Resilience, freedom personified: Port Royal

Rear Adm. Brian Fort
Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific

Our guided-missile cruiser USS Port Royal (CG 73) and its namesake, the Battle of Port Royal — fought in the first year of the American Civil War — are symbols of resilience and freedom.

A relatively recent example …

When Port Royal returned from a successful deployment in support of Operation New Dawn on Valentine’s Day 2012, bringing a chance for freedom and democracy to Iraq, it was under a shadow. The ship’s grounding near Honolulu International Airport in 2009 led to a belief that structural issues would prevent the ship from being able to remain in service. Yet, Port Royal and her Sailors proved resilient, living up to the ship’s motto, “the will to win.”

Over the past three years her crew has certainly validated their ship is “ready to fight tonight” — recertifying in every warfare area, standing the test, and proven ready.

The crew completed workups, tested their systems and successfully deployed to the western Pacific in 2016, where they conducted joint maritime security exercises in the 7th Fleet area of operations with Southeast Asia partners. Port Royal next protected international commerce before proceeding to the 5th Fleet area of operations to support USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) and USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) to protect sea lanes and conduct interdiction of illicit weapons near Yemen and Somalia.

Back home just last year, Port Royal supported the USS Nimitz (CVN 70) Carrier Strike Group by conducting ballistic missile tests and performing other duties in and around Hawaii operating areas. Now, the proud warship is halfway through a significant yearlong availability period in Pearl Harbor. One ship, one crew, one person can make a difference. The same can be true for one war, one campaign, one battle.

The Great Naval Expedition to capture Port Royal, South Carolina, November 1861 engraving published in Harper’s Weekly. It depicts federal warships and transports. Photo courtesy of U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command

A more historic example …

Early in the Civil War, the Battle of Port Royal was part of a strategy to seal ports in the South and provide a vital refueling station — a key need in the days of coal. The battle was carried out by Federal Navy steam-powered wooden warships and gunboats in a war that would introduce steel-hulled ships and showed how, partnering with the Army and Marine Corps, the Navy could forge a powerful amphibious sea power.

Historian Shelby Foote said the Battle of Port Royal was won as soon as it was conceived, based on the superior strength of naval forces, with steam changing the equation of power projection from the sea.

“Naval power was going to be a dominant power in the war,” Foote writes.

Defenses crumbled when “assailed from both directions by naval crews who worked with coolness and precision.”

Victory at Port Royal showed the world the ideal of “E Pluribus Unum” was worth fighting for: “out of many, one.”

The battle itself wasn’t executed perfectly, largely due to severe storms off the Carolina coast, but the Navy proved its worth, and the nation demonstrated its commitment to ideals proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution. Navy ships at the Battle of Port Royal certainly demonstrated the will to win. (The Civil War ended 153 years ago in the spring of 1865.) Seventy-five years ago, in the middle of the War in the Pacific, our Navy had the will to win in amphibious warfare that led directly to an era of greater peace and prosperity – including a constitutional democracy and freedom and equality in Japan.

Today, the men and women aboard Port Royal — all with diverse backgrounds but a common mission, naval heritage, culture and purpose — serve here in Pearl Harbor. They and all their shipmates on the waterfront are in view of USS Arizona, the Battleship Missouri and other memorials: symbols of our ongoing commitment to defend our shared American ideals, symbols of our resilience, symbols of our will to win.

Author’s note:

I have a framed photo of Port Royal on my office wall in Pearl Harbor, signed by shipmates more than a decade ago from my time as the ship’s executive officer. The notes and memories of the Sailors I served with – aboard Port Royal and, frankly, wherever I’ve been stationed – represent great memories from the days of our service together.

Many outstanding and respected leaders have served aboard CG-73, including former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead. During my time, I had the pleasure of serving as XO for both Capt. Lee Geanuleas and Capt. Pat Allen, two amazing Navy leaders.

More recently, my former MIDPAC Chief of Staff, Capt. Eric Weilenman, served as Port Royal’s commanding officer from March 2011 to October 2014. Eric retires this month after completing 30 years of service to our Navy and nation. The ships, aircraft and equipment we operate are important high-value assets, but nothing is ever as important or as critical to the mission as our people. — Rear Adm. Brian Fort

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