PHILIPPINE SEA -- The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) welcomed aboard the new operational commander of the Navy's largest overseas fleet Sept. 14.
Vice Adm. William R. Merz, who took command of the Navy's 7th Fleet from Vice Adm. Phillip Sawyer during a change of command ceremony Thursday, visited Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 5 underway, making the visit to Reagan his first formal visit as commander.
The career submariner said he has spent most of his career operating in the western Pacific and is "very comfortable operating in this [area of responsibility] and wanted to reengage with what it's like to move our ships in and out of Yokosuka."
The Reagan crew has overcome the challenges that consistently face the forward-deployed naval forces and has "been the north star and the example for the Fleet," the 1986 U.S. Naval Academy graduate said.
"It is an absolute honor to host our new 7th Fleet Commander," said Rear Adm. Karl O. Thomas, Commander, Task Force 70. "It is incredibly important for these Sailors on the tip of the spear to meet and hear from their new Fleet Commander, but also to share first-hand how they skillfully promote security and stability in this vital Indo-Pacific region."
While aboard, Merz met with various officers and leaders within CSG 5 and spoke with Sailors during his visit.
"You've always been where we need you, when we need you and you stay there for as long as we need you," Merz said. "I really like the impression I get that you know it is hard to operate out here but you accept that and portray an image that, 'we're still gonna beat you.'”
Ronald Reagan, the flagship of CSG 5, provides a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interests of its allies and partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.