Ships from Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG 2) arrived in Norfolk, Virginia, Aug. 26 for a scheduled port visit in conjunction with Amphibious Readiness Group and Marine Expeditionary Unit Exercises (ARG/MEU EX) to be held in September.
NATO has two Immediate Reaction Forces: the Standing NATO Maritime Groups composed of the SNMG1 and the SNMG2; and the Standing NATO Maritime Mine Countermeasure Groups (SNMCMG1 and SNMCMG2).
The Standing NATO Maritime Groups are a multinational, integrated maritime force made up of vessels from various allied countries, explained U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Brad Williamson, commander of SNMG 2, in a brief to reporters Aug. 27 onboard the Turkish frigate TGC Kemalreis.
These vessels (including their helicopters) are permanently available to NATO to perform different tasks ranging from participating in exercises to actually intervening in operational missions. These groups provide NATO with a continuous maritime capability for operations and other activities in peacetime and in periods of crisis and conflict. They also help to establish alliance presence, demonstrate solidarity, conduct routine diplomatic visits to different countries, support transformation and provide a variety of maritime military capabilities to ongoing missions.
SNMG2 has participated in Operation Ocean Shield, NATO’s counter piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden and off the Horn of Africa, Williamson said, and in Operation Active Endeavour.
In Operation Active Endeavor, NATO ships are patrolling the Mediterranean and monitoring shipping to help detect, deter and protect against terrorist activity and human trafficking.
Other Standing NATO Maritime Groups operate in the Baltic and Black seas, as well as the Indian Ocean, Williamson explained.
Spain previously had operational command of SNMG2 and handed over command to the United States during a ceremony at the Marques de Guadiaro Pier in Málaga on Aug. 7, when Williamson took command.
Williamson was joined in the brief by the commanding officer of the Kemalreis, Commander Fatih Güresçi; Capt. Dean Rawls, commanding officer of the Leyte Gulf (CG-55), the flagship of SNMG2; and German Navy Commander junior grade Jens Schaadt, executive officer of the FGS Niedersachsen (F 208). The other NATO ship in SNMG2, the HMCS Toronto (FFH 333), is operating in the Mediterranean Sea.
Williamson explained that SNMG2 operations are in support of NATO Article 5.
NATO Article 5 is at the basis of a fundamental principle of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It specifies that if a NATO ally is the victim of an armed attack, each and every other member of the alliance will consider this act of violence as an armed attack against all members and will take the actions it deems necessary to assist the ally attacked.
This is the principle of collective defense.
Commander Fatih Güresçi said that no world event prompted Turkey’s participation in the current exercises. “This is a NATO mission, commanded by an American admiral, and Turkey is a member of NATO,” he said.
SNMG2, U.S., and Canadian ships visited Mayport, Florida in mid-August to mark the completion of Task Group Exercises, with Carrier Strike Group Eight, and prepare for the commencement of fleet exercises, Williamson said.
FLEETEX are multi-warfare naval exercises designed to promote force integration and test multiple war fighting skill sets. Ships from the U.S., Canadian, German and Turkish navies participated in the exercises.
The port visit to Mayport and FLEETEX are part of a series of training exercises in which SNMG2 participated during its deployment to the Western Atlantic. This is the first time in several years that a NATO task force has conducted transatlantic operations in North America.
FLEETEX featured anti-air, anti-submarine, live fire and ship handling scenarios designed to provide high-end warfare training and valuable experience through integrated task group training in response to a variety of threat scenarios.
“This deployment is a rare opportunity to train with multiple NATO navies,” Williamson said. This period will allow us to build integration and teamwork, and I’m excited to train with and share experiences between Allied shipmates.”
The NATO Communications and Information Agency establishes the communication links used by SNMG2 members for command and control and communications, Williamson said. Planning is conducted on the NATO Secret Wide Area Network (NSWAN) and through chat rooms.
Williamson said the SNMG2 members have operated seamlessly conducting missions and training.
Maybe one of the reasons training and missions are executed so smoothly is because of what Williamson called “cross pollination.” In this instance, crew members volunteer to work on other ships within the SNMG2. For example, gunnery mates from the Leyte Gulf may work on the Niedersachsen or electronic specialists from the Kemalreis might volunteer to go to the Toronto for a period of time.
