USA: Fleet Forces Commander Visits Northern Florida

Fleet Forces Commander Visits Northern Florida

Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, visited Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville, Naval Station Mayport and Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay to meet with senior leaders during a series of leadership calls Oct. 16-18.

During the visit, Adm. Bill Gortney presented his philosophies on leadership and took questions from base leaders. While the trip is similar to trips he will duplicate many times, for the fleet’s top admiral, a trip to Northeast Florida is always special.

It’s always great,” he said. “I grew up on the St. John’s River water skiing on Doctor’s Inlet, and it’s always nice to come back to Northern Florida. It’s home.”

Growing up as the son of a Navy captain, he moved to Jacksonville, Fla., in 1970 when his father retired and took a job aboard NAS Cecil Field. That year was his sophomore year at Orange Park High School, where he would meet his future wife, Sherry.

Gortney spent the next three years working summer jobs on board NAS Jacksonville. He spent a summer as a lifeguard at the base swimming pool. He spent another summer working as a carpenter’s assistant, helping build the Patriots Point base housing area behind the hospital.

“This exchange and this commissary are not the same ones that I used to go to when I was growing up, but this is home for me,” Gortney said.

Even though he grew up in a Navy family and spent so much time on base, Gortney said he could never see himself as a Sailor when he was younger.

“I wanted no part of the Navy,” he said. “I felt that way because I moved around all my life as a Navy brat, but when I was about half way through college, I decided I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I was a history major, and I didn’t know what I would do with a history degree if I wasn’t going to law school.”

At that point, Gortney said, something changed within him.

“In our business, we have a lot of father-son or father-daughter relationships where you follow the path of your parents,” he said. “At a very early age, I wanted to fly, and I would wear my father’s flight gear like any other kid did, and I think that spark came back to me when I was in college.”

Twenty-seven years later, Gortney would find himself back aboard NAS Jacksonville, not as a summer hire, but as a four-star admiral. While he said the landscape has changed dramatically since his high-school years, so has the Navy’s war fighting capabilities. Gortney specifically mentioned the arrival of the P-8A Poseidon aircraft and the opening of the new P-8A Integrated Training Center.

“The good news is that we’re replacing the P-3s that were here when I was in high school with P-8s. I just had a chance to tour a P-8 and it was great, and I got to fly the simulator and it was a lot of fun,” he said. “The helicopters are also more advanced. We’ve gone from H-3s to H-60s, so we have much more capable helos out there on the seaboard.”

According to Gortney, Jacksonville is the perfect location to base Poseidon aircraft, not
just geographically, but also because of the strong community support for the military.

“Jacksonville is just a super Navy town. North Florida is very supportive of the Navy and has been for years,” he said. “It’s a great place to operate from, and it’s a great place to train from. The air station is a historical one, and it’s a real jewel. It has, for decades, provided terrific support forward. I wouldn’t want to fly P-8s anywhere else.”

Despite all the things that have changed on and around NAS Jacksonville since Gortney’s lifeguarding days at the base pool, there is at least one thing that remains the same.

“The one constant is the quality of the people – our Sailors, chief petty officers, officers and civilians that help make this place run. They’re just phenomenal, and they are the greatest strength that we have.”

Although Gortney is now stationed in Norfolk, his father still has a place in Orange Park, FLa., where he spends the winters and Gortney still visits when he can. He said spending time in the Jacksonville area is something he will always look forward to.

Naval Today Staff, October 22, 2012; Image: US Navy