Monday, February 21, 2011

Essex Amphibious Ready Group Arrives in Thailand

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Eva-Marie Ramsaran

PATTAYA, Thailand (NNS) -- Ships of the forward-deployed Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived in Pattaya, Kingdom of Thailand, for a scheduled port visit Feb. 21 after completing the multinational exercise Cobra Gold 2011.

Cobra Gold is a United States-Thai co-sponsored exercise that was designed to advance military-to-military relationships between pacific partner nations and build relationships between militaries and local communities. It demonstrated the ability of the involved militaries to rapidly deploy a joint task force to conduct combined operations at sea and ashore.

"Whether full participants, augmentation planners, or observer nations – all contributed to the overall success of the exercise; their involvement highlights the very best in regional cooperation," said Capt. Bradley Lee, commander, Amphibious Squadron 11.

During the visit, Sailors and Marines will participate in multiple community service projects and experience Thai customs through tours offered by the ship's morale, welfare and recreation (MWR) department.

"I think the Sailors will get great interaction with the local people in Thailand," said Lt. Jason Dart, an Essex chaplain who helped coordinate the community service projects. "People will see the goodwill toward Thailand and experience first hand the unity between two nations in a personal, meaningful way."

On Feb. 22, volunteers from USS Essex (LHD 2) will deliver games, school supplies and interact with 300 Nohong Charg Ngaw Elementary School children.

"The kids will teach us some of their activities or songs and we will trade our games with them," said Dart. "The kids there will have new supplies, games and a lasting memory of Essex Sailors."

Sailors and Marines will also get to experience Thailand through a variety of MWR tours, including a trip to Bangkok to see the Grand Palace, the floating market, the Golden Buddha Temple and Hellfire Pass. Many Sailors on the ship expressed their excitement to visit Thailand and are ready to experience everything the country has to offer.

"I plan on going on an elephant-riding tour," said Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Apprentice Vanessa Roberts, who will be visiting Pattaya for the first time. "I'm looking forward to checking out the culture and sightseeing."

The elephant-riding tour is just one of many tours MWR offers that should make it easier for Essex Sailors and Marines to experience the local culture, said Matthew Olszyk, Essex afloat recreation specialist.

"These tours give Sailors the opportunity to engage in historical opportunities in Thailand," said Olszyk. "It's a place with huge tourism in their economy and famous for their nightlife."

Others, such as Ship's Serviceman 1st Class (SW) Herman Dickens, who has visited Pattaya on five other occasions, said he would take the opportunity to unwind after the hectic schedule of exercise Cobra Gold 2011. "I plan on getting a hotel to relax and going shopping for the family," said Dickens.

The Essex Amphibious Ready Group is comprised of the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2), amphibious transport dock ship USS Denver (LPD 9),amphibious dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD 42) and guided missile destroyer USS Stockdale (DDG 106).

The Essex ARG reports to Commander, Amphibious Force Seventh Fleet, Rear Adm. Richard Landolt, who is headquartered in Okinawa, Japan.

This article was sponsored by Military Books.

Today in the Department of Defense, Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn have no public or media events on their schedules.

USS Monterey Sailors Earn College Credits While Underway

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sandi Grimnes, USS Monterey (CG 61) Public Affairs

ATLANTIC OCEAN (NNS) -- Sailors on the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey (CG 61) have the opportunity to earn their degrees while underway through instructor-taught college level courses provided by Central Texas College and distance-learning courses with the Navy College Program Afloat College Education (NCPACE).

The at sea college classes are each three-semester-hour credit classes. There are 21 Sailors currently enrolled in the Business 101 course and an additional 18 enrolled in academic skills math.

Each class is taught three times a week, once in the morning and then repeated that evening for students who were unable to attend because of work or watch, said John Bruce, an instructor with Central Texas College who is currently teaching on board Monterey.

"Central Texas College is a community college and the courses taught on board are freshman and sophomore level that are transferable to the college of the Sailor's choice," said Bruce. "If the Sailor wanted, they could complete an associate degree with NCPACE courses, then complete a bachelor's degree at another college or university."

