Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday Holds Media Conference Call with Rear Admiral James Kirk Aboard USS Nimitz, Feb. 24

by From Chief of Naval Operations Public Affairs
26 February 2021
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday held a media conference call with Rear Adm. James Kirk aboard USS Nimitz, Feb. 24.

ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY: Good evening, everybody.  Thanks for – thanks for dialing in and joining us to talk for a few minutes.  It’s really great.  It’s actually a privilege for me to be aboard Nimitz with Admiral Kirk and to thank the some 5,000-plus Sailors and Marines aboard the ship.  And as you know, Secretary of Defense Austin will be out here to visit the ship tomorrow.

In addition in seeing Nimitz this week – Nimitz is definitely the focal point for me – but I’m also out here visiting a variety of commands.  I went aboard Sea Hunter, one of our unmanned surface vessels, this week.  I also saw some unmanned underwater vehicle capability, some remotely operated vehicle capabilities.  And I took a full day’s worth of in-depth briefs on Project Overmatch.  And I also went aboard Michael Monsoor yesterday, one of our Zumwalt destroyers.  And this morning I spent the morning with I MEF and the Third Fleet commander up at Camp Pendleton to talk about Navy and Marine Corps integration.

I tell you, it’s been humbling to come aboard Nimitz today and spend the afternoon meeting with Sailors and talking about the 329 day deployment, thus far.  I think the total days will be 341 by the time they get back to their homeport in Bremerton.  And it’s just been incredibly impressive to talk to them about their focus on mission.  That really got them through a long deployment – the longest we’ve seen in decades.  So with that, I think we can open it up to some questions.

COMMANDER CHRISTENSEN: All right.  Josh Farley here on the line from Kitsap Sun.  You’re the homeport paper.  We’ll start with you.

Q:  All right.  Good to be with you, Admiral Gilday.  Thank you for taking the chance.  I also wanted to recognize Admiral Kirk.  Congratulations on your nomination today, which I think came out today. I just wanted to ask you first what do you think the USS Nimitz accomplished on this last deployment?

REAR ADMIRAL JAMES KIRK:  Hey, Josh, you know, thank you for the congratulations.  You know, I think we accomplished a great deal.  You know, for starters, we stood the watch for our nation and Navy in the Indo-Pacific region and in the CENTCOM AOR.  You know, we contribute to security in both those theaters at a time of tension, in a time of transitions, both as, you know, redeployments were ongoing.  We supported joint task force courts and (operative ?) courts as we redeployed the forces from Somalia.  We operated in the Seventh Fleet area of responsibility alongside Theodore Roosevelt twice and Ronald Reagan, demonstrating our commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region. 

And importantly, I think what we also accomplished with these Sailors and Marines is demonstrating what is possible with the teamwork and the focus on mission of Sailors and Marines operating alongside each other under the kind of challenging conditions with the COVID mitigations that are onboard the ship and that we’ve been living with for some time.  And so all of those things I think have been accomplished well by the over 5,000 Sailors and Marines here of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group over the last, you know, almost year-long period of time.  Thanks, Josh.

CDR. CHRISTENSEN:  All right.  Luis Martinez from ABC, we’ll come to you next.  Luis, are you there?

All right.  Jeff Dyer (sp), we’ll come from you from the San Diego Union-Trib next.

Q:  So, thanks.  This is Andrew Dyer from the Union-Tribune. My question is for –

CDR. CHRISTENSEN:  Oh, sorry.

Q:  No worries. For CNO, you mentioned how long the Nimitz deployment has been.  You know, COVID mitigation.  All your Sailors are enduring these long periods.  Your Navy family is – I mean, they’re stressed and they’re strained.  And during the pandemic and these longer periods away from home.  What can the Navy do, and will the Navy do anything, to kind of, I don’t know, give your Sailors and their families some sort of R&R over the next year, assuming we come out of this pandemic?

ADM. GILDAY:  Yeah, thanks for the question.  And so I think the real key, of course, to eliminating the long periods is getting ships 100 percent back to (native ?).  So right now, as you can probably tell the reporting over the past week, the average across the Department of Defense is about 70 percent in terms of the take rate for the vaccine.  But what we’ve been able to see on ships – many ships are – many ships that we’ve offered the vaccine to is a 95-plus take rate on the vaccine. 

