By Lt. j.g. Seth Clarke and Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Abe McNatt, Destroyer Squadron 26 Public Affairs
ATLANTIC OCEAN (NNS) -- The Commodore and his staff are getting used to this.
Heading across the Atlantic Ocean to participate in their third straight Exercise Joint Warrior in Scotland, Commodore Brian Fort, commander, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 26, and his staff know what it takes to execute a multinational exercise in a NATO environment.
Since his first tour as a division officer aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Bainbridge (CGN 25), deploying with Standing Naval Forces Atlantic, Fort has worked alongside European forces many times over the course of his career. He deployed with Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 in command of the guided-missile destroyer USS Gonzalez (DDG 66), served as an instructor with the Royal Navy for two years at the Britannia Royal Naval College and is now heading to Faslane to participate in his third straight Joint Warrior with DESRON 26.
Many of his DESRON staff members have similar military experience. In addition to the recent Joint Warrior experience of more than half of the current DESRON staff, Lt. Cmdr. Scott Van Nest, the DESRON 26 operations officer, has served at the NATO Headquarters in Northwood, U.K., as well as on a United Nations mission for six months in Liberia. Senior Chief Sonar Technician (Surface) Chris McGrath, the squadron's senior sonar technician, is embarking on his fifth Joint Warrior.
Fort said the team he's bringing to Scotland is as good as they come.
"My DESRON staff is amazing," Fort said. "They have had a lot of experience working with NATO. We understand how they do business; we understand how the Royal Navy does business.
"When we designed our first preparation, the first training plan last spring for the ships we brought over, we built that off of personal experience, and we felt we were close to target. We improved upon that last fall, and this time we're focused on exactly what we found to be successful last time around."
Twice a year, nations converge on Faslane to commence Joint Warrior, a United Kingdom-led training exercise designed to provide NATO and allied forces with a unique multi-warfare environment in which to prepare for global operations.
With more than 50 ships representing 15 countries participating, the latest exercise, scheduled to begin in early April and run for two weeks, will be the largest Joint Warrior to date.
The U.S. Navy contingent will once again be led by DESRON 26, leading the guided-missile cruiser USS Anzio (CG 68) and the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) to Scotland. The guided-missile cruiser USS Vicksburg (CG 69), the guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75), the dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Medgar Evers (T-AKE 13) and elements from Commander, Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing (CPRW) 11 and Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 48 will also participate in the exercise.
In addition to U.S. and U.K. forces, Joint Warrior will include air, sea and ground assets from Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Turkey.
On both Porter and Anzio, the ships' manning was augmented with additional personnel to gain experience participating in the exercise. When Anzio left Norfolk for Joint Warrior, she left with nearly every rack full, embarked with nearly 70 extra crew members from 14 commands, including the DESRON 26 staff. Porter, too, had additional augments when she departed her homeport of Norfolk, Virginia, for Scotland-headed ultimately for her new homeport in Rota, Spain.
Fort said the two weeks the ships spend transiting the Atlantic are when the exercise truly begins.
"When we were assigned for Joint Warrior 14-1 in the spring of 2014, we made sure it was clear that we were going to use the transit as a period of preparation and final training to ensure we would be exercise-ready on arrival in Faslane. As a squadron, we take a lot of pride-both personal and professional-in getting these ships ready for Joint Warrior."
Anzio is near completion of her basic phase-the first post-maintenance period certification phase a ship is required to complete in order to eventually be considered fully deployable. Porter, complete with her integrated phase of training, also participated Task Force Exercise (TFEX) 15-2 in February, a multinational exercise between DESRON 26 and the Royal Canadian Navy.
Van Nest said both ships will benefit greatly from the multinational training experience working with multiple ships in an international setting.
"The opportunity for these ships to work on the basics, to operate with other ships in close proximity to one another, to have to depend on one another for support-just those day-to-day basics-is phenomenally important to prepare for deployed operations," Van Nest said.
During the transit, Anzio and Porter have conducted daily divisional tactics (DIVTACS) ship handling and maneuverability training, run a variety of weapons readiness drills including no-notice weapons firings, tested and improved their communications systems, conducted helicopter flight operations and practiced signal bridge and boat operations.
By the time the ships arrive in Scotland, Fort expects Anzio and Porter Sailors to be able to take what they've learned in their shipboard training and apply it during each phase and scenario within the exercise. He also expects them to succeed because of the lessons they're learning now about building relationships with their shipmates, lessons they will be able to apply when working side-by-side with personnel from 14 other nations.
"Relationships matter," Fort said. "They build the foundation for how you're going to be able to function together as a team and help you establish a battle rhythm."
McGrath said getting into a battle rhythm with shipmates helps Sailors build proficiencies, and adjusting to the NATO battle rhythm will pose new and different challenges.
"We will drill on routines every day; we train to the capability we know these ships will be required to demonstrate," McGrath said. "How they handle that on a daily basis, as part of a battle rhythm, will really determine how well they're doing."
Fort said the Sailors will also get an additional benefit from participating in Joint Warrior: a story they can tell for the rest of their lives.
"Any time you look at a photo from an international exercise, and you see 20, 30 ships in the photo, those Sailors are forever able to point to those images and say, 'Look at that. I was there,'" Fort said.
"That's a pretty cool thing to be able to do. These guys are going to be able to look back and say that not only did they participate in the biggest Joint Warrior on record-a really significant exercise-but also that they did so at a time when it's particularly valuable and important for us to work together with NATO and our allies to practice our procedures, operate as a coalition, operate as one force.
"The opportunity for all of us to operate together in a challenging maritime environment shows the commitment our nations have to our navies and to each other. I think we'll look back on this, at the scope of it, and say, 'Wow, now that was an amazing exercise.'"