USS Ronald Reagan’s new commander plans to focus on fundamentals

Capt. Michael Donnelly took command of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, Tuesday, April 12, 2016. Donnelly is the seventh commanding officer of the warship.


By JAMES KIMBER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 11, 2016

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — It’s been a good week for the newest commander of the USS Ronald Reagan – the Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier.

Navy Capt. Michael Donnelly, known affectionately as Buzz, last week watched his alma mater Villanova win the NCAA men’s basketball championship, and seven days later took command of the centerpiece of Pacific forces.

Donnelly, of Kent Island, Md., properly relieved Capt. Christopher Bolt Tuesday during a change-of-command ceremony aboard the Ronald Reagan at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Donnelly is the seventh man to lead the Gipper from the captain’s chair.

Donnelly takes command during an especially tense time in the region, with China’s recent aggressiveness in the South China Sea and continued threats from North Korea. Despite those issues, Donnelly said he wants his crew to focus on fundamentals.

“There’s already a strong culture of success here, and we all share many of the same goals,” Donnelly said of Bolt. “It’s about getting the basics right; take care of your equipment, take care of your people and execute. It sounds incredibly simple, but that’s really the key to our success.”

Without the fundamentals, the more complex concerns “will just fall apart,” he said.

The balancing act of maintaining security and stability in the Pacific while ensuring the ship operates properly throughout its expected 50-year lifespan is a key challenge, he said. Like his Villanova Wildcats, Donnelly said success will come from teamwork.

“Our success here is based entirely on individual excellence; we only succeed if we succeed as a team,” he said. “We have very deliberate maintenance periods. We have very deliberate maintenance requirements. We have high standards. Every sailor here understands they have to do the right thing. When we live up to our standard, we will operate successfully.”

Ronald Reagan is in a maintenance period that’s scheduled to end within the next few weeks. Afterward, the crew will undergo standard sea trials to test the ship’s seaworthiness before heading out for the next deployment. The vessel’s stops could include Guam, Hong Kong and Australia.

The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier arrived at Yokosuka in October, replacing the USS George Washington, which arrived in 2008 and left last May for a major overhaul in the United States.

Ronald Reagan’s deployment is part of Washington’s “Pacific pivot,” reflecting the Obama administration’s view of the region as its highest long-term priority.


The U.S. Navy's only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan transits the Philippine Sea in November. Navy Capt. Michael Donnelly, known affectionately as Buzz, took command of the ship Tuesday, April 12, 2016, at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan.

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