Another option for Sailors who are continuing their education while deployed is the distance learning courses, said Chief Personnel Specialist (SW) Paul Jiolia. While the instructor-lead classes are typically freshman and sophomore level, the distance learning classes continue through a master's degree.

The distance learning classes are self-paced and the student has 90 days to complete the course, said Jiolia. The course is administered on a CD-ROM, which does not require Internet access, and all exams are proctored.

"It's a great opportunity that takes self-discipline, especially with the distance learning because it's at your own pace," said Jiolia. "Sometimes you get so focused on the mission of your job, it's easy to forget you should be spending time on college everyday."

Monterey has 10 Sailors taking 21 distance-learning classes this deployment, said Jiolia. Each Sailor can take two classes a semester, a total of four during deployment, for only the cost of the books.

"Most Sailors joined the Navy for money for college," said Jiolia. "NCPACE courses gives them the avenue and the tools to continue their education while serving."

This article was sponsored by Navy Books.

USS George H.W. Bush Strike Group Certified Combat Ready

By Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist (SW) Misty Trent, USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) Public Affairs

ATLANTIC OCEAN (NNS) -- The George H.W. Bush (GHWB) Carrier Strike Group is certified ready for combat operations after successfully completing its first Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) and Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX), Feb. 21.

The Strike Group assets departed their various homeports on or about Jan. 19 to begin final exercises before embarking on its first overseas deployment scheduled for spring of this year.

"This Strike Group was absolutely ready for these exercises, and our Sailors hit the ball out of the park," said Commander, Carrier Strike Group Two, Rear Adm. Nora W. Tyson. "This is America's newest strike group in America's newest aircraft carrier, and our team is strong and ready to go. At the end of the day, COMPTUEX and JTFEX are really tests of our ability to work as a team, and we nailed it. From the Sailors on USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) supporting the squadrons in the air wing to the cruisers and destroyers doing their job protecting and defending the carrier along with performing maritime security operations, everyone did their part, and because of that, this team excelled."

During COMPTUEX, the GHWB Strike Group entered into an intensive training scenario loosely based on geo-political conditions from around the globe. The scenarios, designed and executed by Strike Force Training Atlantic (SFTL), simulated many real-world situations that the GHWB Strike Group could encounter on deployment, including small boat attacks, mines, strait transits in hostile waters and aerial, surface and sub-surface threats. Each scenario built on the one before, testing both the individual components of the GHWB Strike Group, as well as its collective effectiveness.

"COMPTUEX is a complicated and advanced exercise, and it requires every asset within the Strike Group to be fully trained and ready to execute their mission," said SFTL commander Rear Adm. Dennis E. FitzPatrick. "I was very impressed with the level of commitment to success I saw throughout the Strike Group. The dedicated Sailors of the Strike Group were trained, mentored and assessed, and excelled at every challenge SFTL placed in front of them."

COMPTUEX was a 23-day evolution, and included all assets within the Strike Group, from the flagship George H.W. Bush to the squadrons of Carrier Air Wing EIGHT (CVW-8), the guided-missile cruisers USS Gettysburg (CG 64), USS Monterey (CG 61), and USS Anzio (CG 68), Destroyer Squadron 22 ships USS Mitscher (DDG 57) and USS Truxtun (DDG 103), and the Spanish frigate ESPS Almirante Juan de Borbón (F 102). All told, nearly 7,500 Sailors played a direct role in the evolution.

"The amount of coordination that goes into an exercise like COMPTUEX is phenomenal. The only way it works, the only way the assets within the Strike Group accomplish their own individual missions, is if they communicate effectively and work together. That teamwork mentality is vital, and our success during COMTPUEX and JTFEX tells me that this Strike Group is ready to deploy in support of our nation's interests and execute any tasking we may receive," said Tyson.

FitzPatrick echoed Tyson's sentiments.

"Teamwork is the key to mission accomplishment, and COMPTUEX and JTFEX are designed to test you. Every single Sailor had a role to play and every unit was critical to success. From the cruisers, to the destroyers, to the squadrons, to the aircraft carrier; each is strong as a single unit, but integrated effectively together and their overall strength is greater than their sum. This Strike Group knows how to work together and achieve mission success," said FitzPatrick.

