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December 17, 2014 / iDriveWarships

Happy Holidays from SURFOR

Happy Holidays, Surface Warriors! Thanks for all you do.
A special thanks to those serving on our deployed ships operating forward this holiday — thanks for keeping the watch!

December 9, 2014 / iDriveWarships

USS Anchorage Completes NASA Orion Mission, Returns to San Diego

USS Anchorage recovers NASA Orion crew module

After successfully completing recovery operations of the NASA Orion crew module, amphibious transport dock ship USS Anchorage (LPD 23) returned to Naval Base San Diego Dec. 9.

The Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) recovery is part of a U.S. government interagency effort to safely retrieve the Orion crew module that is capable of carrying humans into deep space.

EFT-1 is the fifth at-sea testing for the module using a Navy well deck recovery method. There were four tests conducted prior to EFT-1 to prepare the recovery team. The first test, a stationary recovery test, was conducted at Naval Station Norfolk last summer. The other tests were conducted underway aboard the USS San Diego (LPD 22) and Anchorage earlier this year.

LPD-class ships have well-decks, advanced medical facilities, embarked helicopters, three dimensional air-search radar and small boats that can all be leveraged during recovery operations.

Safety was a priority as Sailors rehearsed for the recovery using a mock-up of the Orion module that was deployed from the ship’s well deck and recovered by Navy divers and small boats.

Anchorage utilized a specially-trained bridge team throughout the duration of the recovery. After the capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, the ship maneuvered close to it, along with small boats, to retrieve the equipment safely. Divers attached lines from the small boats to guide the capsule toward Anchorage, where a NASA-designed winch hauled the capsule into the well deck. Since Orion is meant to be reused, keeping the capsule safe is a priority during recovery.

NASA is embarking on a new era of space exploration. Orion is America’s next-generation spacecraft that will take astronauts to new destinations never explored by humans. It will carry crews to distant planetary bodies, provide emergency abort capabilities, sustain the crew during space travel and provide safe re-entry from deep space.

December 7, 2014 / iDriveWarships

Remembering Family and a Tradition of Service on Pearl Harbor Day

By Cmdr. Todd Whalen, Commanding Officer of USS Rodney M. Davis (FFG 60)

As a third-generation naval officer, people often ask me if I joined the Navy because it’s a “family business.” I never really thought about it too much, even after taking command of USS Rodney M. Davis (FFG 60) 18 months ago. But as we return home from a U.S. Seventh Fleet deployment—my first in the Pacific, family is on my mind. Fittingly, the ship will be in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Pearl Harbor Day, so perhaps it’s time I thought a bit more about family and service.

Ensign Frank D. Whalen (USNA '38)

Ensign Frank D. Whalen (USNA ’38)

My grandfather, Cmdr. Frank Dolan Whalen, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1938. His first assignment was Gunnery Officer on USS Zane (DMS-14), which was at anchor in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. I can only imagine his thoughts that day, under attack, while my grandmother nursed my one-month-old father and watched the bombings from their nearby home. During World War II, my grandfather served in 18 battles in the Pacific and was awarded a Silver Star for heroism during the kamikaze attack on USS Franklin (CV-13). Later, he commanded the destroyers USS Colahan (DD-658) and USS Corry (DD-817). Sadly, “Grampop” passed away when I was only eight years old, but I will proudly wear his officer’s sword at USS Rodney M Davis’ decommissioning ceremony in January.

Capt. Frank R. Whalen, USN (Retired)

Capt. Frank R. Whalen, USN (Retired)

My father, Capt. Frank Richard Whalen, graduated from U.S. Naval Academy in 1963 and served 30 years as a Surface Warfare Officer, including tours as Commanding Officer of USS Thomas C. Hart (FF-1092) and USS Mobile Bay (CG 53). He was only 26 days old when the attack on Pearl Harbor took place, a few miles from where he was born (he’ll tell you that he remembers every detail). Dad is the kind of guy who would have stayed in the Navy forever if they would have let him. Perhaps it’s some small consolation that I wear his tarnished command-at-sea pin on my coveralls every day at sea.

I guess that makes me the black sheep of the family—I received my commission via NROTC from the University of Virginia in 1995. (Two years earlier, my older brother, Scott, graduated from the Naval Academy.) Initially, Dad wasn’t very happy about my college choice, but in the words of Thomas Jefferson, “the boisterous sea of liberty is never without a wave.”

