Vice Adm. Jonathan Greenert, commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, spoke to Stars and Stripes recently about the subjects and issues in the fleet that concern him. Here is a transcript of that talk.

Conflict and bilateral relations

What keeps me awake at night and what is the focus of our current operations: When I get up in the morning, the things that I focus on with my staff, No. 1 is what’s going on with North Korea.

We look at North Korea from the perspective that we are responsible, to the Pacific Commander and the Combined Forces Korea Commander, Gen. LePorte, we are the naval component for any operation for the defense of Korea.

North Korea has one of the largest armies in the world and though the threat of conflict is relatively low, the consequences are so high that that consequence-based thought process has us focused there.

They have a large Army, about a million people and allegedly have nuclear weapons and so the confluence of those items and our responsibility and the potential size of such an operation puts that in the top of our focus.

A second order in the effect of North Korea is the stability of the regime. Although we may not go to war over something like this or be in conflict, if the regime were to fail, we would have quite a mess on our hands. We would be the naval component for any subsequent operations, we would go in and help restore order in North Korea if there were an instability or a regime failure. We would probably have refugees and displaced people trying to get to Japan or otherwise going to sea to try to get out. So that’s a second order problem with Korea.

No. 2 is a China-Taiwan situation. Our country supports peaceful settlement and we are an instrument of that. Our biggest concern and what we try to preclude is a miscalculation between China and Taiwan or any of the other second order parties. And I would say that our mission out here as we enhance stability is to dissuade any military actions by China or Taiwan; to help dissuade China from taking any kind of military action but at the same time to preclude Taiwan from provoking such an action and we try to balance that here.

Thirdly, what we look at is the Global War on Terrorists, particularly in Southeast Asia. We currently have an operation at the request of the Government of the Philippines to help them deter, dissuade and disrupt any terrorist actions in the Southern Philippines. There’s a firm belief that the Southern Philippines are a source of terrorist camps and that al-Qaida and JI work together and use that area [the islands from southern Philippines down into Indonesia, linked by ferries and believed to support terror camps].

That’s a concern of ours, the continued operation and expansion of terrorist operations down and around that area.

Regional Maritime Security Initiative

I would describe it as a coalition of the willing, of those countries in Southeast Asia. And it’s first major step and element is the sharing of information.

On an international basis we share air information, flights coming to and from, we keep pretty close track of that. What we don’t do on an international basis very well is share maritime information, what is contained on a ship, whose flag it is under, when was the last time it was inspected.

What we’re in the process of doing, we being Pacom, the state department and the defense department, is we’d like to get a coalition of the willing to start sharing information on shipping in and around there [the Straights of Malacca and the straights around the archipelago of Indonesia]. And then take it to the next level, as respecting territorial seas and the sovereignty of the requisite nations [to] interdict illegal smuggling or terrorist operations.

RMSI was introduced two years ago by Adm. Fargo at an international annual conference called the Shangri-la dialogue (Shangri-la is a hotel in Singapore where defense officials meet to discuss issues of regional interest). That has since built positive progress in Southeast Asia. [Some of the countries already have bilateral agreements that allow hot pursuits into territorial waters for example]. We’re looking at something that might expand on those basic principles to counter maritime terrorists in that area.

A goal [for the initiative] might be a common database or network understanding shipping that is going to the various ports. What that would do is, we would know who doesn’t carry contraband, arms or terrorists. And then we would have a much more palatable challenge to look at who might. There is no timeline on this because these things are relatively new. There’s a concern about sovereignty.

[They use exercises like the six-nation CARAT to meet the objectives]. We are using the agenda of that exercise to perhaps steer it toward a more RMSI, counterterrorism [focus], something of a more common interest to the area. We don’t have an end state per se because we don’t know where this will take us, but we do like the progress.

[Second exercise – Southeast Asia Cooperation Against Terrorism, SEACAT] That has a scenario that is truly counterterrorism related and it’s much more into data-sharing. [SEACAT is about three years old; started out very small with a few ships.] It has now expanded to maritime control aircraft, UAVs, multiple small boats.

Theater Security Cooperation and the strategic value of the 7th Fleet

What we provide to the Pacific Command, the Department of Defense and Korea: We are the naval component for the defense of Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippine islands. We are the naval component for the non-combatant evacuation of Taiwan, Indonesia and India. We have in the last five years had to look closely at those operations. I am the commander for the Maritime Counter-terror Operations.

We also provide for the Pacific Commander what he calls his Theater Security Cooperation. How we want to shape our relationship throughout Asia. It runs the gamut from reassuring the allies to building new relationships with countries such as China, Russia and India, ones we may not have a standing alliance with or treaty for operations but one we want to enhance our relations with. [Where] we want to have a relationship such that if need be for a mutually-agreeable situation, we could get in and access the country. Such as for a tsunami or any kind of humanitarian situation.