Sonar Technician (Surface) 1st Class (SW/IUSS) Thomas Hoban, assigned to Operations Department aboard USS George H.W. Bush, is responsible for coordinating the Strike Group's antisubmarine warfare efforts, acting as the liaison between USS George H.W. Bush and the other ships in the Strike Group.

"This has been a very high operational tempo underway, from tracking submarines at to standing your watch to going into general quarters," said Hoban. "It's been non-stop action all day long."

During COMPTUEX, boarding teams from ships throughout the Strike Group performed more than 20 practice visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) evolutions, and the eight squadrons assigned to the embarked air wing flew nearly 3,800 hours during 1,800 sorties.

On Feb. 11, George H.W. Bush moored pierside at Naval Station Mayport for the carrier's first ever liberty port. During the three-day visit, Sailors participated in events sponsored by the ship's Morale, Welfare and Recreation Office, including trips to Walt Disney World and the Daytona International Speedway, as well as a community relations project at the Florida Baptist Children's Home in Jacksonville. Other Strike Group ships visited Port Canaveral, Port Everglades, and Key West.

"We just relaxed and did some shopping and got something good to eat," said Information Systems Technician 3rd Class Jesse C. Daniel of George H.W. Bush's Combat Systems Department. "It was really nice to catch up on sleep and recharge and get some time to clear my head."

The Strike Group returned to sea Feb. 14 to begin the final exam – JTFEX. For nearly 10 days, SFTL evaluated the overall combat readiness of the GHWB Strike Group, specifically focusing on the Strike Group's ability to interact and operate with other U.S. military and coalition forces.

The Spanish frigate Borbón and its 240 sailors were fully integrated throughout both exercises, including several exchange visits between Borbón and George H.W. Bush Sailors. Because Borbón will participate in the early stages of the Strike Group's deployment, full engagement of crews, systems and protocol was critical. French navy assets, including the destroyer FS Primauguet (D 644) and the submarine FS Perle (S606), joined the Strike Group for JTFEX as well.

"The scenarios [the crew] experienced during COMPTUEX/JTFEX are based on real-world operations today's carrier strike groups can expect to face in the deployed environment," said FitzPatrick. "Geo-political situations are fluid and ever-changing across the globe, and leadership needs the multi-mission flexibility a strike group brings to their area of responsibility. The mission of our carrier strike groups can change at a moment's notice depending on real time events, and the George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group Sailors are ready to deploy and accept any mission given to them."

"The Navy's carrier strike groups are critical to the nation's maritime strategy," said Tyson. "Our combined capabilities allow us to deploy to any region around the globe to lend support, whether it's to U.S. forces on the ground or to mariners in distress or to countries reeling from natural disaster. We are a powerful force for good, and our success during COMPTUEX and JTFEX is proof that this Strike Group is ready to take on any tasking we are given."

This article was sponsored by Navy Books.

Essex ARG Completes Cobra Gold 2011

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Casey H. Kyhl

USS ESSEX, At sea (Feb. 19, 2011) (NNS) -- The Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) completed its part in the U.S and Kingdom of Thailand sponsored joint, multinational exercise Cobra Gold 2011 (CG 11) Feb. 19 in the Gulf of Thailand.

Throughout the exercise, militaries of the Kingdom of Thailand, Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, the Republic of Korea and Malaysia worked with more than 7,200 U.S. service members to demonstrate the ability to rapidly deploy a joint task force to conduct combined operations at sea and ashore.

"We were able to achieve all our goals of interoperability and training by working side-by-side with our Thai counterparts," said Capt. Bradley Lee, commander, Amphibious Squadron 11 (PHIBRON 11). "We were additionally able to learn some lessons from our Thai counterparts and we greatly appreciate their hospitality to our Sailors and Marines."

CG 11 was punctuated with multiple training evolutions, including a non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) exercise, a visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) exercise and a mock amphibious raid. The raid involved more than 11,000 personnel from various nations and employed almost all of the ARG's assets.

