Command of US Navy’s largest overseas fleet changes hands in Japan
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Hard work following a “tragic” 2017 meant the U.S. 7th Fleet started 2019 “fully prepared” to fight and win, outgoing commander Vice Adm. Phillip Sawyer told sailors during a change-of-command ceremony Thursday at Yokosuka.
Sawyer, who passed command to Vice. Adm. Bill Merz, a fellow submariner with experience in Japan, had guided the fleet since August 2017 in the aftermath of two separate collisions involving U.S. warships and commercial vessels that killed 17 sailors.
The collisions in summer 2017 involving the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain, both guided-missile destroyers, resulted in the ouster of Sawyer’s predecessor, Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin. They also sparked a Navy effort to prevent future incidents by implementing about 100 changes such as tightening surface warfare officer qualifications and improving watch standing.
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