Those are the three big bullets if you will, reassuring, building and gaining access in a mutually-agreeable situation.

The pillars for this Theater Security Cooperation are exercises – and we hold about 100 exercises a year – [and] port visits. We determine what ports we’re going to go in and how long we’ll be there and a big factor in that is this Theater Security Cooperation. Just about every port visit I approve has a mission associated with it.

It was never more important than how we got things going with the humanitarian assistance and the tsunami relief.

There is such a thing as the Theater Security Cooperation plan, it is a plan. I can actually go to it, turn to a country like Malaysia and look at the Pacific Command objectives for Malaysia. There will be a maritime area. And I’ll look at, how are we doing in that area? It could be landing rights; it could be sharing of security operations; port security.


[Post-tsunami – opinion polls are more pro-American in Indonesia and South Asia.] Theater Security Cooperation. Trust, friendship equals access. Get to know each other then you’ll trust each other then you’ll build a relationship and when you need access at a mutually-agreeable time, you know you can trust that individual. And what we did well in Indonesia is we got out of there. We got out of their country. When it wasn’t part of our mission as we mutually agreed it would be, we didn’t fetter around and find something else to do that would “help” them. We said ‘our work’s done here, agreed?’ They agreed and we left.

Theater Operations

The Kitty Hawk’s replacement. We are on track for the replacement in 2008. We are closely coordinating with the Government of Japan. No decision has been made. Congress will determine the disposition of the John F. Kennedy. It is recommended that she be inactivated and put on reduced operating status.

We would prefer not to [keep the Kitty Hawk operational longer than that date] and there are a whole host of reasons from the material condition of the ship to the cost of continued operations.

S&S asks: What about other locations at bases in Japan, such as Sasebo? Pacific Command continues to review all the options. I would expect they’re going to look at Sasebo, Iwakuni, any place that would have a large enough pier. But is there any initiative to do that? No. They are just challenging all of the assumptions [looking at options]. With regard to looking at moving the Air Wing to Iwakuni, we have a noise issue and the U.S. and Japanese governments are looking at many options. You think about what fields would be available. We are looking at those options. The problems are not new. We need to coexist. We are guests in a country at the invitation of the people and the government of Japan and so we need to look at what is the right balance between being guests in a country, what do they need versus the readiness requirement to provide protection to live up to our part of the alliance. We have altered our operations in the past, taking into account certain requests of the people.


If you stand back and look at the western Pacific, and balance your finger on my AOR, you almost put your finger on Guam. Guam is a hub. Guam has geography and that will be enduring. It was incredibly important in World War II, then it went down. It was important in the Vietnam War, then it went down. And it is now becoming very important to us again. Guam will always be strategically important because of its geography alone. Guam is clearly on the minds of policy makers as a very important item and they are studying Guam closely.


I call behavior a strategic issue. In some cases it doesn’t take but a singular heinous crime or a major event to turn something which turns a very unfortunate tragic incident into a strategic item involving the state department. With that in mind, my mantra to the fleet, to the folks is we are ambassadors residing in Asia at the invitation of our friends and allies. We need to align our behavior to that culture, whatever that may be.

I look at, like drug abuse and like a lot of things, I want none. But I know we’re dealing with human beings. You want no traffic accidents, no deaths due to accidents on the job. I am driving toward zero. I could drive for zero and no one would leave their home or their base or their ship. That would be crazy though. So you balance that with the welfare of your folks and the institution and the culture.

We hold ourselves to a higher standard than a citizen, than an average person out in town. The strategic part of that comes to the point where if we have enough incidents, even if we didn’t have a heinous crime, what I refer to as a tipping point, if we have enough of these incidents, they may be minor crimes but if you get into enough of them and the people start to wonder what is the footprint here. At some certain times, such as when you change out an aircraft carrier, you can have something become an agenda item as part of the whole negotiation that you really don’t need.

You get to either a preponderance of events or an event, it can be one of the two, and behavior is not one I think we should have to deal with, nor do I want to deal with it. I want to avoid footprint as an agenda item on the Kitty Hawk replacement.

We have some programs where we try to shape our folks behavior. One is a liberty risk and buddy program. That is not one that I mandate here from on high, I don’t run it but folks use it. You manage the risk [of at-risk sailors]. And we have the buddy system. The buddy system was originally put together to put together to protect the sailors going out in town. It helped them stay on track. If you have one come into a poor judgment situation the other can help him. Properly employed, they are effective.

We [also] have a liberty card program commonly referred to as the exceptional sailor program. [Full liberty means] you understand the culture, you understand the significance of your behavior, you understand your ambassadorial requirements and you can stay out all night.

