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Newest USN DDG honours father of the AEGIS system

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A fitting name then.

Newest DDG Honors the 'Father' of Aegis System
Bittersweet Remembrances Mark Namesake Ship's Commissioning
By christopher p. cavas
Published: 12 Oct 2009 05:29 

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - It was 1983 when the U.S. Navy commissioned its first Aegis warship, the cruiser Ticonderoga. Twenty-six sister ships followed, and in 1991, the first Aegis destroyer, the Arleigh Burke, raised its commissioning pennant. The Navy is still building Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, with no end in sight.

Every one of those 84 ships shared a singular, personal, common thread - in attendance at each commissioning ceremony was the man known throughout the service as the "father" of Aegis, the world's most advanced naval combat system. The father was always there to watch over his latest newborn children, and despite advancing years and declining health, Rear Adm. Wayne Meyer made it a point to be present at the birth of every Aegis ship.

Every ship - until the one that bore his own name.

"It is sad, but almost fitting in a way, that the first commissioning muster he misses is that of his namesake," Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told an audience gathered in Philadelphia on Oct. 10 to commission the USS Wayne E. Meyer, the Navy's newest warship.

Like many in attendance, Mullen, the nation's highest-ranking military officer, had once served on an Aegis warship, commanding the cruiser Yorktown, the second Aegis cruiser. Many in the crowd laughed in recognition when Mullen called Meyer "uniquely cantankerous" and nodded knowingly when he noted that "Wayne E. Meyer was never satisfied."

"I lived with a legend," said Anna Mae Meyer, the admiral's widow and the ship's sponsor, and few would argue.

Meyer died Sept. 1 at age 83 of congestive heart failure, only five weeks before the ship bearing his name entered service.

"He was fighting to be here today. He said that he just wanted to make it to the commissioning," said Edward Seixas, Meyer's stepson.

Meyer's drive and determination were repeatedly cited as reasons why the Aegis system was successfully developed. He was "the chief visionary of our surface fleet," Mullen, a former chief of naval operations (CNO), said.

"He singlehandedly revolutionized warfighting," Mullen declared. "He saw the value of integrated warfighting systems," combining radars, sonars, weapons systems and computers. Integrated systems "are prolific today in all services," Mullen said, "but it started here."

"Many of the speakers here had a long relationship with Admiral Meyer," said Allison Stiller, the Navy's chief shipbuilding executive, and nearly everyone had a personal anecdote.

"I can still here him say, 'You can't predict the future so you better be damned ready for it,'" said Fred Moosally, a retired Navy captain and head of Lockheed Martin's Maritime Systems and Sensors division, which makes the Aegis system.

Bath Iron Works president Jeff Geiger, whose shipyard built the new destroyer, recalled that when Meyer visited the ship during the christening ceremony in October 2008, he was having trouble getting around the ship and was offered the use of a wheelchair. Meyer gruffly declined, saying, "I'll walk on, and I'll walk off."

Other speakers characterized Meyer as "stubborn" and a "giver of prolific advice."

"No naval officer in recent history displayed innovative leadership as Wayne Meyer," said Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, who was the first commanding officer of the USS Barry, the second Aegis destroyer. "He has one powerful legacy."

The audience at the ceremony, held at Penn's Landing on the Philadelphia waterfront, included an impressive wealth of brass hats, among them Australia's chief of Navy, Vice Adm. Russ Crane. Australia's first three Aegis warships now are under construction, and the addition of the combat system to the Australian Navy "is an enormous step into modern warfare applications," Crane said.
Rear Adm. Brad Hicks, head of the Navy's Aegis ballistic missile defense (BMD) program, observed that "people thought Meyer was inflexible" in his views.

Aegis was developed, among other priorities, to deal with the complexities of massed attacks by Soviet aircraft and missiles. But over the past decade, a BMD capability has been added, and Aegis BMD ships now are operational, functioning in a realm no one envisioned when Meyer began overseeing the project in the 1970s.

Meyer "wasn't sure at first about adding BMD," Hicks said, but he saw that the mission could evolve and "soon became enthusiastic."

Looking around at the plethora of Aegis officers, Hicks acknowledged that "this will be a fairly emotional day for a lot of people."

"It's really something when the people you mentored are the CNO and the Chairman and a host of three and four-star admirals," said Rear Adm. Jim McManamon, Deputy Commander for Surface Warfare. "It's a pretty amazing legacy."

The choice of Philadelphia as the setting for the commissioning ceremony was made personally by Meyer. Moorestown, N. J., about 14 miles away, is where Lockheed builds the Aegis system.

"That's where it started, that's where it should be," Seixas quoted his stepfather as saying. Meyer had hoped that a number of Lockheed employees would attend the ceremony.

David Rochlis, a video producer for Lockheed, said "Admiral Meyer is the reason I'm working here." Rochlis was hired in 1978, he said, "because Meyer wanted the Aegis program well documented."

Meyer "fought hard to get Aegis built," Rochlis recalled. "He used to go around everywhere selling Aegis. It was important to get support for the program. If it wasn't for him, who knows if Aegis would ever have been built."

Earlier, Lockheed executive Chris Bova, who knew and worked with Meyer for over 20 years, recalled him as a "bigger than life character" who "could be gruff with people, but he never made it personal. It was about encouraging engineering precepts. He would make people want to come back and show the old man they could do it. It was about doing the job the best they could, and if they weren't he would embolden them to do so."

"I loved him, even when he was beating up on me," Bova said wistfully.

Many veterans in attendance wore ball caps from the destroyer Goodrich and cruiser Galveston, ships that Meyer served on. There also were a number of veterans from the Ticonderoga Association, recalling the first Aegis warship.

And while the choice of Philadelphia had much to do with the nearby Lockheed facility, the location was dripping with naval and maritime tradition. In sight of the Wayne E. Meyer was the cruiser Olympia, flagship of Commodore George Dewey at the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898. Directly across the Delaware River was the battleship New Jersey, a combat veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Volunteers who man the battleship fired a gun salute to the new destroyer during the ceremony.

Just down river could be seen the huge funnels of the liner United States, perhaps the greatest merchant ship ever built in the U.S., and around a bend in the river was the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, where the Navy keeps a number of decommissioned ships - including the Ticonderoga and Mullen's Yorktown.

And while the day's tributes flowed to Wayne Meyer, son Robert Meyer said afterward that the family hoped the day "would really be for the crew of the ship."

Cmdr. Nick Sarap, the Wayne E. Meyer's commanding officer, and his crew "were there for him," Robert Meyer said. "They really made the difference."

The ceremony included a poignant moment when son James was piped on board bearing one of his father's naval hats, to the announcement of, "Wayne E. Meyer spirit, arriving."

Sarap then took a salute from executive officer Lt. Cmdr. Robert Brooks, and turned to address the CNO.

"Admiral Roughead, USS Wayne E. Meyer is in commission, and I am in command."

The new destroyer now is headed for its homeport of San Diego.
 
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