The guided-missile frigate USS Kauffman (FFG 59) pulled in to its homeport the first week of August amid a flurry of ships returning to Norfolk Naval Station. While fleet deployments and homecomings are almost a weekly occurrence in this major fleet port, the Kauffman's hard-working crew had an especially prolific tour of duty, according to Kauffman's Commanding Officer Cmdr. Dale W. Maxey.
"We deployed in April, we participated in the UNITAS Gold exercise, and then we went through the Panama Canal and participated in Team Work South 2009, the other big Chilean-led exercise.
"The Kauffman executed interoperability training with other militaries from both the east and west coasts of South America and Central America, and in port, we would do similar, but much smaller-scale missions, to what the [hospital ship] Comfort does," Maxey said.
Every port visit included military-to-military subject matter expert exchanges (SMEE) and community relations (COMREL) projects, as well as deliveries of Project Handclasp items. Project Handclasp consists of a collection of donated items, such as medical and hygiene supplies, delivered around the world by the U.S. military.
One day before the Kauffman returned on Aug. 5, Maxey, speaking from the ship to local media via telephone, cited the Chief of Naval Operations commitment to strengthening interoperability with international colleagues as part of the national maritime strategy.
"That is exactly what we were working on. We worked with the Mexican navy, with Chileans, Peruvians, Colombians, Brazilians, and we had some of our European allies operating in the Caribbean as well — the French, Germans and British," Maxey said.
In total, the Kauffman operated with military forces from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Germany, Mexico, Peru, United Kingdom and Uruguay.
This year's UNITAS Gold marked its 50th anniversary as the longest-running multinational maritime training exercise in the world. The annual U.S. Southern Command-sponsored naval exercise took place off the coast of Jacksonville, Fla., April 20 – May 7.
The exercise was designed to maximize interoperability between the participating multinational forces by taking them through a variety of likely maritime scenarios.
UNITAS, Latin for unity, included 25 ships, four submarines, more than 50 aircraft, 650 Marines and 6,500 Sailors. Training featured live-fire exercises, undersea warfare, shipboard operations, maritime interdiction operations, air defense and surface warfare, amphibious operations, electronic warfare and special warfare.
Maxey said the antisubmarine warfare training was especially valuable because the U.S. Navy employs nuclear-powered submarines, and there is an emerging threat with the worldwide proliferation of conventional, or diesel-powered, submarines.
"There are two big areas that the Kauffman was able to exchange [with the South American navies] on equal terms. One is ASW, antisubmarine warfare, which is one of our mission areas. Several of the South American countries have diesel submarines with competent crews and capabilities. We rarely get extensive exercise time tracking and operating against real-world diesel submarines. They hosted the exercise, but we received some valuable skills out of it.
"The second one is a shared challenge," Maxey said. "Everybody has maritime security concerns for their own country. They have a slightly different flavor depending on whether you are Colombia, Chile or the United States."
Maritime Domain Awareness is a top training objective, Maxey emphasized. In the MDA effort, multinational partners acquire and share maritime information with a broad array of global partners to reduce their vulnerability to attack and improve cooperation toward maritime security and safety. By investing in this concept, the United States and its international partners achieve their common maritime security goals.
"At the tactical level, all of these navies come with the ability to track down a suspect vessel and conduct a boarding operation on that ship. Several of the nations we have worked with have competent boarding teams. We call it NEO (noncombatant evacuation operation); they call it something else, but it is all about establishing maritime security capabilities.
"We learned a lot from those teams because everybody does things slightly differently. ASW and our boarding operations really got a good boost in our training. At the end of this event, particularly in those two mission areas, we were better than we were when we started," Maxey said.
After UNITAS Gold, Kauffman sailed on to Colombia where ships from Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru and the United States participated in "Operacion Multinacional Alianza," a naval exercise hosted by Colombia.
Kauffman then participated in a bilateral exercise with Peru. For several days, the units conducted integrated ASW exercises off the coast of Lima, Peru.
During the two-week exercise, Team Work South 2009, hosted by the Chilean Navy, Kauffman again engaged in rigorous training involving ASW exercises, coordinating defense against littoral threats and participating in surface gunnery exercises, among other training events, to develop at-sea proficiency and the ability to operate in a multinational task force. Participants said the training schedule was relentless and challenging.