The fact of the matter is, you mix a young person after midnight with alcohol and bad judgment and you have a problem. We’ve had too many instances in the past where the individual is in trouble and they just didn’t understand that it was that big a deal. It’s not a big deal when it’s Philadelphia or Sioux City or wherever the other culture is. So we use these programs, it helps people be good ambassadors.

[Finally] we have a civilian clothes policy. I call that cultural alignment for lack of a better word, it’s actually asking people to have an appearance befitting them as ambassadors. Avoid a gangster or thug theme out there because it just sends the wrong message. We want to eliminate a provocation or a threatening appearance. Our interface with some cultures tells us that it does that in some cases.

Visiting the Waterfront

[Visiting all the ships in the fleet] It’s goal of mine. I will go in and give them a short blurb [about] what’s on my mind. What’s on my mind now is behavior. What I’m asking people to do is get involved to the deck plate level. I’m very convinced that my commanders get it. Behavior is a strategic issue. I believe the chief petty officers and the supervisors need to sit down with their folks, what I call looking them in the eye and [tell them] how important it is. You can see if they’re understanding or not. I worry about people who just don’t get it. They go out and there’s a problem and they just don’t realize it. So I’m asking [leadership] to look them in the eye, make sure they get it.

I’m not [at the point of threatening drastic change] but I don’t want to manage it from the Blue Ridge. They, by being a mentor and doing intrusive leadership, can look in their eyes and understand the kind of situation they have. They can tweak that, and with little tweaks here and there, I’m sure it will work fine.

I’ve been pounding on behavior. It’s a heavy rainstorm coming down, there’s a whole bunch of water there. Sometimes when it’s been dry for a long time and there’s a heavy rainstorm and you just think you’ve got a ton of water so the ground must be completely saturated. But it’s not necessarily true. It takes a while to sink in. You’ve got to make sure it gets all the way down to the bottom. That gets down to looking in their eyes and making sure the water, if you will, or whatever it is you’re delivering, has reached the levels that it needs to reach. Because they’re the ambassadors out there. I want to be sure we all understand the significance so that if I were to need to change policy out here or get involved in the liberty or behavior policies, I was first taking action on something that everybody understood. I had a comfort level that whatever it is they’re doing, they know the significance of it and the importance of their presence here and the potential impact on our relations. I believe that it will have a positive outcome.

Consecutive Overseas Tours

Our consecutive overseas tour policy, I think directly shapes behavior. It rotates people through. It cross pollinates not only skill sets out here but people that understand the culture. It gives people fresh perspective.

If folks are going to remain out here they should be re-screened. Before people come to the forward deployed naval forces, to overseas duty, they are screened. They look at a number of things and some of them are your behavior, your performance. To stay out here we ask that you are re-screened. We think two tours are probably enough, where you’ve experienced the culture, you’ve experienced the advantage of overseas duty here in Japan, we want to cross pollinate you to the rest of the Navy. At the same time we need to get people out here to understand the significance of what we do out here and to have that advantage. It has an indirect impact on behavior, I’d say, in that we look at people who stay here.

We are proud of the kinds of sailors, the kinds of officers that we produce, if you will, because of overseas duty out here. In fact they do very well. This is a great place to come to improve your career and statistics are proving it in a big way.

It is hard to get people to volunteer to come here until they understand … the advantages of duty here. We have work to do to continue to spread the word. To ensure that folks who might be good candidates to come out here understand. What helps feed that is the rotation of folks back into the Navy.


My goal is to convince recreational users if you will or experimenters that it’s not worth the risk. I’ve discussed it with the flag officer leadership and the enlisted leadership and with the NCIS, we’ve all got together and I’ve said you have seen numerous cases out here, what’s going on, what’s the theme that you’ve seen out here. We’ve seen kids that seem willing to take chances that don’t think the risk is too great so I decided, ok, we’ll I’m going to increase the risk. The way we do it is, one, frequent and random urinalysis, and I mean truly random is key to this. If it’s any way predictable then the risk factor goes down. Two, a comprehensive and accurate urinalysis program, ensuring that the bodily fluid you’re extracting is in fact the fluid from that individual, it is not tampered with. Three, I want to eradicate the use of products that defeat urinalysis testing - cleansing, contaminating the sample, substituting. I have made a general order that it’s illegal to use drugs. It’s contrary to good order and discipline.

The commander of Naval Forces has done the same thing. There will be an instruction out shortly on how to institute urinalysis programs, to upgrade the instruction I should say, and it will make it illegal to use those products.

In the last year we had 100 folks busted for drug use. Fifty from positive urinalysis and fifty through referral, ie., somebody who was picked up with a positive urinalysis telling the investigating agent who else uses drugs.

I am pleased with the progress so far but we’re not done. This is a continual saga. If you use drugs, you’re going to get caught. It’s just inevitable.

– Juliana Gittler, Stars and Stripes

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