NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) – August 31, 2015 — Twenty-three executive-level professionals from a broad spectrum of career fields and expertise visited local Navy commands as part of Senior Leader Engagement Program (SLEP), the week-long engagement hosted by the Secretary of Defense.
Designed to acquaint participants with the strength and readiness of the United States Armed Forces, participants toured multiple commands including Naval Special Warfare East Close Quarter Combat (CQC) Training Range on Fort Story, Virginia.
Designed for local SEALs to conduct live-fire training for basic to advanced CQC qualification skill levels in both urban and maritime environments, the SLEP participants were impressed with the three-story facility which includes 16 reconfigurable rooms with movable walls, making different sized spaces for training.
Next on the tour included one of the Navy’s premier Joint Deployment and Maritime Operations Center located at U.S. Fleet Forces Command, where the group was briefed on naval operations before heading down to the waterfront to visit naval assets up close.
The group visited three U.S. Navy warships, starting with the USS Wasp (LHD 1) which provided an exciting opportunity for the group to see the first amphibious ship that will deploy with the F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters. The ship most recently completed the first shipboard phase of operational testing.
USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) hosted the group and provided them with the opportunity to meet and talk with the crew, “to gain a better understanding of who we are, what our mission is and the professionals onboard not only this ship, but the Navy,” said Cmdr. Les Sopol, executive officer of Gonzalez.
“SLEP members were introduced and briefed by two Ensigns who had checked onboard the ship only two weeks ago and were immediately put in charge of a rapid innovation program to incorporate the RQ-20A Puma AE, a battery-powered, hand-launched Small Unmanned Aircraft System,” said Sopol.
Sopol continued, “the SLEP members were awed by the amount of responsibility these two young officers were given. Twelve civilian contractors working on the system reported to these recent U.S. Naval Academy graduates.”
The group also visited USS Newport News (SSN 750) to experience the submarine community, viewed naval aircraft and met with naval aviators and naval flight officers.
“The SLEP program gives the opportunity for the Navy to educate participants on the challenges and sacrifices faced by service members and their families,” said Capt. Jack Hanzlik, Public Affairs Officer for U.S. Fleet Forces Command.
Participants are nominated for the competitive program by the armed forces branch secretaries and include leaders from business, community and academia.
For most of the years since 1948, the secretary has invited American business, community and academic leaders to the Pentagon, and to directly observe and engage with members of all five of the armed services at facilities in the United States and sometimes internationally.
The program began as the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference and now is called the Secretary of Defense Senior Leader Engagement Program, or SLEP.