Navy’s 6th Fleet flagship takes on new commanding officer

Capt. Joseph W. Kuzmick prepares to relinquish command of the USS Mount Whitney, 6th Fleet flagship, to Capt. Owen P. Honors, at right, during a ceremony Friday. Vice Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., the 6th Fleet Commander, left, was the guest speaker.


By LISA M. NOVAK | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 20, 2008

GAETA, Italy — Capt. Owen P. Honors replaced Capt. Joseph W. Kuzmick as commander of the Navy’s 6th Fleet flagship, USS Mount Whitney, during a change of command Friday in Gaeta.

During the ceremony, the ship and crew were praised for their performance under Kuzmick, the commander since April 2006.

The Mount Whitney is the Navy’s foremost afloat communications platform, serving as a link to the Joint Intelligence Center and Joint Operations Center in Virginia. Formerly based in Norfolk, Va., the ship replaced the USS LaSalle in 2005. As part of its transition, the Mount Whitney joined the Military Sealift Command, incorporating a crew made up of U.S. Navy personnel alongside civilian mariners.

“This hybrid crew — half MSC, half Navy — it works,” said Honors, whose previous assignment was executive officer on the aircraft carrier Enterprise.

“In fact, it’s working really well … the life of the ship got extended eight years. The material condition of the ship is great.”

During his remarks, Vice Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., the 6th Fleet commander, spoke of recent events the ship and crew had been involved with. He said that the ship served as the “ground-breaking precursor to the Africa Partnership Station.”

He also spoke of future operations for the ship, noting that Mount Whitney is slated to serve as the command ship for the NATO Response Force for one year, starting in July.

“We have some work to do before we solidify that, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to happen,” Winnefeld said.

During the ceremony, Kuzmick was presented the Legion of Merit on behalf of President Bush. The citation noted the ship’s participation in the evacuation of more than 12,000 American citizens during the Israeli bombing of Lebanon in 2006.

For his next assignment, Kuzmick will serve as commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis.

Many military and civilian dignitaries were on hand for the change-of-command ceremony for the USS Mount Whitney, the 6th Fleet flagship, which was held aboard the ship on Friday.

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