Cmdr. Todd Whalen, commanding officer of USS Rodney M. Davis (FFG 60)

Cmdr. Todd Whalen, commanding officer of USS Rodney M. Davis (FFG 60)

That was 20 years ago, but today I can’t escape tradition—it’s stared me in the face the past six months. During my first Pacific deployment, and when USS Rodney M. Davis joined 48 ships from 22 countries for Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise last summer, it really hit me: I was moored in Pearl Harbor, yards away from where my grandfather was at anchor on December 7, 1941. After RIMPAC, we refueled in Guam, where he was stationed at Commander Naval Forces Marianas. As the ship steamed over 34,000 nautical miles in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, I saw names like Midway, Leyte and Iwo Jima on the charts, in whose waters my grandfather and countless other everyday naval heroes sailed over 70 years ago. The scenery may be the same, but our mission—building and sustaining Pacific partnership—is much different.

So on this Pearl Harbor Day, I am fortunate to be in Pearl Harbor, halfway home to my own family. I will visit the USS Arizona and Battleship Missouri memorials, and I’ll remember the sacrifices of those who came before me. I will also take a few moments to remember my grandfather and snap a picture of evening colors to send to my Dad. At the end of the day, the Navy is still a family business.

December 1, 2014 / iDriveWarships

USS Rodney M. Davis Sunset Deployment: Sustaining Pacific Partnerships and Meeting New Friends

Cmdr. Whalen with Cmdr. Andike during the ship’s visit to Indonesia

By Cmdr. Todd Whalen, Commanding Officer of USS Rodney M. Davis (FFG 60)

We are “Bold Runners.” Sergeant Rodney Maxwell Davis sacrificed his life for his fellow Marines on the field of battle in Vietnam, and we honor him by boldly executing the mission. During USS Rodney M. Davis’ (RMD) sunset deployment, that mission was to conduct theater security cooperation with our allies, sustain Pacific partnerships, and make new friends.

The ship left Everett, Washington on June 12 and steamed west to join 48 other ships from 22 countries for Rim of the Pacific 2014, the world’s largest international maritime exercise. We trained in multiple warfare areas, helped improve interoperability with allies, and made many new friends from around the globe. We thought we said our goodbyes at the closing ceremonies, but time would soon prove us wrong.

Following RIMPAC, we joined Battle Force Seventh Fleet, crossed the equator, and jumped right into another multi-national event – Sail Raja Ampat, Indonesia. The highlight was a 50-ship parade of sail for the President of Indonesia, which included ships from Indonesia, Singapore and Australia.

A few weeks later, we anchored in the Maldives—the first U.S. warship to visit in more than four years. When we hosted the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) Chief of Defense and his staff onboard, my Executive Officer, Cmdr. Shockey Snyder, re-connected with his old Naval Academy classmate, Colonel Mohammad Ibrahim, the Commander of the MNDF Coast Guard. During our visit, MNDF soldiers graciously took RMD Sailors snorkeling and surfing, and on our departure, my Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS) team conducted a boarding demonstration for the MNDF.

Our next stop was Belawan, Indonesia, near Medan, the capital of Sumatra. On our way in, we met up with the Indonesian warship KRI Sultan Hasanuddin and conducted maneuvering and communications exercises. The next day, I found myself onboard having tea with her Captain, Heri Triwibowo, sketching ship mooring configurations to plan guest transportation to our reception at anchor. Later in our visit, 40 RMD Sailors conducted large and small-group cultural exchanges with over 800 Indonesian high school and university students. It was a life-changing experience for my Sailors, and we really came to understand what Pacific partnership is all about.

In addition to scheduled theater security cooperation events, we had several unplanned meetings with Pacific partners. While on patrol in the South China Sea, we unexpectedly crossed paths with PLA(N) Yueyang (FFG 575). A few months earlier, I met her Commanding Officer at a RIMPAC reception, and we spent the better part of a day alongside at 500 yds during the RIMPAC photo exercise. In the South China Sea, we traded greetings and shared a memory as our ships exchanged maneuvering signals. Partnership and cooperation made the Pacific Ocean seem small that day.

Our most recent tasking was Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT), Brunei. This was the 20th year of CARAT and another chance to work with a RIMPAC sister ship, the KDB Darulaman. CARAT is more intimate than a big event like RIMPAC, so my crew was able to really get to know their counterparts from the Royal Brunei Armed Forces during events afloat and ashore, including a female engagement symposium, a bilateral medical evacuation exercise, helicopter deck-landing qualifications, and VBSS exercises. One of my favorite events was the “curry lunch,” where I swapped RIMPAC and deployment sea stories with Lt. Col. Muhammad Hadi Syarifuddin bin Abdullah Mega, the Darulaman Commanding Officer.

