In addition to managing his regular duties, the executive officer (XO) of the USS Guardian (MCM 5) is preparing to be the first surface warfare officer to "fleet-up" to commanding officer (CO).
Lt. Ted Essenfeld, who arrived at the ship in January 2007, will lead the way in what will be a Navywide standard for surface warfare officers in line to become commanding officers.
Under the fleet-up plan, officially set in motion in December 2005, XO’s serve 18 months and then transition to CO, for their command tour on the same ship. For Guardian, which is an O-4 command ship, it will only be 15 months for Essenfeld before he becomes commanding officer.
The fleet-up command career path had already been in place in the air warfare community before the surface warfare community decided it was a leadership best practice as well.
The Navy’s latest command-at-sea initiative is beneficial to both the fleet and the service members accepted into the program, according to Vice Adm. Terry Etnyre, Commander, Naval Surface Forces.
“'XO/CO Fleet-Up' is about command,” said Etnyre when the program was first announced at the end of 2005. “It provides focused command leadership stability throughout a ship’s life. A commanding officer will reap the benefits of the actions and policies he or she institutes as executive officer. He or she will know the crew upon assumption of command and will be intimately familiar with the material condition and the combat readiness of the ship. This improves readiness and will provide an unprecedented level of command leadership stability in our surface force.”
In line with Etnyre’s intentions of the program, Essenfeld, as XO, is setting forth policies that will carry forward when he becomes CO, establishing a positive rapport with the crew.
“The program allows focused command-level leadership for a longer period of time,” stated Lt. Cmdr. Steve DeMoss, Guardian’s commanding officer. “I also think it will have a long term impact on improving the ship’s readiness and material condition.”
For Essenfeld and the Navy, these factors will provide a high level of leadership stability and mission readiness.
“Since I first submitted my commissioning program application, my desire has always been to lead Sailors,” said Essenfeld. “My career goals have always been to teach, mentor, and work closely alongside young Sailors and to have a positive impact on their lives. Command at sea will afford me an opportunity to do just that.”
Essenfeld has over 16 years of Navy experience, combined enlisted and officer, in varied warfare areas that leave him well-prepared for the challenges of command.
“I’ve had a lot of experience both as a Sailor and leading Sailors,” said Essenfeld, who is a former machinist’s mate. “Multitasking like this is something I am familiar with.”
He enlisted in the Navy in November 1990 and enrolled in the Naval Nuclear Power Program. He served on board USS Topeka (SSN 754) and achieved the rank of machinist’s mate 2nd class before being selected for the Broadened Opportunity for Officer Selection and Training Program.
“It helps that he has the prior-enlisted background,” said Quartermaster Seaman Julio Sanchez, one of many Guardian Sailors whom Essenfeld is mentoring and training. “The XO can always relate to how I and the other enlisted guys do things. It makes it easy to accept him as both a teacher and a role model.”
After graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Dec. 1998, Essenfeld served aboard USS Juneau (LPD 10) and USS Gonzales (DDG 66). He skipped post-division officer shore duty to go directly to department head school, specifically asking to return to sea as a department head in a forward-deployed ship.
“I’m excited to be here,” said Essenfeld. “I want nothing more than to help the ship continue its tradition of excellence and to have a positive impact on the lives of the Sailors I lead.”
Guardian is a mine countermeasures ship forward-deployed to Sasebo, Japan. Guardian and USS Patriot (MCM 7) serve under Task Force 76, which is the U.S. 7th Fleet
’s mine countermeasures arm in forward-deployed operations.
By Lt j.g Steve Peterson, USS Guardian Public Affairs