During SOUTHCOM's Southern Seas 2009, Kauffman operated throughout South America, Central America and the Caribbean. Southern Seas, which stretches from April to October, is part of SOUTHCOM's Partnership of the Americas Strategy; it serves to underline interoperability and cooperation between the United States and partner nations.
If it seems like these exercises have a common theme of enhancing interoperability and cooperation, it is because they do. But that does not mean they are merely routine, according to Maxey.
"It was an ordinary mission set, but it was an extraordinary experience. Our mission was to build on partnerships and improve our interoperability and work to smooth communications and relationships for everybody to share maritime security concerns.
"With many of the nations we worked with, we were on a peer capability; we did not roll in above their capabilities. Their boarding teams were excellent. They have real-world diesel submarines with capable crews so they gave us a good run for our money in antisubmarine warfare. We came away stronger than when we started," Maxey said.
But relationship building extends beyond military partners to local civil and medical authorities and citizens, according to Maxey, who said that strong bonds are formed during the exercises.
Southern Seas involves face-to-face experiences between U.S. Sailors and thousands of host nation citizens and military personnel that can create lasting friendships and promote cultural understanding. The Kauffman crew also found time to put a new spin on the old anthem "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."
"A year ago, the Kauffman, while deployed, stopped in the northern Chilean city of Arica and established a good relationship with the folks there. They challenged some local sports folks to a baseball game. That sporting event received national coverage in their media. It generated so much news locally that they have stood up an entire Little League organization in the northern third of their country, a country that had not previously played baseball at all. They now have a Little League organization that includes six cities," Maxey said.
Maxey said the crew was thrilled with the Chilean response to baseball, and he said their eager interest in the sport goes much deeper than their love of the game.
"When we went back this time, a year later, and played against them with the same team, we could not 'take' them. The great benefit is that they are looking to the United States as a place they can interact with; in this case, they just wanted to be a part of the Little League organization [headquartered in Williamsport, Pa.].
"But it wasn't just sports, we engaged with a couple of the schools. We did some maintenance and talked to the students. I found this time, 18 months later, that several of those schools have developed an English curriculum and have brought in an English-speaking teacher and started to teach their students to speak English.
"They have asked that if the United States returns, that instead of doing school maintenance, they want our Sailors to come in to help teach the class, so the students will have the opportunity to interact with Americans. At our country's level, that is fantastic goodwill with people that may never have an opportunity to meet Americans any other way," Maxey said.
According to Maxey, command and control for the exercises went well.
"Almost exclusively all of our coordination for the exercises and our command and control during the exercises was executed by e-mail and on chat. When we went down on satellite, it was a significant blow. Even with the other partner nations we were working with, a lot of our exercise coordination was on unclassified e-mail, passing the different pre-exes (pre-exercises) information.
"During the Chilean exercise, Team Work South, one additional system that they put on was very similar to our own chat capabilities. The Chilean-developed system provided exercise feedback as far as positions of units and, at the same time, provided a direct communications capability. We had liaison communicators from the Chilean Navy that provided the interface between the Kauffman and the Chilean flagship and headquarters.
"Some of the nations we were working with have an active acquisition process; the ones I saw were with European nations. They are buying newer ships from European countries. We operated with the British and the Chileans during Team Work South, and the Chileans had newer ships purchased from Britain, the British contingent that participated in the exercise. They were also purchasing new technology that is available to the Europeans. I found technological parity with the groups I was working with rather than somebody being significantly ahead," Maxey said.
After the exotic port calls and tough training schedule, the Kauffman's 215 Sailors are happy to be home, said Maxey. But not for long, the Kauffman crew is already gearing up to deploy in early 2010.
"The team is excited to be back, and for me as the CO, I could not have asked for a better bunch of Sailors to take to sea. They have entered every mission well, and they have done it through a diverse set of requirements for their skills. They have been fantastic. I am honored to command them, and I am glad to bring them back home safely."
|SOUTHERN SEAS '09|
Southern Seas 2009 is a six-month (April – October) naval deployment to the Caribbean and Central and South America. A task group of three ships — USS Kauffman (FFG 59), USS Doyle (FFG 39) and USS Ford (FFG 54) — conducted a variety of exercises and multinational exchanges to enhance interoperability, increase regional stability, and build and maintain regional relationships with countries in the region. Formally known as the Partnership of the Americas deployment, Southern Seas gives a distinct name to one of U.S. Southern Command's marquee deployments.