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NAPLES, Italy — Navy heavy hitters who lead U.S. forces in Europe converged in Naples last week, discussing whether approaches to carry out the top commanders’ goals are working.

Twice a year, Adm. Harry Ulrich, commander of Naval Forces Europe, hosts the Strategic Execution Forum, calling on his top brass for frank discussions on the goals the command has set for naval forces in Europe and whether the forces are meeting those goals.

Participant Navy Capt. Chip Walter, commodore of Combined Task Force 67, based at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, said he and his colleagues didn’t hold back.

“One of his [Ulrich’s] tenets is building and developing Navy leaders, and you’re not building and developing if you’re handcuffing them,” he said.

Three of Ulrich’s main goals for Naval Forces Europe are developing leaders, expanding the naval presence in Europe to Africa and Eastern Europe, and enhancing maritime safety and security in the region.

The forum, held Thursday and Friday at the Capodichino base of Naval Support Activity Naples, is the sixth one. The first took place October 2005.

Last year was dubbed the “Year of Discovery” as Naval Forces Europe expanded missions of maritime safety and security east to the Black and Caspian Seas to the east of Europe, and south to the coastal waters of Africa, primarily to the Gulf of Guinea. “Now we’re in the ‘Year of Execution,’” Walter said.

Commanders discussed the Navy’s newest effort, dubbed Global Fleet Station, in which the Navy will place a big-deck ship in the Gulf of Guinea for six months, instead of having ships transit in and out of the region spending only weeks at a time, said Cmdr. Darryn James, a Naval Forces Europe-6th Fleet spokesman.

The big-deck ship will be the USS Fort McHenry, and the crew will work with representatives of participating African nations from Ghana south to Angola, and Senegal and Cape Verde.

But discussions among the admirals and Navy captains included concerns for enlisted sailors, such as developing better educational opportunities.

About 75 Navy leaders, including seven admirals, attended the conference. Walter said the leadership is aligned and “aiming the right way.”

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