As I write this, USS Rodney M. Davis (FFG 60) is heading for home, and my crew is excited to return to their families and friends. With decommissioning looming, it will be a bittersweet homecoming. But if we’ve learned anything on deployment, it’s that the crew is the soul of the ship, and Sailors breathe life into the ship’s steel decks. Those same Sailors are the lifeblood of Pacific partnership and theater security cooperation, whether it’s a bilateral exercise like CARAT or a multinational event like RIMPAC. We’ve certainly grown closer as shipmates, and we’ve made many new friends from around the globe. These are relationships that will last a lifetime.

November 17, 2014 / iDriveWarships

USS Fort Worth Departs on Maiden Deployment to Singapore

USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) departs on maiden deployment.

USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) left San Diego today for a 16-month rotational deployment to Singapore in support of the Navy’s strategic rebalance to the Pacific.

Building on the achievements of USS Freedom’s (LCS 1) maiden 10-month deployment to Southeast Asia from March to December 2013; Fort Worth will visit more ports, engage more regional navies during exercises like Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) and expand littoral combat ship (LCS) capabilities, including embarking and utilizing the MQ-8B Fire Scout Vertical Takeoff and Landing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTUAV).

With LCS crew 104 embarked, Fort Worth recently completed its deployment certifications during Task Group Exercise off the coast of Southern California. Many members of the crew have been onboard since the ship’s construction, so this deployment is the culmination of all their preparations.

After departing San Diego, Fort Worth will visit ports in Hawaii and Guam before arriving in its maintenance and logistics hub of Singapore.

As the Navy’s second LCS to embark on an overseas deployment, Fort Worth is the first LCS to deploy under the 3-2-1 manning concept, swapping fully trained crews roughly every four months. This concept will allow Fort Worth to deploy six months longer than Freedom, which swapped crews once in 10 months, extending LCS’ forward presence and reducing crew fatigue for the 16-month deployment. The concept is named for the three rotational crews supporting two LCS ships to maintain one deployed ship.

Like Freedom, Fort Worth will employ the surface warfare mission package for the entire deployment, to include two 30 mm guns, two 11-meter rigid hull inflatable boats and two 8-member maritime security boarding teams.

For the first time, Fort Worth will deploy with an aviation detachment from the “Magicians” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM-35), the Navy’s first composite expeditionary helicopter squadron. The aviation detachment will consist of one MH-60R Seahawk helicopter and one MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned autonomous helicopter. The Fire Scout will complement the MH-60R by extending range and endurance, enhancing overall maritime domain awareness.

November 12, 2014 / iDriveWarships

Saying Farewell to USS Ingraham

CDR StraubBy Cmdr. Daniel Straub, Commanding Officer of USS Ingraham (FFG 61)

Ingraham’s motto is the “Last and the Finest.” As the last frigate built for the U.S. Navy, Ingraham embodied the best of what it was to be a multi-mission warship capable of rapidly responding and operating forward in support of our nation’s tasking.

This ship remained ready to respond for the country for 25 years. In 1991, it was a humanitarian mission undertaken after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Republic of the Philippines. As Gay Lynn O’Hara, one of the personnel evacuated with her two children wrote in a letter to me, “Ingraham evacuated two sets of approximately 400 dependents.” She also wrote, “The ship truly was ‘A Global Force for Good,’” as it has been ever since.

Ingraham has remained that Global Force for Good, and during her 25 years of service to the nation Ingraham has answered America’s call.

As I walk the deckplates, I see how much work has gone into making Ingraham the great warship that she is today. I see the care that was put in every day to her maintenance and operation. Material readiness, operational readiness, mission readiness, combat readiness—all of these have two things in common. The first is readiness; readiness to do the nation’s tasking. Ingraham has always been ready, willing and able to fulfill her mission requirements. The second thing is Ingraham’s crew; they are the ones who forged all of Ingraham’s successes. This is a crew who has proven time and again that they care about their ship and about each other.

