As the Sea Combat Commander for Nimitz Strike Group, I focus on preparing my ships in Destroyer Squadron 23 (DESRON 23) to fight and win at sea. With my COs, I work every day to put warfighting first.
However, it is remarkable how many of the ships in DESRON 23 also operate forward, independently making contributions to maritime security for our partners and allies. Most recently, USS Sampson (DDG 102) left San Diego and began working for Commodore Bryne in Destroyer Squadron 15, patrolling the waters of Southeast Asia. Leaving Singapore shortly after the 2014 Christmas holiday, she was in the right place and at the right time to respond to the search and rescue—sadly, now search and recovery—efforts of AirAsia flight 8501 in the Java Sea over the New Year. It’s a tough mission that we talk and train to during our Fleet Response Training Cycle. When a ship executes a real mission as Sampson did on Dec. 30, I gain a greater appreciation for the amazing flexibility and adaptability of our Surface Forces operating forward every day.
This is by no means an accident. Our Surface Forces are forward and ready every day to respond to unique challenges such as search and rescue of a civil aircraft or mariner in distress on the high seas.
In March 2014, another DESRON 23 ship, USS Pinckney (DDG 91) operating forward from San Diego on an independent deployment was the first Surface ship on scene to respond to the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. Pinckney assumed duties as on-scene commander. Working with the Malaysian Government, Pinckney helped knit together an international coalition of naval forces, searching for the missing aircraft in its most likely last known position.
The rapid response of international naval efforts in the Java Sea this New Year was influenced by the lessons learned from the Malaysian Air mystery earlier in the year. Pinckney’s efforts, although ultimately unsuccessful, had a positive impact on the success of her squadron mate Sampson’s efforts to help search, locate and recover AirAsia flight 8501 for the Indonesian government.
DESRON 23 ships have also been involved in other rescue missions on the high seas. In January 2014, USS Spruance (DDG 111) was operating forward in Southeast Asia, and responded to a sailor lost overboard from the motor vessel Pantagruel in the Strait of Malacca. Launching her Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB), Spruance found and recovered the sailor from a busy and dangerous waterway. Closer to home, USS Vandegrift (FFG 48) successfully conducted a search and rescue operation in April 2014, locating and rescuing a family in distress aboard the sailing vessel Rebel Heart adrift in the Eastern Pacific. In each instance, DESRON 23 ships represent a fraction of our Navy’s Surface Forces that are “forward and ready,” where they are needed most to respond to crisis, contingency or disaster. Like Sampson today, their individual efforts brought national and international media attention, and represent the very best of what our Navy’s Surface Forces do to contribute to maritime security for our citizens, partners and allies at home and abroad.