By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Joshua Karsten
YOKOSUKA, Japan (Feb. 21, 2014) – In 2013, the U.S. 7th Fleet, the largest of the numbered fleets with 90 to 100 ships and submarines, 150 to 250 aircraft and approximately 40,000 Sailors and Marines present at any given time, participated in 80 maritime exercises and conducted 192 port visits throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
Each event contributes to the 7th Fleet’s presence in the region, supporting security and stability across 124 million square kilometers between Hawaii and India. “At the end of the day, what do you really count on the 7th Fleet for? You want the 7th Fleet to be able to aggregate credible combat power, at any time, in any place, given a potential contingency,” said Vice Adm. Robert L. Thomas Jr., 7th Fleet commander.
Every engagement, every exercise, for every 7th Fleet unit requires an enormous amount of planning and coordination; accomplished by the 7th Fleet Theater Security Cooperation (TSC) directorate commonly referred to as the N7 office.
N7, led by Capt. Tony Cowden, is a team consisting of seven country officers who plan and coordinate each engagement for the 7th fleet area of responsibility.
The team seeks to build relationships through port visits, exercises, training and professional engagements with allies and partners, with the goal of improving communication and interoperability among the region’s navies and maritime nations.
N7 plays a vital role in the delicate balance of managing schedules and port visits for the Fleet. Port visits are important not only for crew rest and relaxation, but also for ship repair, resupply and professional interaction and training with the host nation. Through training opportunities, cultural events and professional military exchanges, Sailors serve as ambassadors of friendship and professionalism with host nations.
Cowden’s role is to lead the effort in defining, implementing, monitoring and assessing the Theater Security Cooperation program and to advise Admiral Thomas in all things related to TSC.
“We engage with countries in the region and tell them why we’re out here, talk to them about America, show them what we’re doing, and then work with them to build experience and expertise within their own Navy,” said Cowden.
The seven country officers are each responsible for knowing a portion of the 36 maritime nations and Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) organization located in the 7th Fleet region.
The desk officers are responsible for understanding both their countries and how the Fleet can best engage with them based on their interests and desires. For example, some countries place an emphasis on medical training, while others focus on seamanship, weapons, tactics and maritime operations.
By working closely with “Country Teams” or U.S. Embassy staffs and defense and naval attaches, N7 gets the most up-to-date information about the desires, schedules and opportunities available in the host country. N7 is also able to gather historical information and make recommendations to the commander about where to send ships and plan engagements for Thomas or one of his Command Task Force commanders to meet with and discuss operations with their naval counterparts in that given country.
This vital information creates better dialogue and strengthens the Fleet’s relationship with our allies, friends and partners to further demonstrate our commitment in the region.
Cowden’s expectations for 2014 are to continue the pursuit of physical presence across the region to reassures allies and partners that our commitment to them and to international norms, standards, rules and laws is steadfast and unwavering.
“I am a big believer in “visible presence” by pulling into ports and participating in events where the people of Asia and the Pacific, not just their governments or their militaries, can see that we are here in the region,” said Cowden. “I have a great deal of faith and confidence in the Sailors of the 7th Fleet and how they connect with people – whether it is in a maritime bi-lateral exercise or buying souvenirs in a road-side stand – being the key element in demonstrating our values as Americans and our commitment to the region.