NAPLES, Italy — The commander for Naval Forces Europe laid out his priorities for the coming year last week in an all-hands message to Navy commands in Europe.

Adm. Mark Fitzgerald, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Commander U.S. Naval Forces Africa, said he is focused on several key goals for 2009, centered around security in Europe and Africa, quality of life for the work force and families, and "capacity building" with partners in eastern Europe and Africa.

"Last year, we achieved what we set out to do in building maritime partnerships," Fitzgerald said in an e-mail sent to European-based naval forces. "Africa Partnership Station was proof of our commitment to improve maritime safety and security."

APS is a Navy initiative designed to provide security training to African navies to help them combat regional problems such as drug smuggling, piracy, over-fishing, illegal immigration and human trafficking.

This year, the focus continues on building partnerships with African nations, with added support for the newly created U.S. Africa Command.

"We are working to make sure that our efforts are aligned with the European and Africa commands," said Capt. Ike Skelton, spokesman for NAVEUR-NAVAF. "A good part of that mission of alignment is getting out and assuring our allies that we are there, we deem them important, and we deem them relevant.

To that end, the first APS mission for 2009 begins at the end of the month, and U.S. 6th Fleet will recertify as a Joint Forces Maritime Component Command in late April aboard USS Mount Whitney.

The importance of housing and health concerns, specifically with regard to the military community in Naples, also remains a priority, according to Skelton.

The Navy is conducting a health assessment to determine the effects of the decades-long problems with trash accumulation, trash burning and illegal dumping of toxic waste.

"We’ll … partner with [Navy Region Europe] to address the housing, health and other concerns facing our Italy-based families," Skelton said.

Fitzgerald’s priorities haven’t changed much from last year. His plan is to build on some of the 2008 successes, such as the first port visit by a U.S. aircraft carrier to South Africa, the various APS training missions and the delivery of humanitarian aid to the nation of Georgia following airstrikes by Russia.

"It is paramount that we continue building partnerships and advancing partner nations’ self-sufficiency, communicating effectively, and managing operational risk while maintaining the highest of standards," Fitzgerald told Navy personnel.

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