in a toolbox. They each perform a necessary function. The mariners get to enjoy being Sailors at sea, while our Navy service members get to be warriors," said Noble.

"I am proud of the crew and the CIVMARs for what they have accomplished so far," Noble added. "I hope for a safe, solid deployment."

Coronado, commissioned in 1970 as an amphibious transport dock (LPD), was built to transport Marines and their equipment to the scene of an amphibious assault and land them ashore via landing craft and helicopters. In 1980, the ship was re-designated as an auxiliary command ship (AGF), designed to provide fleet commanders with a forward presence during fleet operations. The ship has served as command ship for Commander, Middle East Force and Commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet. In 1986, Coronado became the command ship of Commander, U.S. Third Fleet, homeported in Hawaii. The ship remained there until 1991, when it changed its homeport to San Diego.

A major ship modification in 1998, incorporating the latest network technology, transformed Coronado into the most advanced command ship in the world. Shortly after, the Navy designated the ship as its official "Sea-Based Battle Lab" (SBBL). In this additional role, Coronado tests new technologies and innovations to assess possible further implementation throughout the Navy. The Seventh Fleet embark will not affect SBBL experimentation and installed equipment will remain onboard. Coronado is homeported at Naval Submarine Base Point Loma, Calif.

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