One of the things that make frigates unique is that their crews are smaller than most; each person has to rely on one another for everything, from knowing how to fight fires and perform damage control to getting along and finding ways to reconcile differences. We have to see each other every day, so we figured out quickly that getting along makes things a whole lot easier! Ingraham Sailors take ownership—they do their jobs well and they do not cut corners, even when no one is looking. They follow procedures and they know that if they don’t—either they or someone they know will have to pay for their shortcut or complacency. They do these things because they know that on a frigate you have to be self-sufficient and self-reliant—you have to keep your gear in top operational condition because no one else is going to fix it for you. The redundancy found on other ships, whether it be personnel or equipment, is just not there on a frigate. The bench is not deep; the bench is us.

I know there is some sense of idealization now that Ingraham is coming to the end of her operational life, so I also want to emphasize that the journey has not been easy. Ingraham’s Sailors have mixed their sweat, labor and sacrifice with her success. As a testament to her lifelong relentless efforts and robust schedule, the past couple of years have been rigorous and demanding of the crew. While away from her homeport in Everett, Wash. in 2013, Ingraham spent months conducting basic phase training, two months conducting maintenance in San Diego, and an additional two months in San Diego for a Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) Material Inspection. This year, Ingraham spent all of January conducting work-ups prior to deployment, then in March the ship departed for a seven-and-a-half month Combating Transnational Organized Crime deployment to the 4th Fleet area of operations.

Although it was challenging, all the training and material preparations paid off when Ingraham and her embarked Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachments proved her mettle through the disruption and interdiction of 11.9 metric tons of cocaine—more than 26,000 pounds!—valued at more than $561 million. Over the course of her deployment, 32 suspected illicit trafficking personnel were detained for extended periods of time. On top of that, Ingraham also captured a fully-loaded self-propelled semi-submersible vessel (SPSS) in the Eastern Pacific.

The seizure of such SPSS vessel was a significant feat for U.S. and multinational forces that conduct year-round counter illicit trafficking operations in the waters off Latin America and the Caribbean.

Semi-submersibles are commonly used by illicit traffickers to move large amounts of drugs and other contraband because the vessel’s low profile makes it extremely difficult to detect at sea. U.S. and regional partner nation law enforcement agencies rarely spot a semi-submersible on the high seas. And when they do, capturing them is very difficult since the crews often attempt to scuttle and sink the craft to dispose of evidence.

As a final test to their impressive efforts, USS Ingraham’s crew successfully embarked to Peru to participate in UNITAS 55-2014 with 14 partner nations. After UNITAS, Ingraham participated in the silent forces exercise (SIFOREX) alongside three Peruvian diesel submarines and two Peruvian Frigates. Wrapping up the deployment, Ingraham participated in Peru’s Navy Day parade, with more than 30 Sailors marching in their annual parade.

Ingraham performed all of this without missing one operational commitment and without a mid-deployment maintenance availability, which is a testament to the sheer ingenuity, perseverance and will of this crew.

As the Navy’s most recently commissioned warship, USS America (LHA 6) begins her journey as USS Ingraham officially ends her legacy in the fleet. All the incredible men and women who have served our country on this great warship have earned my deepest gratitude and that of this nation.

November 7, 2014 / iDriveWarships

USS John Paul Jones Proves Most Capable Surface Ship in the Fleet

Earlier this week the recently modernized USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) made Surface Navy history.

For the first time, a single ship shot down a ballistic missile in the upper atmosphere and simultaneously fired defensive anti-ship missiles. Sitting 400 miles off Kauai’s Pacific Missile Range Facility, John Paul Jones epitomized ‘Warfighting First’ by engineering and executing this mission so successfully. This was incredibly complex and proved the value of the Navy’s modernization program.

When John Paul Jones’ keel was laid 24 years ago, this technology was not yet in existence. Through effective modernizations and valuable investments in the fleet, today John Paul Jones represents the most advanced, capable ship in the Surface force.

This is huge deal and historic for the Surface Navy!

Modernization programs are not new. During the 1980s, WWII battleships were taken out of mothballs, reactivated and refitted with new electronics and new capabilities. In addition to those big guns they had, they were updated with technology that wasn’t even imagined when the battleships were first built.

This is playing out with John Paul Jones today. This joint effort between the Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Pacific Command, test proves the continued relevance of John Paul Jones and other Surface combatants.

This successful test is a game changer for the Surface Navy—not just in capability—but in expanding operational options. With a single ship we can engage multiple threats without deploying a second.

John Paul Jones is the MOST CAPABLE ship sailing the ocean today. Hats off to the Sailors and civilians who epitomize ‘Warfighting First’ by engineering and executing this mission so successfully.

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