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SECNAV presides over ESG2 change of command

28 June 2022

From Expeditionary Strike Group Two Public Affairs

NORFOLK, VA — By 1030 on June 24, USS Bataan’s (LHD 5) hangar bay was full of Marines in midnight blue coats and Sailors in white chokers. Most of them chatted amongst themselves in hopes it might help kill the 30 remaining minutes before show time. A smaller handful scurried about non-skid to sort last-second preps. Any time now, the Secretary of the Navy, the Honorable Carlos Del Toro, would arrive to preside over the Expeditionary Strike Group Two change of command that would see outgoing Rear Adm. John Menoni turn over the keys to Rear Adm. Tom Williams.

The day presented the right circumstances for pomp to be on full display, and for that cause the day would not disappoint. From a bellowing 19-gun salute to a posse of eight admirals to the Second Fleet Band in tow to perform a string of several Navy standards aboard an immaculately clean Bataan adorned in patriotic streamers.

There would be even more pageantry. Following the presentation of his end-of-tour Legion of Merit award by Del Toro, Menoni was promoted with a second star as his wife, Julie, stood at his side, and the secretary administered the oath of office.

Then, near the ceremony’s closing moments, the glitz temporarily gave way to the two career naval warriors with a combined 60-plus years of warfighting experience between them. Each took their turn at the dais to present their own remarks, but when both had finished what remained was a singular unvarnished call to action that would collectively clarify the greater purpose for U.S. men and women in uniform.

After thanking his staff and others gathered, Menoni focused his remarks on the ever-increasing hostilities by the state actors who wish harm to the United States and simultaneously threaten global peace and security. Should the U.S. have to go to war, Menoni forecasted a quick-moving conflict in which “weapons engagements will be extremely fast, decision timelines will be compressed, and communications are likely to be degraded; simply put, the next war will be like nothing we have seen in our lifetimes.” Menoni then challenged all ESG2 warfare commanders looking on by imploring them to critically self-assess their unit’s combat effectiveness and to immediately drive whatever improvements are required for their Sailors and Marines to fight and win.

“The cost of inaction, of being okay with the status quo, of doing business as usual is too high,” said Menoni. “The folks that will pay that bill will be our most precious asset – our sons and daughters.”

Then it was Williams’ turn. He succinctly declared his intentions as the amphibious strike group’s next boss and his expectations of all ESG2 commanders and commodores.

“I intend to empower all commanders at ESG2 to achieve warfighting excellence,” said Williams, a surface warfare officer who previously commanded a frigate, destroyer, and

destroyer squadron. “All commanders shall be biased toward action and seek opportunities in ambiguous situations … I expect commanders to know the readiness of their ship, craft, and gear, and to own it and lead your Sailors and Marines to get better every day.”

The day also allowed those in attendance to reflect on some of Menoni’s most substantial accomplishments during his relatively brief, but significant 10 months with ESG2 before transferring to the Pentagon to become Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Operations, Plans and Strategy, N3/N5B.

Del Toro cited Menoni’s leadership during the two-week long Exercise Baltic Operations 2022 (BALTOPS 22) that completed a week prior to ESG2’s change of command. Hosted by Sweden and executed by 15 other NATO allies and participants in the Sixth Fleet area of operations, Secretary Del Toro lauded Menoni’s BALTOPS efforts as commander of the amphibious task force as well as the expeditionary strike group.

“Admiral Menoni and his team embarked USS Mount Whitney in this exercise that involved 45 ships from 16 nations committed to freedom of navigation and security in the Baltic Sea,” Del Toro said. “I recently visited Sweden’s Embassy to the U.S., and I can assure you they appreciated your leadership and performance during that exercise. Because of your efforts, our forces were ready to meet U.S. European Combatant Commander tasking at any moment’s notice throughout the AOR.”

Del Toro also applauded the outgoing commander’s “clear eyed focus” to help fix ongoing challenges for the Navy. Soon after joining ESG2 last September, Menoni asserted his responsibility to maintain readiness by making clear his expectations that all ESG2 command members maintain compliance with NAVSEA 8010 guidance on fire prevention and response in an industrial environment – words turned into action after Menoni drove a vigorous lessons learned effort to an audience of senior-ranking admirals days after the completion of a Chapter 13 fire drill aboard USS Wasp (LHD 1) as she lay in the shipyards. The drill facilitated standardized naval firefighting training aboard Wasp along with an added a layer of complexity through the activation of Mid-Atlantic Region Maintenance Center’s emergency operation center on Naval Station Norfolk where Menoni and his colleagues exercised command and control management with local and government firefighting resources.

Commissioned in 1992 through Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps program at Cornell University, Williams is now ESG2’s 15th commander since the command stood up in 2007. The Reston, Va. native will now be trusted to provide oversight and management of its 12,500 Sailors and Marines from across 32 subordinate units, including 14 amphibious ships, five Naval Beach Group units, two tactical air squadrons, and two expeditionary sea base ships.

With his final words as ESG2 commander, Menoni followed his admission of disappointment in having to leave a job he so enjoyed with an endorsement for the man replacing him.

“If I had to hand pick someone to take over for me, it would be you, Tom,” said Menoni. “You are the right guy to lead this team forward and get them ready for whatever is thrown their way.”


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