New commander for Naval Forces Japan led inquiry into Fitzgerald collision
By CHRISTIAN LOPEZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 10, 2019
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — U.S. Naval Forces Japan bid farewell to a retiring commander and welcomed a new one Wednesday at a ceremony in Yokosuka’s theater.
Rear Adm. Brian Fort, a surface warfare, or ship-borne officer, by training, assumed command from Rear Adm. Gregory Fenton, a naval aviator who held the post two years.
“The Navy got it right when they selected you for this assignment,” Fenton told Fort during the ceremony.
Naval Forces Japan works with the Japan Self-Defense Forces to develop cooperative defense strategies, among other responsibilities. Its partner organization, Navy Region Japan, is responsible for seven bases across the Indian and western Pacific oceans, including Yokosuka, that support the Navy’s operations. About 48,000 military and civilian personnel work for Naval Forces Japan and Navy Region Japan.
Fort, like Fenton, has responsibility for both organizations. Fort, of Little Rock, Ark., comes to Yokosuka — headquarters of Naval Forces Japan — after two years commanding Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific. He graduated from the University of Arkansas, the Naval War College and Joint Forces Staff College.
“Your background in installation command matters with Navy Region Hawaii will help set you up for success and further advance the partnership between the United States Navy and [the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force],” Fenton said.
Fenton, of Grand Ledge, Mich., is retiring after 33 years in the Navy. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, the Naval Test Pilot and other service schools.
“Now is the right time to move onto our next adventure,” Fenton said. “I absolutely look forward to spending time doing things that were displaced over the last 33 years, and I especially look forward to doing many of those things with my wife, family and friends.”
Fenton, being relieved, saluted U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. John Aquilino and recalled his first day on the job in Japan.
“Early in the morning on June 17, 2017, I got my first wake-up on the command cellphone advising me the USS Fitzgerald suffered a collision at sea,” he said.
The Fitzgerald, a guided-missile destroyer, ran into the Philippine-flagged ACX Crystal cargo ship, killing seven sailors. It’s still undergoing more than $300 million in repairs in Pascagoula, Miss.
Two months after the Fitzgerald collision, another Navy destroyer, the USS John S. McCain, collided with a commercial tanker, killing another 10 Yokosuka-based sailors. The McCain, repaired in dry dock at Yokosuka, recently took its place at the base pier and may soon be back in service.
Fenton dealt firsthand with the aftermath of both events. Fort, while in Hawaii, was assigned to lead the investigation into the Fitzgerald collision.
Together, the collisions caused the Navy to re-evaluate its training requirements, operations tempo and readiness for sea.
During his time in Hawaii, Fort also worked with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, also known as the Kaijou Jieitai.
He hosted the cadet training vessel JS Kashima and guided-missile destroyer JS Inazuma for training, and the helicopter carrier JS Ise during Rim of the Pacific, the largest international maritime warfare exercise.
“We are thrilled for the opportunity to continue to serve alongside and work alongside the Kaijou Jieitai every day,” Fort said during the ceremony. “The alliance, the partnership, and the friendship of our two nations and our two navies has never been stronger.”