So if we get that kind of take rate – and right now, as you’re well aware, the vaccine’s voluntary – that will allow us to relieve the command, relieve those ships of a number of requirements, including potentially the long sequester of 14 days.  And that’s what we really want to do.  We’ve put out guidance within the past week that essentially states the same, that will begin to sundown the long sequester period for those ships that have a high take-rate on the vaccine.  And where we can – and thus, obviously, manage risk with a lot more certainty. 

I think the other aspect of your question, sir, has to get with setting expectations for families.  So I still shoot for and plan for deployment lengths that are about seven months – between seven and eight months.  And so that’s what – that’s what I plan to.  And what we tried to do is we tried to keep the personnel tempo rate at about a two-to-one dwell.  So if we can maintain that and also at the same time try to maintain that head-to-toe cadence of getting aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, and submarines out of shipyard on time, we can – we can maintain readiness and at the same time keep predictable first tempo-informed, deployment lengths for our Sailors.

I hope that answers your question.

Q:  Thank you.

CDR. CHRISTENSEN:  All right.  David Larter from Defense News, if you’re on the line.  David, are you there? All right.  Gidget Fuentes, we’ll come to you next.

Q:  Yeah.  Thank you, sir, for doing this.  I appreciate it. The fleet continues to work with Marine Corps units out here, focus on naval integration and range of maritime operations.  You got your briefing today over at Camp Pendleton talking with I MEF and Third Fleet.  The Marines just wrapped up a winter exercise Winter Fury, and a couple of other ships like the Eisenhower as well on the East Coast.  What are the good and the bad things that you’re learning from these events in order to maximize the limited time that these units have to train together?  And will Sailors be seeing more of these times of integration with Marines for blue-green training, perhaps to support even unit level readiness?

ADM. GILDAY:  So I would tell you at this time both the Navy and Marine Corps at every level that I come in contact with is highly enthusiastic about the direction we’re going in with respect to integration.  And so this morning I spent a lot of time getting an understanding of what the Navy three-star commander and the I MEF three-star commander learned from the recent Pacific Fury, and how we’re folding that into a long series of exercises in 2021, including a large-scale exercise, which is actually a physical exercise at sea with multiple carrier strike groups and multiple arms.

And so that’ll hopefully allow us to test some of the new concepts that we’re working to mature the distributed maritime operations for the Navy.  That, of course, is intertwined with expeditionary advanced basing operations that the Marine Corps is moving forward with, under the commandant’s plan.  So a lot of good there.  In terms of challenges, I think – I think some of the challenges involve the capabilities that we’re trying to weave into these exercises, including unmanned. 

And so we are trying to move as fast as we can to both mature the concept and to bring new – and to learn what we can learn – to learn everything we can from integrating new technologies into those training periods.  So I would tell you, though, that we’re highly optimistic about the direction that we’re headed in.  And the cooperation in it at every echelon has been very, very good.

CDR. CHRISTENSEN:  All right.  Geoff Z. from Navy Times, are you on?  Over to you.

Q:  Yes.  Yes, I am.  Thanks.  Admiral Gilday, thank you for your time, sir.  This question is for you. You know, there’s some debate out there about, you know, how much the so-called gray hull presence in places like the Middle East really deters America’s adversaries, particularly those that are critical about kind of the surface fleet’s pace of operation and material wear and tear on older vessels, like the Nimitz, and wear and tear on Sailors.  I hear from them all the time about how hard this past year has been.  You know, are you – are you concerned about, you know, prematurely aging out, you know, the fleet – both the human, you know, and the vessels going forward?  And is there any – I know the Navy is, you know, responding to demand signals from higher up.  But do you think there’s anything the Navy can do to, you know, mitigate this wear and tear which, frankly, has been around in the service fleet and was laid bare, you know, with the tragedies that occurred in 2017?  Thank you.

