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Fil-Am of Bicol roots commands visiting US warhip

MANILA, Philippines (Feb 3, 2012) - Born in the United States to Bicolano immigrants, Filipino-American US Navy Commander Leopoldo Albea Jr. considers himself more of a Filipino than American and he is excited about his visit to the Philippines as the commander of one of the biggest US warships.

Albea, whose parents are originally from Polangui, Albay, is the captain of the USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108) which is the US Navy’s latest Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer.

The Wayne E. Meyer, along with its sister warship the USS Chafee, arrived last weekend for a port and goodwill visit. Both ships are scheduled to leave today and continue with their Asia-Pacific tour.

Albea gave News5 an exclusive tour of his ship and noted he brought to his command the lessons and Filipino values imparted to him by his parents, such as discipline, hard work, gratefulness and the importance of family.

Albea assumed command of the Wayne E. Meyer in March 2011, a dream come true for any naval officer and also a source of pride for his father, who served in the US Navy for 28 years.

Albea said his parents met in California when they emigrated to the US in the 1960s and settled in Oxnard. His father, Leopoldo Sr., joined the US Navy as a steward and worked his way up through the ranks, retiring in 1992 with the rank of Command Master Chief – the highest rank an enlisted person can reach.

“That meant he was the commanding officer’s right hand man with respective issues such as the crews’ quality of life and service,” Albea recounted. Growing up as the son of Command Master Chief was “tough,” recalling that they had their chores and responsibilities: “On Saturday mornings, most kids are out playing but they stopped coming to my house because they knew I had to do my chores.”

“Discipline was swift. I learned my lesson – tough love. But more importantly, he showed me hard work, I saw how hard work looks like,” Albea said, “being an immigrant from the Philippines, being a son of a fisherman, he came from Bicol to come to another country.”

“I don’t think I worked as hard as my father had to make it where he is at,” he added.

Another lesson he never forgets is being grateful, specially since very few Filipino-Americans are admitted into the US Naval Academy in Annapolis and given the chance to command a major surface warship.

When he graduated from Annapolis in 1993, Albea Sr. only had one advise to his son: “Take care of your sailors.”

“To always talk to the master chiefs to learn from them, to listen to them so that I can learn to grow as a leader myself,” he said, adding: “I may be the most senior person on this ship. I may command this ship, I may give the orders on this ship but I don’t mistake the fact that I serve the crew.”

“It’s more important that they trust their captain,” he stressed.

Albea admits bringing his own distinct style of command to the Wayne E. Meyer: “Family – I can say family is what I brought here to this ship.”

“Life at sea is tough, we go months at a time, we may not see a shore, we are prepared to go to waters that are uncertain and when you are 19, 20 years old and you just joined the United States Navy, if you don’t have something you can hold on to like family treating each other like family – life at sea is going to be harder than it needs to be,” he said.

When he talks to the crew on the ship’s 1MC (main announcing system), “I will tell them that this is your Sea Daddy (an old nautical term) and tell them this is what is going on, this is what I need you to do, you take care of each other and you need to look out for each other.”

“They (the sailors) will tell you we are a family here, it motivates them, it sustains them when things are uncertain,” he added. “When I was going to command, I knew I wanted it to be a family atmosphere, we are honest with each other.”

Albea recalled that when he first brought his ship to Manila in 2011, Leopoldo Sr. was brought on board for an overnight visit: “He was impressed but being a master chief, once a master chief always a master chief – he did an inspection on me.”

Leopoldo Sr. spoke with the master chiefs and asked how Commander Albea was doing.

“I can tell you he told me I am proud of you,” he said, “but he still puts me in my place – I still call him Master Chief, he still gives me a hard time. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The US embassy and Albea said the visit of the two warships is not related or in response to China’s opposition to the recent decision of Manila and Washington to forge closer military ties.

“I have read some of that out there in the press but for me it’s still executing the mission which right now is to be the great ambassador of the United States,” Albea said, noting its Manila visit is part of its first maiden deployment away from its homeport of San Diego, California.

The USS Wayne E. Meyer is attached to the US Navy’s Destroyer Squadron 21 which is part of the USS John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group. The Wayne E. Meyer is equipped with the Aegis Weapons System and is able to track, identify and, if necessary, engage up to 100 air and sea surface targets simultaneously.

The ship is named after the former US Navy Rear Admiral Wayne E. Meyer who was the main proponent for the Aegis Weapon System for the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer. These ships are armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles, torpedoes, a 5-inch gun and 20mm Phalanx close in weapons systems.

Albea pointed out the USS Wayne E. Meyer is equipped with two vertical launch systems (VLS) – which allow them to “customize” their weapons package depending on the mission.

The VLS also allows the ship to keep on fighting even if one or several containers develop a problem.

The ship also has two SH60 Seahawk helicopters, which are primarily used for anti-submarine operations.

Albea also showed the ship’s Combat Information Center (CIC), the nerve center where all communications come through. Albea said they “sanitized” the area as he showed off the rows of computers, radar screens, monitors and communications gear.

“This Aegis Combat Systems is the most comprehensive system we have,” he said, noting further the USS Wayne E. Meyer was supposed to be the last ship of the Arleigh Burke class.

“This is such a good, solid platform and we will end up building five more. The USS Wayne E. Meyer will not be the last one.”

When asked if US President Obama’s decision to reduce military spending will affect their mission, Albea pointed out military cutbacks come in cycles but stressed that the US military will survive and will just learn to operate more efficiently.

Albea will be the USS Wayne E. Meyer’s commanding officer for the next 15 months and then rotate to a desk job, although he can be considered to command another destroyer or cruiser.

“There is something about command at sea that is so worthwhile,” Albea – a father of two boys – notes, although his wife believes it’s time for him to retire after 19 years in the service.

“I can come back out to sea but my wife’s answer is it’s time to retire right now,” he jokes. (From