Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Gary Roughead has made anti-submarine warfare his biggest priority.

Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Gary Roughead has made anti-submarine warfare his biggest priority. (U.S. Navy)

TOKYO — For his first trip away from U.S. soil since assuming command of the Pacific Fleet, Adm. Gary Roughead planned to powwow with naval leaders in Japan and South Korea, remind area sailors they count, and toast Rear Adm. Rick Ruehe as departing commander of Naval Forces Japan.

He spoke to Stars and Stripes last week about some of his priorities as the leader of the Navy’s largest command, based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, with proximity to critical waterways and nations, both friend and foe.

His biggest priority, he said, is maintaining an able warfighting force in the region.

“Warfighting always trumps everything else,” he said. “How we develop new warfighting concepts, how we prepare and make sure that our forces are ready is in my mind the top priority.”

Roughead identified two areas of keen interest: anti-submarine warfare and ballistic missile defense, both of which he hopes to improve through training and coordination.

During his visits, Roughead planned to thank leaders of Japan and South Korea for supporting U.S. naval interests in the region, including operations in the war on terror.

“We have stood side by side for decades with them,” Roughead said.

However, he said, changes are necessary.

“The way I think of it is at the end of the second world war; it’s almost as if someone blew a whistle and we stopped. We’re still there [but] the world has changed.”

Changes that are part of the Navy’s transformation could affect forces in Guam and Japan. In 2008, the USS Kitty Hawk is scheduled to be retired, necessitating some new arrangement. Roughead said U.S. and Japanese leaders still are discussing how best to position forces and ships in the country.

“It’s also important to look into Southeast Asia, where we have significant interests, where there are problems that not only affect our country in the form of terrorism but that the countries of Southeast Asia have to deal with: piracy, trafficking in drugs and humans and transnational activity.”

Roughead added nature to that list, saying lessons learned from the tsunami response last year showed need for more close regional cooperation.

“The one area that I believe is very important is to have an agreed-upon set of standard operating procedures and ways that we can very quickly establish communications with one another,” he said. “That is still in a very formative stage and that is an area that I think we need to evolve.”

Transformation in the region also will have to serve sailors’ and Navy civilians’ interests, he said.

On the personnel side, the admiral said Navy leaders are aware there are sporadic cases of alcohol-related misbehavior, hazing and misconduct, and that leaders from his level down to noncommissioned officers are responsible for recognizing problematic sailors and helping them before they “succumb to that behavior,” he said.

The Navy offers plenty of programs to help them, Roughead said, adding that he has no plans to implement changes or harsher punishments.

However, where intervention fails, “I have very little tolerance,” he said. “There is no room for that in our Navy. Those that are involved bring discredit to all of the men and women who work so hard every day to do the right thing.”

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