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YOKOSUKA, Japan - U.S. 7th Fleet held a change of command ceremony Sept. 12 at the Fleet Activities Yokosuka Fleet Theater.
Vice Adm. William R. Merz became the 52nd commander of 7th Fleet, the world's largest forward-deployed naval force, after relieving Vice Adm. Phillip Sawyer.
During his farewell speech, Sawyer thanked the 7th Fleet team and its many friends, partners and allies in the region. "Together we accomplished quite a lot," Sawyer said.
Like Sawyer, Merz has spent most of his career on submarines as an engineer officer. He takes the helm as Commander, 7th Fleet after a stint at the Pentagon as the deputy chief of naval operations for Warfare Systems (OPNAV N9). Sawyer's follow-on assignment will be as deputy chief of naval operations for Operations, Plans, and Strategy (OPNAV N3/N5) in the Pentagon.
In his speech, Sawyer emphasized his three pillars of command philosophy: partnerships, preparedness, and people. In particular, he highlighted the close partnerships he developed with allied fleet commanders from Australia, Japan and South Korea as critical to handling the multitude of challenges 7th Fleet faces in the Indo-Pacific region, from natural disasters to a rogue and unpredictable North Korea, to revisionist powers trying to reshape the region in their national interests.
"Collectively, we designed and executed a comprehensive, first ever high-end tactical exercise we call Pacific Vanguard," Sawyer said. "Hopefully it, and more importantly the fleet commanders roundtable that we established, are models for our four navies going forward."
Adm. John Aquilino, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, praised Sawyer's success in preparedness, noting how he was able to revitalize intermediate advanced training, which he said has generated readiness in the fleet that had been lagging, and singled out his efforts to cultivate important relationships throughout the region.
"Relationships matter," Aquilino said. "You can surge forces, you can't surge trust."
Summing up Sawyer's tour, Aquilino said the true test of a naval tour is the condition of the organization at the end of it.
"There is no question Seventh Fleet is in a better place today than it was when you started," Aquilino said.
For his part, Merz said he was eager to build on the work of his successor and continue to expand the effectiveness of 7th Fleet and maintain peace and stability in the region.
"My longstanding motto is to play hard," said Merz. "It's not fancy, it simply means to do what you can with what you have every day to be the most professional force, the most effective force, and also a compassionate force."
The U.S. 7th Fleet conducts forward-deployed naval operations in support of U.S. national interests in the Indo-Asia-Pacific area of operations. As the U.S. Navy's largest numbered fleet, 7th Fleet interacts with 35 other maritime nations to build maritime partnerships that foster maritime security, promote stability and prevent conflict.