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story.lead_photo.caption Greg Zonner (center), executive director of the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum, gives a tour of the USS Razorback submarine to Rear Adm. Brian Fort (right), commander of Navy Region Hawaii Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, on Sunday in North Little Rock. - Photo by Thomas Metthe

U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Brian P. Fort is a decorated naval officer in charge of most of the service ships and naval bases in Hawaii, which is not bad for a native of the landlocked state of Arkansas.

On Sunday, Fort visited the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum at 120 Riverfront Park Drive in North Little Rock.

During his visit, he spent time meeting with museum board members and toured the museum. He also gave brief remarks to a crowd that included members of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative.

Fort is the commander of Navy Region Hawaii and the Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, based out of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii.

He is visiting the Little Rock area to stress to government officials and business leaders the importance of the Navy to even landlocked states like Arkansas, which is fitting since the capital city is his home.

"I specifically wanted to go back to my home state on Veterans Day," Fort said. "This is special to me."

He attended Catholic High School and is a graduate of the University of Arkansas with a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering.

Fort said he originally had no plans to join the military, but his father bribed him with a Dodge Dakota pickup to talk to a Navy recruiter about the branch's nuclear engineering program.

"He told me if I talked to the recruiter, I would be able to take the truck on [a] date," Fort said. "I took the truck and met with the recruiter the next day. I didn't want to miss out on the date with the woman who is now my wife."

He said the Navy gave him the opportunity to do something different.

Rear Adm. Brian Fort, Commander Navy Region Hawaii Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, boards the USS Hoga during his visit to the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum on Sunday in North Little Rock.
Rear Adm. Brian Fort, Commander Navy Region Hawaii Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, boards the USS Hoga during his visit to the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum on Sunday in North Little Rock.

"I wanted to see the world and lead people, and the Navy gave me the ability to do that immediately," Fort said. "It was an opportunity and, seeing that Arkansas used to be known as the Land of Opportunity, it seemed fitting."

Fort said his wish to see the world happened very quickly into his service career.

He told stories about visiting Ireland and Italy before being dropped off by a helicopter to his first ship. He said that in a matter of months he was going on safaris in Kenya, doing newspaper interviews with the French press and crossing the Arctic Circle.

"That was my first two months in the Navy," Fort said with a laugh. "Not bad for a boy from Little Rock."

He also described how six years later he learned to become a leader, as well.

"I remember we were in the Arabian Sea when one of my men mentioned he saw a flare in the sky," Fort said. "A few minutes later, I heard the air defense commander start doing roll call and I knew that usually means planes are unaccounted for. I went back to the person who witnessed the flare and asked him if he saw the flare go up into the air, and he said no. I knew then he witnessed a midair collision."

Fort said they would discover that two fighter jets had collided, and he quickly had his vessel begin a search for survivors. He said they were able to rescue the one pilot who survived.

"That was my first taste of leadership in the Navy," Fort said.

Three years later, Fort was thinking about taking a break from the water after his third sea tour, but his superior asked him to serve on one more ship.

"A few weeks later, 9/11 happened, and there was nowhere else I would have rather have been than helping with the operation in Iraq," Fort said.

Fort has risen through the ranks in the Navy over the past several years, and he doesn't plan on slowing down.

"As long as the Navy will have me, I will keep serving," Fort said.

Fort is an avid naval history enthusiast and said he jumped at the chance to tour North Little Rock's naval museum.

"I have actually never been here before, so this was pretty exciting," Fort said. "You guys got some amazing history here. Being able to see and touch history is amazing."

The Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum features two floating Naval vessels that bookend World War II: the tugboat Hoga, designated a National Historic Landmark and recognized for its role during the Pearl Harbor attack of 1941; and the submarine USS Razorback, which was in Tokyo Bay during the formal surrender of Japan, ending World War II.

The Hoga is most recognized for pushing the sinking USS Nevada to safety and preventing it from blocking the narrow channel.

Fort said he got choked up watching the memorial video for the Hoga.

"I live and breathe this every day living in Pearl Harbor," Fort said. "It's amazing how much of history is small stories like that."

The state will hold several Veterans Day activities today at the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History and the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock, according to the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson will be the featured speaker at the 10 a.m. observance. The theme of this year's ceremony is Post 9/11 Veterans: A Veterans Coming Home.

Metro on 11/12/2018

Print Headline: Admiral, Arkansas native reflects on life in Navy, sees North Little Rock museum

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