Happy 5th Anniversary U.S. 4th Fleet

By Cmdr. Jon D. Peppetti, Lt. Jessica L. Pyle, and Legalman 1st Class Jonathan D. Greeley U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet After a decade of war […]

By Cmdr. Jon D. Peppetti, Lt. Jessica L. Pyle, and Legalman 1st Class Jonathan D. Greeley
U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet

After a decade of war in the Middle East, and with the military’s recent and much publicized pivot toward the Asia-Pacific region, it is easy to overlook the fact that servicemembers are currently forward-deployed much closer to U.S. shores.

4th Fleet Staff Judge Advocate General, Cmdr. Jon D. Peppetti works on environmental issue related to the upcoming UNITAS 2013 multinational maritime exercise in Colombia at the fleet headquarters. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr Corey Barker/released)

4th Fleet Staff Judge Advocate, Cmdr. Jon D. Peppetti works on environmental issue related to the upcoming UNITAS 2013 multinational maritime exercise. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr Corey Barker/released)

Within the Western Hemisphere, DoD is actively seeking to address the security challenges of the 21st century by strengthening partnerships with nations who share a common vision of freedom, stability and prosperity.

“Throughout the Caribbean, Central America and South America, the U.S. Navy is prominently engaged in these security cooperation efforts, and the U.S. 4th Fleet is leading the way,” said Commander, U.S. 4th Fleet, Rear Adm. Sinclair M. Harris.

U.S. 4th Fleet was originally established in 1943 to battle raiders, blockade runners and enemy submarines during World War II.  4th Fleet was disestablished in 1950, but was re-established in July 2008 to support the increased role of maritime forces in drug interdiction operations, humanitarian outreach and partnership building in the region. 

Today, with its headquarters in Mayport, Fla., 4th Fleet is more relevant than ever as the U.S. seeks to ensure peace and security in the Americas.

U.S. 4th Fleet not only exercises command and control over maritime operations, it also functions as the naval service component in support of U.S. Southern Command theater security cooperation activities. 

“With these theater-level and operational-level relationships comes a myriad of legal challenges for the Fleet Judge Advocate Office,” said Harris. “And they are always up for the challenge.”

As with other numbered Fleets, the legal staff is responsible for a broad portfolio of issues, including operational law, ethics, administrative law, and military justice.  However, unlike other numbered fleets, the primary mission in theater involves combating transnational organized crime (C-TOC), particularly illicit trafficking.  The “end game” in this fight is the successful prosecution of suspected traffickers, either in U.S. Federal Court or in a foreign jurisdiction, which requires multinational and interagency coordination under domestic and international authorities. 

Additionally, just conducting these operations requires “out of the box” thinking, which makes 4th Fleet the Navy’s premier theater of operational innovation. 

Deputy Staff Judge Advocate General, Lt. Jessica Pyle and Legalman 1st Class Petty Officer Jonathan Greeley reference the joint Standing Rules of Engagement (SRE) during a review of the 4th Fleet Operations Order at the fleet headquarters. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Corey Barker/released)

Deputy Staff Judge Advocate, Lt. Jessica Pyle and Legalman 1st Class Jonathan Greeley reference the joint Standing Rules of Engagement (SRE) during a review of the 4th Fleet Operations Order. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Corey Barker/released)

The resulting proof-of-concept deployments raise unique legal challenges, putting the legal staff at the tip of the spear when it comes to developing the framework for future worldwide employment of littoral combat ships, joint high speed vessels, unmanned aerial vehicles, and even airships. 

Although with 4th Fleet’s critical warfighting responsibilities, its role in enhancing regional maritime partnerships remains an ongoing focus.

Proactive humanitarian assistance missions, such as Operation Continuing Promise, and reactive missions following crises such as hurricanes and earthquakes provide opportunities to improve the ability of partner nation defense institutions to respond effectively in times of extreme humanitarian need. 

Additionally, 4th Fleet participation in multinational exercises such as PANAMAX (defense of the Panama Canal) and UNITAS (the longest running multinational maritime training exercise in the world) promotes integration and interoperability between Navies at all levels.

“Partnership building includes efforts to increase foreign capacity to incorporate the rule of law into all military operations, and the Fleet Judge Advocate Office is assisting multiple partner Navies to develop professional communities of maritime lawyers akin to the U.S. Navy JAG Corps,” said Harris.

As our Navy continues to play a central role in achieving U.S. security objectives around the world, one need look no further than just beyond our southern shores to see 4th Fleet leading the way.  South is forward!