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July 15, 2014 / iDriveWarships

Sailing America: Beginning of newest amphibious assault ship’s legacy on sea

Sailors assigned to the future USS America man the rails as the ship departs Huntington Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss. for its maiden voyage.

By Command Master Chief Chad Lunsford, Future USS America (LHA 6)

As the command master chief of the U.S. Navy’s newest amphibious assault ship, I’ve been aboard the ship since the future USS America (LHA 6) was first introduced as a pre-commissioning unit (PCU). I often get asked what it means to be part of a PCU, and honestly, this journey has been incredibly rewarding and a career highlight.

Pre-commissioning units start with a few key leadership roles and they slowly grow over time. In our case—just two years ago—there were only 26 America crew members, and today America stands close to 1,100 members strong. The beginning phases were mostly critical schools that can take more than six months to complete.

As the time got closer to our move aboard date on April 10, (the date the Navy took custody of the ship) and the ship’s Sailors and Marines officially moved aboard, we started gaining more Sailors. In the two months prior to move aboard, the command gained close to 450 Sailors, which was a logistical challenge to say the least.

Once the America crew moved aboard and began living on the ship, we’ve spent the last three months away from our families. We’ve worked very long hours, including most weekends, to train for what most ships complete over the course of a year or more. We’re required to train and certify in every warfare area that existing ships certify in; however, the difference is America did all this while operating in a shipyard. The greatest challenge of a pre-commissioning unit is bringing together 1,100 individuals from various commands throughout the fleet and building one team.

Now that we are certified and safe to sail, we are prepared to get underway as a crew for the very first time. It’s an amazing day for everyone who has been involved in America’s pre-commissioning process. To witness our Sailors and Marines come together as one team and bring a ship to life is like no other experience in the world. We’ll begin our transit from the shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., around South America, to our new homeport of San Diego. Once we arrive in San Diego, we’ll begin preparing for our commissioning ceremony in San Francisco on Oct. 11.

America will bring a different set of unique capabilities to the strategic table for the Navy. We have increased aviation capabilities and communication centers to quickly move larger groups of Marines and their equipment to locations throughout the globe. We are designed specifically with the MV-22 Osprey and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in mind, and have the capabilities to sustain longer air operations.

In my opinion, there is no greater reward than to take a group of 1,100 individuals from commands spread throughout the fleet and develop a team of warfighters who are ready to answer our nation’s call. I’m impressed daily with the hard work, motivation and professionalism of our Sailors and Marines—America’s sons and daughters. I am proud to be part of America – “Our Ship, Our Country!”

July 11, 2014 / iDriveWarships

Building Strong Bilateral Relationships through CARAT

CDR Sargeant shows a midshipman how to take bearings during an exercise with the Philippine navy during CARAT 2014.

By CDR Chase Sargeant, Commanding Officer of USS John S. McCain (DDG 56)

Sailing in the South China Sea at night is like gazing up at the stars in America’s heartland—hundreds of twinkling lights spread across the horizon as far as the eye can see. When the sun rises and those seemingly distant lights turn into massive tankers, warships, fishing fleets and lighthouses, the magnitude of life at sea sets in quickly.

As commanding officer of the forward-deployed destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56), I’ve had the privilege to lead a crew of more than 300 of the Navy’s finest Sailors. During each of our patrols, the one constant—the one unchanging goal in an increasingly crowded maritime environment—is a focus on maintaining peace and stability in the region. My junior officers and Sailors know firsthand the challenges in achieving this goal while transiting congested waterways through fleets of small fishing boats and hundreds of super large tankers and cargo ships. As we continue to operate in the busy waters of Southeast Asia, what contributes to our safe operations is our attention to detail, adherence to international maritime rules and norms, and, of course, practice and training.

In fact, we just left the Philippines after a weeklong training opportunity with our Philippine Navy and Marine Corps counterparts during the 2014 Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise series. The Philippine Navy has partnered with the U.S. Navy since CARAT began in 1995, and the at-sea phase of this year’s exercise was more technical and complex than ever before. From gun shoots, to helicopter operations, to small boat transfers, to operating our ships in close formation—what looks simple is actually much more complex in execution.

What makes CARAT so important is the opportunity it provides to enhance our ability to work together as partners. With so many similarities between the U.S. Navy and the Philippine Navy, there are also many differences, and it is these exercises that help bring us closer together. As an example, the Philippine AW109 Power helicopter landed onboard John S. McCain, marking the first time ever their newly-acquired aircraft landed on a foreign warship. The coordination to make this happen is important to recognize not only because of the inherent challenge in landing helicopters, but because of the capability the event demonstrates for both nations. From determining a common and compatible way to talk to each other over a radio, to conducting deck-landing qualifications—which essentially means that we now know how to land AW109 helicopters on U.S. Navy destroyers—this simple yet critical helicopter landing exercise is truly an essential building block for future operations. The AW109 landing validated our combined readiness and proved we are ready—at a moment’s notice—to respond together quickly to the next manmade or natural disaster, which will inevitably require the search and rescue capabilities of shipboard helicopters.

