NEWS | May 7, 2020

Second Fleet's Golden Opportunity

By Chief Mass Communication Specialist Stephen Hickok

Second Fleet's Golden Opportunity
SLIDESHOW | 1 images | Second Fleet's Golden Opportunity Second Fleet's Golden Opportunity

Lt. Tara Golden flipped through her landing checklist while flying in an SH-60F Sea Hawk helicopter across the Eastern Mediterranean during Operation Iraqi Freedom. As the flight deck of her destination, the amphibious transport dock ship USS Cleveland (LPD 7), came into view, she could just make out the familiar frame of her father.

The flight was a standard training exercise for the Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron (HS) 7 Dusty Dogs, assigned to the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). They were invited by Golden’s dad, Capt. Kenny Golden, Commodore of Commander, Amphibious Squadron (COMPHIBRON) 1, to practice Deck Landing Qualifications (DLQs) — landing and taking off training from a ship at sea. The invitation was standard, except for one caveat: “Be sure to bring my daughter along with you.”

Once safely aboard the ship, Golden saluted her dad, handed him flight gear and a helmet and traded places. Her pilot had previously served as a junior officer under Capt. Golden and was now her squadron commander. After completing several DLQs, Golden and the rest of the HS 7 crew joined her father for lunch in his flag mess. It was a rare opportunity for a family reunion at sea during a major military operation. This moment would solidify Golden’s desire to serve her country.

Fast forward 15 years. Cmdr. Tara Golden — now elevated to a senior leadership position in the Navy Reserve ­— has shifted career responsibilities from active-duty helicopter missions to becoming a commanding officer of a Navy Reserve unit. Transitioning from active-duty, the Reserve enabled her to continue her military service while pursuing a lifelong passion for animals and becoming a certified veterinarian. 

Busy with her civilian career as a veterinarian, caring for her own rescue animals, and balancing the demands of being a unit CO, Golden was surprised when early last year she received a phone call from Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, commander of the newly stood-up U.S. Second Fleet.

Golden gained experience during her time on active-duty developing innovative training exercises to increase air wing readiness capabilities. Now, Lewis had a special assignment for Golden to use her thinking-outside-the-box training approach to help make Second Fleet fully operational.

Her story is not unique for a Reserve Sailor. Each member of the Navy Reserve expertly balances dual careers and brings with them a wealth of expertise from unique civilian and military experiences. However, Golden exemplifies the growing demand for synergetic active and Reserve teams in response to today’s new era of Great Power Competition.

Second Fleet’s creation in late 2018 was in response to new challenges in the fight to maintain global security and a need to command and control forces in the Atlantic, North Atlantic and Arctic regions. Beginning a new fleet was a massive undertaking and the Navy Reserve would play a crucial role.

“The United States’ military focus has shifted from violent extremist counter-terrorism to Great Power Competition against motivated, capable, well-funded adversaries,” said Second Fleet Deputy Commander Rear Adm. John Mustin, the first Reserve member of the newly reinstated fleet. “Russia has captured our attention with Ukraine, and provocative maritime patrols along our Eastern Seaboard. Further, the security environment within the North Atlantic and Arctic regions has rapidly evolved as rising temperatures open additional sea routes for passage, and nations jockey for access to sea-based natural resources.”

As they worked to establish the structure of Second Fleet, Lewis and Mustin realized they were being presented with an opportunity for something new — a seamless integration of an active and Reserve warfighting team.

“We’ll be standing watch beside and integrated into the active-duty watchbill,” Mustin said. “Some members will be Reserve and some will be active-duty — and no one will ever know the difference.”

Mustin moved on from Second Fleet after a promotion to two-star admiral, but his vision has become a reality. On Dec. 31, 2019, Second Fleet reached Full Operational Capability, or FOC, a status signifying the fleet has sufficient capacity to sustain command and control over assigned forces. This achievement was accomplished in large measure through Reserve support.

Golden decided it was worth it to put her civilian career on hold to become a plank-owner in Second Fleet. She accepted Lewis’s offer and took on the position of assistant chief of staff for training and exercises.

