Mon, 30 July 2018
In his first interview, Vice Admiral Scott Stearney, newly arrived commander of the US 5th Fleet, told BTM about his plans and the challenges of the role.
Please give a little background on the 5th Fleet – how long it has been active out of Bahrain, the number ships and personnel and the area covered.
The Kingdom of Bahrain and the United States Navy share a partnership that has endured for 70 years. On January 20, 1948, the Navy established Task Force (TF) 126, which was subsequently named the Middle East Force. In 1950, the US Navy leased office space in Juffair, setting our physical presence in Bahrain. The Navy has had a continuous presence in the region ever since.
On any given day, we have numerous forces operating in the region. There are 10 forward-deployed coastal patrol ships and six US Coast Guard cutters conducting maritime security operations, as well as four minesweepers ensuring freedom of navigation. Then we have ships, submarines and aircraft that deploy to the region. Naval forces, by their very composition, are naturally agile forces that can be deployed anywhere.
Bahrain is a gracious host nation to our headquarters in this critically important region. We receive tremendous support for the 7,100 personnel and their families who live here as well as for the infrastructure needed to operate here.
As the new man in post, what will be your first actions?
Whenever I get a new assignment, I like to take the time and get to learn from the people I get to work with. US Naval Forces Central Command is comprised of high-performing teams of US and multi-national agile forces from the US 5th Fleet and the Combined Maritime Forces, serving together to maintain the stability and security of the region’s maritime commons. The breadth of experience across our regional partners and Combined Maritime Forces is invaluable given the number and scope of important missions we carry out daily.
Can you outline a typical day in your role?
No one day is the same here given the amount of operations and naval exercises that occur. Travel throughout the region and meeting my Navy counterparts has been an early priority while at headquarters. In Bahrain, my time is spent with US and Coalition task force commanders conducting planning and monitoring naval operations across the theatre.
Recently, we conducted Mine Countermeasures Exercise 18-2 with US and UK naval forces. I was fortunate enough to fly out to the HMS Fort Rosalie to see their work first hand. The laying of mines poses a threat to the free flow of commerce and freedom of navigation, so this integrated training heightens readiness so our combined forces can confront any mine threat. The dedication of our sailors who perform this mission is impressive and important to the region.
In June, I was also able to take General Votel, commander of US Central Command, to the USS Iwo Jima. We observed how the US sailors and marines work together, carrying out the maritime mission on the tactical level.
What do you see as the challenges coming into the role and how will you address these?
The US Navy and our operations are changing – and for the better. We are disrupting the “business as usual” deployments to introduce unpredictability to our adversary decision makers. Part of this means that our ships, submarines and aircraft may not follow the routine patterns that they have followed before. Perhaps this means ships operate independently of their strike group composition, or are differing their length of deployments, or are even postured to support multiple areas of operations during a deployment. The bottom line is: we cannot follow the same patterns that give our adversaries an advantage.
With this opportunity to be operationally unpredictable to our adversaries comes the challenge to change the status quo. I am excited to have the opportunity to execute the concept and work with my team to address these new priorities. I am also looking forward to continuing to work with our partners in the region as a strategic, unified force. Cooperative security ensures cooperative prosperity, and that could not be truer in this critical region.
Your background seems to be very much as a man of action, with multiple tours of active duty and awards, how do you think this will help you in your new task?
Coming from my previous tour of serving as the director of operations at US Central Command, I have a deep appreciation for the complexity of conflicts ashore across the theatre and the importance of the maritime environment for creating stability and prosperity across the region. Our naval forces here have a long history of taking action to ensure the safety of the maritime commons, and I feel fortunate to see this team in daily operations. I continue to be impressed on a daily basis by the things our forces are doing.
Do you have family here with you and, if so, how are they finding it?
My wife, Shelly, is here with me during this tour. People have been incredibly friendly, and never have we felt such a warm welcome. Bahrain has such a rich history and culture, and I am looking forward to travelling around the region.
Our grown children do not live with us, but are looking for time available in their schedule to visit. Shelly and I are already making a list of places we want to take them when they visit.
How are you finding being away from the States?
Living overseas is a wonderful adventure, and opens your eyes to new ways of living. While I have lived overseas before when I was the chief of staff for Task Force 435 in Kabul, Afghanistan, it is quite another experience to be accompanied by my wife.
Technology is amazing, and I find that I am able to easily connect with those family and friends that aren’t here in Bahrain. Even when promoted to vice admiral when I first arrived in Bahrain, I was able to have my father on video chat from the United States during the promotion ceremony. Things have come a long ways since my first Navy deployment, which has made adjusting to being away from loved ones a touch easier.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
The job of a flag officer tends to leave little time for leisure activities. I love my job and I derive a great deal of satisfaction from my work, but when I have free time, nothing is more important to me than spending time with my wife, and our children when they get the chance to visit.
We have previously written about the ongoing humanitarian role the force also plays. Is this still the case and could you give some detail of how this is currently progressing? Is it something you will be actively promoting?
The Navy and Marine Corps are the perfect forces for humanitarian and disaster relief since our platforms are extremely manoeuvrable. In 2006 when the US government needed to evacuate US citizens from Lebanon, the US Navy and Marine Corps were the natural choice for the mission. Looking to the present time, our forces practice humanitarian operations often, particularly every time a new amphibious ready group enters the region.
The humanitarian mission continues to be a vital operation for our naval forces, and the region can rest assured that we are prepared to render assistance when needed.
What are your plans and hopes for your term in Bahrain both personally and militarily?
Cooperative security provides peace through strength. While I am here, I want US Naval forces Central Command, US 5th Fleet and the Combined Maritime Forces to develop, direct and enable naval operations with partners and allies across the spectrum of maritime missions in this critical region to enhance maritime stability.
I see us accomplishing this goal through three main lines of effort: partnerships, posture and prevail. With partners, we will build maritime strength in order to deter and defeat enemy aggression, defend homelands and secure maritime interests. By optimising our theatre posture at sea, we will be prepared and ready to respond to crises, control the seas, project power, and transition to major combat operations if decided. Lastly, we will prevail in daily competition in order to deter our adversaries.
Personally, I look forward to getting to learn more about the wonderful Bahraini culture. Already, Shelly and I have felt so welcomed and feel so fortunate to get to live here.