Even with all the great operations that were a part of this exercise, what I will remember most about CARAT is the human interaction. Personally, with 23 Sailors of Philippine nationality or descent as part of our crew, it was powerful to see the outpouring of pride as they brought their families aboard Big Bad John for tours and other events. The pride I saw both in the eyes of my Sailors and the faces of their families is a memory I will not soon forget.

Professionally, the opportunity to embark Philippine naval officers and enlisted Sailors onboard John S. McCain over the past few days, I believe will continue to strengthen what is already a relationship built on a shared past. We stood together on the bridge, demonstrating our own ship operations, and at the same time listened and observed how the Philippine Navy works as a team to operate their warships. While ashore, the crew of Big Bad John competed against their counterparts in athletic competitions, and learned about Philippine culture through participation in various community service events and exploring the amazing Subic Bay area.

The U.S.-Philippines security treaty is the oldest in Asia, and exercises like CARAT are an affirmation of our country’s commitment to the region and to our friends. With natural disasters such as Typhoon Yolanda still fresh on all of our minds, it is even more important for us to remember how powerful and important these exercises can be in strengthening the personal relationship between our two nations. It is these relationships that lead to better interoperability and support our ability to effectively respond to the next crisis. I am proud of my crew for the effort given to make this year’s CARAT a success, and I am confident the lessons both our navies took away will ensure we are ready when called upon.

In its 20th year, CARAT is an annual bilateral exercise series with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the armed forces of nine partner nations.

Reblogged from Navy Live.

June 26, 2014 / iDriveWarships

22 Nations Ready for the World’s Largest Maritime Exercise

A multinational task force transits the Pacific in formation during a group sail

Held biannually by Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) is a multinational maritime exercise that takes place in and around the Hawaiian Islands. RIMPAC 2014 is the 24th exercise in the series, scheduled from June 26 to August 1.

RIMPAC is a valuable training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safe transit of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans.

Twenty-two nations, 49 surface ships, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel will participate. Representatives from Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the People’s Republic of China, Peru, the Republic of Korea, the Republic of the Philippines, Singapore, Tonga, the United Kingdom and the United States will participate.

Brunei and the People’s Republic of China will participate in RIMPAC for the first time this year. Also a RIMPAC first, two hospital ships, USNS Mercy and PLA (N) Peace Ark, will participate in the exercise.

The theme of RIMPAC 2014 is “Capable, Adaptive, Partners.” The participating nations and forces will exercise a wide range of capabilities and demonstrate the inherent flexibility and value of maritime forces. These capabilities range from disaster relief and maritime security operations to sea control and complex warfighting. The relevant, realistic training syllabus includes amphibious operations, gunnery, missile, anti-submarine and air defense exercises as well as counter-piracy, mine clearance operations, explosive ordnance disposal and diving and salvage operations.

June 18, 2014 / iDriveWarships

Hollywood Meets the Navy: Insight into Filming The Last Ship

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the new TNT series The Last Ship, and see what cast members have to say about working with Sailors while filming onboard active U.S. Navy destroyers.

June 13, 2014 / iDriveWarships

USS Ross Sailors Prepare for New Homeport, Culture

Sailors aboard USS Ross (DDG 71) man the rails as they depart their Norfolk homeport for Rota, Spain.

By Command Master Chief Ricardo Galvan, USS Ross (DDG 71)

En route to Rota, Spain, Sailors on the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) are balancing their time between executing the timeless routine of Sailors at sea, and engaging in a unique array of language and culture classes intended to help prepare them to be stationed in a new country.

Ross has embarked instructors from Navy Information Operations Command (NIOC) and Naval Station (NAVSTA) Rota during her transit to provide education that will help Ross Sailors prepare for life at NAVSTA Rota, a place where the American flag is scheduled to fly only once a year—on the 4th of July.

The NIOC instructors are aboard Ross to cover the basics of Spanish and other regional languages and dialects; introduce the cultures and religions of the region; and instruct Sailors on how to understand, respond and adapt to the cultural differences they will encounter while operating forward. Their lessons have emphasized the importance of recognizing the various manners in which two cultures can come into conflict when differences are not allowed for or understood.

For example, in Spain a Sailor should not ask Spaniards how they are doing unless the Sailor is willing to stop and have an actual conversation. To ask the question rhetorically in passing is considered an insult.

To illustrate a potentially serious cultural misunderstanding, another common cultural difference in Spain is during Semana Santa, the annual Holy Week processions. Our Sailors may find themselves among groups of Spaniards clothed in robes with pointed hoods, attire that Americans traditionally associate with the Ku Klux Klan. But the robed and hooded Spaniards are in fact Roman Catholic penitents connected with religious brotherhoods like the Nazarenos, taking part in Easter processional ceremonies. The pointed hoods are capirote hats that have been used for centuries.

Understanding the differences between two cultures is not just a classroom exercise when living in a foreign country; it’s a way of life.

Also embarked on the ship are NAVSTA Rota’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) fitness coordinator, and a Spanish national who works for NAVSTA Rota’s Fleet and Family Support Center who helps run the mandatory intercultural relations class for all active duty personnel assigned to Rota. They are providing Sailors with an introduction to Spain, the province of Cadiz, and life aboard NAVSTA Rota, where they create “a little bit of home in Spain” as they help Sailors establish familiarity, build connections and develop a sense of comfort in their new home.