ADM. GILDAY:  Yeah, that’s a good question.  So first let me say, with respect to the CENTCOM AOR, it is fundamentally a maritime theater.  And so there are three critical choke points.  Obviously, the Suez Canal, the Bab al-Mandab, and then the Strait of Hormuz.  And so when we talk about global commodities like oil, any perturbation in the flow of oil through the Middle East, even given the United States’, you know, move towards energy independence with respect to petroleum, it’s still going to have perturbations on those global markets.

There is also competition space there with both the Chinese and the Russians, That we can’t ignore.  And so I see – (audio break) – in the Middle East continuing, although, you know, in accordance with the National Defense Strategy I think it would take a lesser priority – or, it will take a – it will take a lower priority than it has in the past.  I think the strategy’s been pretty clear about that.  However, you know, the adversary or other actors always get a vote.  And in this case most recently, over the last 18 months after the U.S. pulled out of JCPOA, that has been Iran.  And so that has driven – that has driven the near-continuous carrier presence in the theater since the spring of 2019.

I’d also say, with respect to, you know, real-world events, that we take a look at Nimitz, and Nimitz is a really good example of, you know, to the previous question on setting expectations.  Nimitz had a number of extensions in theater.  But when you think about the environment in late 2020 and early 2021, we have a few things going on operationally over there.  One of them was a withdrawal from Afghanistan that was in progress.  Also a downsizing of our force posture in Iraq, as well a withdrawal from Somalia.  And so those are three high-risk evolutions going on at the same time when we have a presidential transfer of power in the United States and heightened rhetoric between the United States and Iran.

And so that made it – it was prudent to keep the Nimitz on station to make sure that, you know, our president had – decision makers had options should something – should something come up, as well as to deter those actors from doing anything rash.  But I – but to your point, I really do have a responsibility to balance that with maintenance and readiness.  So as I said, I’m shooting for seven-month deployments.  I’m mindful of a 2-to-1 dwell-to-dwell for PERSTEMPO, as well as the need to get ships into maintenance on time and get them out of maintenance on time.

And so I think perhaps, Jeff, in terms of, you know, a new administration coming in and taking a look at the situation in the Middle East, making their own assessment of what they think the posture needs to be, I think is going to be part of the global posture review that’s ongoing.  And I think that’s going to be very deliberate, thoughtful approach at what the long-term presence ought to be.  And, you know, one of the great things that the Navy brings to bear against problem sets like Iran is that we’re maneuverable.  And so we can move from theater to theater.  We can move from the – you know, from the Bay of Bengal back to the Arabian Sea, or we can move from the Mediterranean back and forth.

And so my recommendation would be for us to be a bit more dynamic and a bit less static with respect to – with respect to how we posture ourselves.  And I think – I think if you do that you can – you can maintain the kind of balance that I spoke to with respect to maintenance and readiness, and at the same time you can posture the joint force rather adeptly against a number of problem sets, including China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea.

Q:  Real quick follow on.  You talked about the seven

CDR. CHRISTENSEN:  Anybody on the line –

Q:  Sir, when you talked about the seven-month deployment, are you folding in – you know, we’ve got this new, you know, dynamic this past year with the two-week ROM and then, you know, for the carrier strike group the COMPTUEX, and then everybody stays on the ship and then heads out.  Is that part of the seven-month, or are we talking more like, you know, eight or nine for your average Sailor on the deck plates?

ADM. GILDAY:  Yeah.  So it’s more in the average of eight.  And it’s – and it’s a fair question.  Because we’ve committed to seven-month – because we committed to those seven-month – those seven-month deployments were planned before we entered the COVID – before we entered a pandemic environment.  And so we maintained the seven-month deployments and add it on that – that ROM period is added onto that.  That two weeks of ROM has been added on to the – to the deployment.  As we vaccinate in 2021 – and so, as an example, we just did the first – the first series of – the first shots on the Ike strike group as they deployed and they’ll get their second shots on time.  We’ll be able to do away with the ROM and move, hopefully, back to a sense of normalcy and steady state that we were in before.

Q:  OK.  Sorry for that second question.  I appreciate it.

CDR. CHRISTENSEN:  All right.  Is there anybody I missed on the line, perchance? (Pause.) All right. Thank you all very much for your time tonight.  Greatly appreciate it.  Out here.

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