"The amphibious assault best exemplified the team work and bilateral training that we get from this exercise," said Lee. "The coordination of air space and sea space furthered our understanding of each other's tactics and techniques, which will prove invaluable should we have to do any of the scenarios in a real environment."

For the NEO exercise, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) and Assault Craft Unit 5 worked together to transport approximately 50 Japanese and American mock evacuees from Hat Yao Beach to Essex for medical care and processing.

The exercise demonstrated the ARG's ability to evacuate civilians during a time of crisis.

"The NEO exercise was an enormous undertaking, but it went very smoothly," said 1st Lt. Patrick Grainey, 31st MEU NEO team leader. "We utilized helicopters and amphibious craft from various countries and hit our timelines right on the dot."

The 31st MEU Force Reconnaissance Platoon conducted a VBSS exercise aboard USNS 1st Lt. Jack Lummus (T-AK 3011) Feb. 18. Fifty-six Marines fast roped from five CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters and searched the vessel for an on-board target designated in the training scenario.

"We conducted a fast, safe boarding and secured our target," said Marine Capt. Tyson N. Schroeder, assault force commander. "A good VBSS team is an invaluable asset to have when conducting operations at sea. There are a lot of challenges to taking control of a steaming ship, but our team proved they have what it takes."

The U.S. and the Kingdom of Thailand have been working together for 178 years. CG 11 was the latest in a continuing series of exercises designed to promote peace and security in the Western Pacific. This year's exercise marked the 30th anniversary of the CG series.

"I look forward to the next Cobra Gold and hope that we are able to build on the synergy that we achieved this year to create an environment even more integrated and efficient," Lee said.

The ARG consists of the 31st MEU, embarked aboard Essex, the amphibious transport dock USS Denver (LPD 9) and the dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD 42). The Essex Amphibious Ready Group reports to Commander, Amphibious Force Seventh Fleet, Rear Adm. Richard Landolt, who is headquartered in Okinawa, Japan.

Intelligence Personnel Keep Kearsarge Ships Informed

By Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Scott Pittman

USS KEARSARGE, Red Sea (NNS) -- The ships belonging to Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) require vast amounts of intelligence to stay aware of possible maritime threats in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility (AOR).

The Joint Intelligence Center (JIC) is where intelligence personnel attached to amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 4, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and Tactical Air Control Squadron (TACRON) 21, collaborate to create an intelligence network that is ever expanding, and more defined as time goes on.

The JIC scans civilian media to find and disseminate to area commanders credible information regarding threats to ships or commands in the U.S. 5th fleet AOR.

"We provide indications and issue warnings, not only for the Kearsarge itself, but for all units associated with the Kearsarge ARG," Lt. William Barth, assistant intelligence officer for PHIBRON 4, said

JIC personnel keep the Kearsarge ARG and 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) chain of command informed of situations in the AOR and around the world. Intelligence reports created from local and international news, media networks, newspapers and the internet are given during the daily briefs.

"During the ship's intelligence briefs, we only cover pertinent information that would affect the ships of the ARG," Intelligence Specialist 1st Class Antonio Garcia, leading petty officer for PHIBRON 4's Intelligence Department said. "Our briefs help the chain of command make informed decisions about future operations of the ARG."

JIC draws personnel from a variety of intelligence organizations. JIC personnel are brought in from Navy Information Operations Command, a fleet intelligence detachment from Office of Naval Intelligence and the Naval Strike Air Warfare Center. These intelligence professionals come together and form one team aboard Kearsarge.

"We work with the ship, so we stand the same positions and watches they do," Intelligence Specialist 2nd Class Dynesha Scantling, the JIC manager said. They stand everything from JIC supervisor, a position that puts someone in charge of the intelligence personnel and equipment to different analyst positions, such as imagery analyst. This watchstander analyzes pictures provided by other sources. They can come from the front line, the signal bridge of the ship or media sources."

With so many individual pieces of intelligence that make up a larger picture that only the area commanders are aware of, JIC personnel don't always receive instant gratification from their work. Instead, they must appreciate how their job affects the ARG and the region as a whole. They don't always know what the information they have collected is in support of, but they understand that it benefits the overall mission.

Kearsarge is the command ship for the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility

This article was sponsored by Military Books.