It is important for Sailors to realize that support services are the same at Rota as they are anywhere in the Navy; it is equally important for them to make new connections and new adjustments.

NAVSTA Rota is located on the Spanish navy’s Base, Naval de Rota, so Ross Sailors will not just be interacting with the surrounding Spanish communities, they will be working in an environment that is owned, controlled by and shared with the Spanish navy. In addition to the Spanish Sailors who share the base, 70 percent of NAVSTA Rota’s employees are required to be Spanish nationals based on the Agreement on Defense Cooperation. Ross Sailors were asked to remember that they and all U.S. employees aboard NAVSTA Rota are guests of the Spanish government.
Even though many Sailors on the Ross speak some Spanish—we even have a former Spanish teacher aboard—they have been warned not to underestimate the respective differences between American and Spanish cultures, even two as seemingly linked by history and shared worldviews.

Ross Sailors are trying to make time for these classes throughout each day’s work cycle, though the underway schedule on Ross makes it challenging for our Sailors to focus on the life they have not yet begun living.

The short educational courses are not a replacement for the experience of actually living in a foreign country. Most of our Sailors will learn the most important lessons once they arrive in Rota. They will spend their first weeks getting lost, testing their rudimentary Spanish, and enduring cultural missteps while they settle in. But for those who can find the time, the guidance from NIOC and NAVSTA Rota has helped set expectations and open our Sailors’ eyes to the need to judge and assess Spanish life and culture on its own merits.

As the second of four destroyers that will be stationed in Spain by late 2015 in support of the European Phased Adaptive Approach to Ballistic Missile Defense, Ross is not the first or the last ship to receive these lessons. In the next 12-16 months, there will be as many as an additional 600 Sailors from USS Porter (DDG 78) and USS Carney (DDG 64) who will take part in these underway classes, as they, too, cross the Atlantic for their new home in Rota. Together these ships represent the first permanent U.S. ship presence in Rota since the submarine tender USS Canopus (AS 34) returned to the U.S. in 1979.

The learning process never ends, and Sailors from the Ross will continue to deepen their understanding of Spain and the Spanish people once they arrive in Rota and immerse themselves in the culture of one of the United States’ strongest NATO allies.

June 6, 2014 / iDriveWarships

D-Day + 70

U.S. Navy veteran and D-Day survivor, Bob Watson

By Lt. j.g. Paul Sullivan, Beachmaster Unit ONE

To honor the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice 70 years ago today, Beachmaster Unit ONE (BMU-1) commemorated the D-Day invasion at Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado, Calif. The guest speaker was Bob Watson who was part of the 6th Naval Beach Battalion at Omaha Beach on D-Day in 1944. BMU-1 Sailors are direct descendants of the WWII Naval Beach Battalions.

Watson told an audience of 100 guests about his journey as a 17 year old in Massachusetts to later surviving the war in France, “On August 12, 1943, I received a letter from Uncle Sam and reported to Newport, R.I. for boot camp,” he said.

After training, Watson soon found himself in England preparing for the invasion. He left for France on a “great crusade with the best equipped and trained army” onboard USS Henrico (APA-45). When it was time, Watson was told to climb down a cargo net over the side of the Amphibious Attack Transport ship onto a Landing Craft Mechanized, and began steaming towards Omaha Beach. About 1,000 yards from the beach, Watson’s landing craft, carrying 71 Big Red One (1st Infantry Division) troops and four Navy Beach Battalion crews, hit a Teller mine and exploded. In the midst of chaos as he swam to the beach, he put himself to use in any way he could.

He operated a bulldozer to assist in removing beached craft but, “only when the craft were full of wounded.” He also manned a gun on the firing line, was used as a POW escort, and much more.

Watson turned 19 years old on July 1, 1944 while serving on the beaches of Normandy, just three weeks after the D-Day invasion. He discussed his 28-day experience in detail, and in great spirits. His story is an example of personal sacrifice that many have given to this country and continue to do today.

May 30, 2014 / iDriveWarships

SURFPAC Celebrates Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Gargi Chattopadhyaya performs Odissi during Asian-American Pacific Islander Month at SURFPAC

The staff of Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet (SURFPAC) recognized the contributions of generations of Asian-American and Pacific Islander patriots during a command ceremony today.

The Department of Defense observes Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month every May. This year’s theme, “I Am Beyond,” focused on overcoming obstacles faced throughout the years.

Capt. Daniel Gruta, director of training at Navy Reserve U.S. 3rd Fleet Joint Forces Maritime Component Commander Unit, served as the keynote speaker. Gruta told family stories of hardship, perseverance and success in America as a Filipino-American born into a U.S. Navy family.

During the ceremony, local dancers Gargi Chattopadhyaya and Sufi Raina performed two forms of Indian classical dance, Odissi and Kathak.

Today more than 20,000 Asian-American and Pacific Islanders currently serve in the U.S. Navy, making up 6.43% of our active duty naval force. Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders encompass more than 50 ethnic and language groups.

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