In 2004, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate was assigned to USS Stethem (DDG 63) while homeported in Yokosuka, Japan.
This young officer, Kenji Igawa, served as the Communications Officer for nearly three years and was one of only a few Japanese-American commissioned officers in the U.S. Navy.
He provided linguistics skills and cultural insight to his crew during operations with the Japanese Maritime Defense Force (JMSDF) while helping his fellow Yokosuka-based Sailors to better understand Japanese culture.
Later, Igawa would serve as the Japan Desk Chief, Strategy Plans and Policy Directorate for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Congressional Fellow before eventually taking command of the Yokosuka-based destroyer, USS Howard (DDG 83).
Serving as the Commanding Officer of a destroyer was a position that Igawa prepared his entire career to attain, and his focus now is paying it forward to leading his crew toward success.
“It is an honor of a lifetime to be Howard’s commanding officer,” said Igawa about serving as the Commanding Officer of USS Howard. “The most amazing part of my responsibilities is the privilege to lead over 300 of America’s finest. Everyone is committed to serve our nation for a different set of reasons under unique circumstances, but we all come together, unified in resolve, in teamwork, in respect for one another, for a common main purpose: to always be “Ready for Victory” in any mission or task given to us.”
USS Howard namesake
USS Howard is named after Medal of Honor recipient First Sergeant Jimmie E. Howard, USMC, who led an out-numbered platoon of Marines against repeated attacks by a battalion-sized force of enemy soldiers during the Vietnam War.
Jimmie Howard was instrumental in saving lives, taking the fight to an adversary force on their turf, and earning the ship’s motto Ready for Victory.
Igawa’s leadership style and philosophy aligns with the fighting spirit of the ship’s namesake.
Few destroyer captains in U.S. Seventh
He leads his crew throughout the Indo-Pacific region as one of only a handful of U.S. destroyer captains currently assigned to the U.S. Seventh Fleet.
For those serving with Igawa, his Sailors appreciate how he brings the ship’s crew together and enhances connectedness and purpose.
”It’s an honor, and privilege to be working alongside and for my captain, Cmdr. Kenji Igawa,” said Howard’s Command Master Chief Jarriel C. Gardner. “Not only have we bonded through working together for almost two years and the challenges we’ve been through, we share a common passion, vision, and purpose – one grounded in service to country and in taking care of Sailors. You won’t find a more selfless and hard-working leader – an American of Americans, and it’s amazing to see a commanding officer in charge of a U.S. warship stationed in Japan with ethnic roots that tie him back to Japan.”
Igawa emphasized the significance of commanding a ship in a high impact operational environment in the Indo-Pacific, a region of high strategic importance to the U.S. and the world.
“Most consequential region of the world”
“It’s rewarding to be deployed to the most consequential region of the world,” said Igawa “We are homeported in and operate out of Japan – one of our most important strategic allies. It’s amazing and hopeful to reflect upon the fact that an American destroyer is now stationed in a country with whom we once engaged in a world war – one which defined and set the stage for the United States Navy as the preeminent in the world, and how we work alongside Japan and other allies and partners, to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific. That is what it means to me to be the commanding officer of USS Howard.”
As USS Howard continues to excel in proficiency and combat readiness, Igawa’s leadership and dedication to service is a testimony of what makes the United States a great nation and a reliable ally to our friends, Navy officials said.
USS Howard will continue to patrol the Indo-Pacific over the next year, working alongside the JMSDF and other allies to provide peace and stability to the Indo-Pacific.