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Huntington native nominated to lead Navy’s Pacific Fleet

Vice Adm. John C. Aquilino during a change-of-command

Vice Adm. John C. Aquilino during a change-of-command ceremony for U.S. Naval Forces Central Command on Sept. 17, 2017. Credit: U.S. Navy / Kevin Steinberg

A Long Island native is expected to be named the commander of a U.S. Navy fleet that is responsible for more than 130,000 sailors and civilians and patrols half of the world’s ocean surface.

President Donald Trump nominated Vice Adm. John C. Aquilino, a 1979 graduate of South Huntington’s Walt Whitman High School, as admiral of the Hawaii-based Pacific Fleet.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced Aquilino’s nomination last month at a time of concern over fleet operations and safety in the region and amid tensions with China’s expansionist policies in the western Pacific.

“We’re very excited, very proud of him,” said his sister, Diane Nystrom, of Smithtown. “He does a great job of whatever he does. He’s been moving up since he graduated from the Academy, so this is not surprising to us.”

Aquilino, who is based in Bahrain, could not be reached for comment.

If confirmed by the Senate, Aquilino would take charge of a fleet that patrols nearly 100 million square miles of ocean stretching from Antarctica to the North Pole and includes about 200 ships and submarines and nearly 1,200 aircraft.

The appointment culminates what has been a swift rise for the Whitman high graduate.

Six months ago, Aquilino was named commander of the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet, Combined Maritime Forces, based in Bahrain.

But the Pacific Fleet command opened almost immediately after a series of high-profile naval mishaps last summer that derailed the career of the Pacific Fleet’s current commander, Adm. Scott Swift.

Swift announced his pending retirement in September, after the collisions of the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain with commercial ships in June and August. The collisions gravely damaged the warships and led to the deaths of 17 sailors.

A Navy investigation concluded the accidents were an avoidable result of poor training and sloppy operating procedures. The Navy issued new rules governing a number of policies, ranging from ship-to-ship communications requirements to ensuring that sailors on duty be granted adequate sleep time.

Nystrom said Aquilino has retained strong ties to Long Island, and visits once or twice a year. His mother, Irene, still lives in Huntington, and Aquilino remains in contact with high school friends, Nystrom said. Their father died in 2011.

After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in physics, Aquilino entered flight training, and earned his wings in August 1986. According to his official Navy biography, Aquilino also graduated from the Navy Fighter Weapons School (Top Gun), the Joint Forces Staff College and completed Harvard Kennedy School’s Executive Education Program in National and International Security.

His deployments include involvements in enforcing the 1993 no-fly zone over Bosnia and Herzegovina, the aftermath of the Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

As a flag officer, his assignments have included director of strategy and policy, U.S. Joint Forces Command; deputy director, joint force coordinator, the Joint Staff; commander, director of maritime operations, U.S. Pacific Fleet; and most recently, deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy, according to the Navy.

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