Jacksonville, FL - The past several months have been marked by scheduled ship decommissionings and budget cuts, but the US Fourth Fleet out of Naval Station Mayport is celebrating.
“We are very pleased to continue with 5, 10, 55- whatever more years we go forward,” says Fleet Commander Rear Admiral Sinclair Harris.
The Fourth Fleet is celebrating five years at Naval Station Mayport. The Fleet was first launched in 1943, but disestablished in 1950 when its responsibilities were taken over by another Fleet. On July 12, 2008, it was reestablished and has called Mayport home ever since.
“From the time we’ve got here moving forward, it has gotten better and better,” Harris says.
One of its biggest jobs is preventing drug smugglers from trafficking contraband into the U.S. but Fourth Fleet Commander Admiral Sinclair Harris says with no warships currently patrolling their area of responsibility in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific and less funding available than ever before, it makes their job much harder.
"We have an effect, but we've got to be there to have that effect."
Admiral Harris says the challenge becomes innovating new ways to stop criminals from trafficking drugs, humans, and other things…he says it’s tough when criminals are starting to do things like outfit submarines to carry metric tons of drugs. In the past year alone, the fourth fleet intercepted $4 billion in drugs including over 36,000 tons of marijuana, 200,000 kilos of cocaine, and even detained 469 traffickers.
The Fleet handles all the operational functions at Mayport, as opposed to the base itself which gives support services like maintenance or family care. The current mission of the Fleet focuses on regional security in the US Southern Command’s area of operations, which includes 31 countries in the Caribbean and South and Central America.
Harris tells me marking the anniversary while seeing progress in their mission is especially important in the current economic climate.
“The need to have a US presence at sea becomes even more important,” he says.
He says despite sequestration and the effects it is having on the Fleet now, the vision moving forward holds even more promise.
“We’ve seen our area as a theater of innovation with innovative technologies and techniques and procedures,” Harris says.
Mayport's Commanding Officer Captain Doug Cochrane says he's confident that Admiran Harris will succeed as he continues to command the Fourth Fleet despite budget issues and furloughs.
"As long as we've got guys like Admiral Harris and great innovative, forward thinkers, there's no worries from this end."
Many of those innovations have been on recent display, with an airship stopping by the Fleet for demonstrations. Harris tells me Littoral Combat Ships coming to Mayport and the Fleet this year are yet another prong of that bright future.
Mayport is currently at a historically low number of ships, but there are several- in addition to the LCS- coming soon.