“Lewis’ mission to establish Second Fleet is big and it’s special to be at the ground-breaking of something new,” Golden said. “It’s just like being an entrepreneur and opening a new business, I wanted to be a part of that. He’s a really smart and focused leader and I was looking forward to another opportunity to work with him.”

Since World War II, the mainstay of operational fleet readiness training has centered on fleet battle problems — annual exercises pitting fleet against fleet to test combat strategies and capabilities. In her new assignment, Golden would be involved with designing innovative training exercises in line with modern multi-domain operations ­— a joint warfighting concept bringing to bear all available capabilities during a conflict.

“We’re using exercises now where failure is authorized in order to test newer concepts and capabilities,” Golden said. “We ask what kind of big objectives we are trying to get after to support distributed maritime operations. Then we come up with hypotheses and test them in the fleet. After we come back, we collect the assessments and lessons learned with the hope that they will evolve into new and improved processes in training.”

Another aspect of Golden’s role is communicating with multiple commands, fleets and joint forces to coordinate exercises, certifications and qualifications for ships under Second Fleet’s management. Before achieving FOC, it was a daunting task for the fledgling fleet as the staff was a shell of their future manning goals. To accomplish the mission, she leaned on the Reserve force to fill critical billets.

“Reservists have been instrumental because we have not only filled vacant billets for Second Fleet that active duty would normally fill, but we also bring knowledge of how additional Reserve support can help during our operations and exercises,” Golden said. 

Reservists like Lt. Matthew Eshnaur were brought on orders to help plan, execute and evaluate Exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2019, the fleet’s first major exercise. BALTOPS would be Lewis’ litmus test to see if Second Fleet was ready to certify FOC.

“I was a staff planner while on active-duty, so I knew how to plan war games and exercises,” said Eshnaur. “I was able to use that knowledge along with our active-duty planners to bring Second Fleet up to an operational staff level.”

Second Fleet’s director of fleet management Capt. Chris Slattery says the Navy Reserve unequivocally played a key role in the stand up.

“The talent of the Reserve officers and enlisted filling key roles in the intelligence, plans and fleet training department accelerated the staff attaining Initial Operational Capability, executing its inaugural operational employment during BALTOPS 2019, and finally leading up to reaching FOC — only 16 months after the very first Sailor reported to the staff,” Slattery said.

The Chief of Navy Operations “FRAGO 01/2019: A Design For Maintaining Maritime Superiority,” states that mission one for every Sailor — active and Reserve, uniformed and civilian — is the operational readiness of today’s Navy. The CNO’s marching orders read like they could have been taken straight out of Golden’s Second Fleet playbook — an absolute focus on becoming an integrated multi-domain capability for the Navy in order to fight and win at sea.

Golden is passionate about the Navy Reserve and sees the new Second Fleet model as a rallying cry for Reservists to get excited about moving the Navy forward, not only with the usual training, certifications and mobilization readiness, but being prepared to command and control the fleet at any level. 

“As a Reservist, working for a numbered fleet is going to keep you busy,” she said. “You will be at the operational and tactical level of war involved in Great Power Competition.”

Innovation also needs to be forefront for every Reservist, Golden says. “Many times when we’re in the nuts and bolts of working through exercises, trainings, and certifications, we may think innovation is nice to have or that it’s someone else’s job. No, innovation needs to be in the hearts and minds of every single Sailor, on staff or on ships.”

Her advice doesn’t stop with the Reserve. Golden says the one thing she would tell the active component is to get to know your Reservists. “Chances are, you’ll be able to utilize more than one of the tools they bring to the job,” she said. 

With the goal of FOC complete, Golden’s Second Fleet orders are coming to an end. “It’s been extremely rewarding and eye opening for me personally and professionally,” she said. “There were personal goals I had to set for myself and I’ve had to learn to be organized at a different level. It’s also been exciting to work directly for a three-star admiral who has a very exciting and forward-leaning vision and to be a part of that as a Reservist is an honor.” 

Golden will promote to captain in April, the same rank her father achieved before retirement. As she looks forward to new responsiblities with a new Reserve assignment, Golden is eager to restart her veterinarian career while continuing a stalwart military legacy.