Sobeck Takes Command of Military Sealift Command as Wettlaufer Retires

Sep 13, 2023 | Partner News

Norfolk, Va. (Sept. 8, 2023) Rear Adm. Michael A. Wettlaufer, commander, Military Sealift Command (MSC), is rung aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) during MSC’s change of command ceremony held on board the ship, Sept. 8, 2023. The change of command ceremony is a naval tradition where the outgoing commander symbolically relinquishes command and authority by passing the division’s colors to the presiding officer, who will hand the colors to the incoming commander, thus beginning a new era of leadership for the incoming commander. (U.S. Navy photo by Ryan Carter)

Rear Adm. Michael Wettlaufer turned over the helm as commander of Military Sealift Command to Rear Adm. Philip E. Sobeck during a change of command and retirement ceremony aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) at Naval Station Norfolk, Sept. 8.

Hundreds of service members, family and distinguished guests attended the ceremony including; Commander, U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, who served as presiding officer for the change of command ceremony, and Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, Adm. Daryl Caudle, who was presiding officer for the retirement ceremony.

Wettlaufer, the 28th commander of MSC, assumed the reigns in June 2019, just months before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, he stood up a crisis action and long-range planning teams to preserve the health of the force at-sea and ashore, limiting spread of the virus and resulting in zero mission days lost.

At the President’s direction, Wettlaufer rapidly activated, deployed, kept safe and sustained USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) and USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) to deliver critical medical care to Americans in New York City and Los Angeles with much needed relief to frontline health care providers.

He also advanced MSC into the future, championing robust modeling and simulation capabilities that enabled operational level of war analysis and assessment opportunities. His revolutionary Fuel Distribution Decision Aid enabled U.S. Indo-Pacific Command warfighters and planners to visualize real-time fuel distribution network requirements, risks, and resourcing needs.

“What I learned to appreciate from the start is that MSC is an entire Navy within a Navy,” said Wettlaufer. “Operating a globally deployed fleet leveraging integration across the services and Navy fleets with our commercial shipping and repair industry plus labor partners, MSC generates combat power – that is 145 government and commercially-owned and operated ships today,” said Wettlaufer. “With only 2% of the budget and at 2% of the people when compared to the Navy, this lean team also mans, trains, equips, deploys, sustains and operates nearly 20% of the Navy’s 290 Battle Force ships while providing global logistics support to the other 80%. Importantly, we continue to build new ships to join our stable.

“I am proud to have been part of this dedicated group that is relentlessly focused on our mission: providing agile logistics, strategic sealift, as well as specialized missions anywhere in the world, for the joint warfighter 24/7, 365 days a year.”

Sobeck takes command after serving as director of Strategic Plans, Policy, and Logistics at U.S. Transportation Command, Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, where he oversaw the revision of the command strategy. His previous flag assignments also include; director, 21st Century Sailor Office; commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 3/Command Task Force (CTF) 36; and commander, Logistics Group Western Pacific/CTF 73.

“Because adversaries continue to challenge our peace, and the peace of our children, with the threat of armed conflict, we must continue to evolve to meet the demands of contested logistics and provide senior national leaders decision advantage: That’s Power. That’s Projection. That’s Advantage. And I trust that Rear Admiral Philip Sobeck will accelerate this evolution,” said Van Ovost.

“I am extremely humbled and honored to be the 29th commander of Military Sealift Command,” said Sobeck. “After having served in the U.S. Transportation headquarters, I’ve developed an understanding and an appreciation of the importance of this command. More importantly, I developed a respect and admiration for the people who make this complex maritime enterprise work.

“Make no doubt, I am compassionate about our important mission and vow to build upon the many successes of Wettand his team, and continue to push forward to keep MSC the premier logistics organization in the world.”

Following the change of command, a retirement ceremony was held to honor Wettlaufer’s 37 years of naval service. During his career, he commanded Carrier Strike Group 3, USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), USS Denver (LPD 9) and Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 195, the Dambusters, and accumulated 3,800 hours flying 50 different aircraft types and over 900 arrested landings on 14 carrier decks.

“As I look out into the crowd and see such a vast representation of professional warfighters, friends, family, civilians, church members and partners fully committed to the cause of promoting peace and security around the world, your presence today reminds us of the positive impact of what we can achieve together, and the profound impact Wett has had not only on Military Sealift Command and TRANSCOM, but across the entire Navy and the Joint Force,” said Caudle.

“Looking at the totality of your achievements these last four years and your resume, it is easy to see why you’ve been so successful – specifically, your true pleasure in life – to mentor, lead, and develop our Sailors and Marines to meet their full potential,” he continued.

MSC is the leading maritime logistics provider for the Department of Defense supporting Navy fleet commanders and USTRANSCOM operating more than 130 vessels worldwide and managing a $4.8 billion annual budget with a workforce of 5,000 civil service and contract mariners, supported by 1,300 shore staff and 1,200 active duty and reserve military personnel.

“To the men and women of Military Sealift Command, you clearly demonstrate the Navy’s core values of honor, courage, and commitment. I am proud to serve with you. You are critical in the mission to protect the security of the American people. [And] you are vital in the expansion of economic prosperity and opportunity. TRANSCOM, the joint force, and our nation thanks you for your service and sacrifice,” said Van Ovost.

Over the next decade, 12 new classes of ships will come online and MSC will see up to 20 new ships delivered to its fleet in the next five years, all with modernized systems. In addition, MSC is focused on delivering emerging capabilities such as new connectors, unmanned aerial resupply and expeditionary munitions reload to better support distribution of maritime logistics.


By Hendrick Disckson, Military Sealift Command
Photo by Ryan Carter

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