“Every time sailors meet other sailors, they learn something valuable,” Williamson said.
All of the SNMG2 ship commanders have the same objectives, Williamson said: to take care of our sailors, safety, and to conduct missions professionally.
Capt. Rawls praised the training opportunities Leyte Gulf sailors have had.
“The opportunity to operate with other nations’ ships and to have dedicated time to train and operate tactically at sea builds on our experience. My crew gets better the more we operate together,” Rawls said.
Williamson agreed and said that “[training] repetition has value, doing something once is never enough.”
The exercises coming up in September are multi-warfare amphibious exercises with the USS Iwo Jima (LHD) Amphibious Ready Group and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
“We really don’t know what the 24th MEU’s training objectives are yet. We will just have to wait to see what they have planned and we will support whatever they need,” Williamson said.
TCG Kemalreis (F-247) and Naval Hospitality
At the conclusion of the brief, Kemalreis officers led reporters on a tour of the ship. The first stop was the flight deck and hangar where the pilot of the Seahawk helicopter pointed out various features of the aircraft. Another officer explained the ship’s close-in weapons systems (CIWS).
Weapons systems on board the Kemalreis include the Mk 141 quad-pack launchers for eight RGM-84 harpoons, one Mk 41 Mod 8 VLS for sixteen RIM-162 ESSM Sea Sparrow PDMS (SAM), 1 x 127 mm Mk 45 Mod 2 gun, three Oerlikon Contraves Sea Zenith 25mm CIWS gun systems, and two Mark 32 Surface Vessel Torpedo Tube sets.
The bridge was the next stop where an officer explained procedures for navigation, including navigation aids, an electronic navigation display system and the reliable charts and maps that have guided mariners for centuries.
The final stop was the wardroom where we were graciously hosted by Commander Güresçi and treated to delicious Turkish tea and cakes. We were also offered refreshments on our arrival which included aromatic Turkish coffee.
TCG Kemalreis (F-247) is a Salih Reis-class frigate. The ship’s namesake, Kemal Reis (c. 1451 – 1511), was a Turkish privateer and admiral of the Ottoman Empire. His photo is prominently displayed in the wardroom as are oil paintings of the famous battles he won.
The Kemalreis is about 14 years old, Güresçi said.
It is 403 feet in length and powered by two General Electric LM-2500 gas turbine engines, two MTU 20V 1163 diesel engines, and two shafts. Service speed is 18 knots, with maximum speed of about 32 knots.
The heart and soul of any ship is the crew, and Kemalreis crew members demonstrated that they are clearly proud of their ship and the chance to show it off.
The most impressive part of the tour and brief is the camaraderie and esprit de corps displayed between the allied members. There is also some friendly rivalry.
Across the pier from the Kemalreis, we could see four stars displayed on the port side of the Niedersachsen for each of the years that Germany has won the World Cup — including this year.
However, in a soccer match between SNMG2 crew members in the port of Halifax, Canada, in November, Güresçi politely pointed out to the group that Turkey was the match winner.
SNMG2’s public affairs officer U.S. Navy Lt. Robyn Gerstenslager said that the U.S. Navy takes pride in its host responsibilities planning dinners and social events for the international senior officers and recreational activities for the sailors while in an American port. In kind of an adopt-a-sailor initiative, sailors on board the Leyte Gulf, which is homeported in Norfolk, invite the sailors from SNMG2 ships to their homes for a home-cooked meal or to a social event.
“They love the opportunities for cross pollination, as Admiral Williamson said. We get a lot of volunteers. It is a learning experience and a social opportunity. There are a lot of opportunities to socialize. Each of the ships hosts icebreakers for the other members in the group,” Gerstenslager said. “The first-classes might hold a reception and the chief’s mess hosts another.”
Cross pollination extends to the officer corps as well.
"SNMG2 has six to seven international officers as part of our staff, aboard for three to six-month tours. We have a Greek chief of staff, a Dutch officer, a Turkish officer; they can come from any of our allied partner nations," Gerstenslager said.
The Kemalreis crew has been deployed for six months. Their deployment concludes in December — a long time to be away from home. At their last port visit in Mayport, it rained every day, Güresçi said.
While they are in Norfolk, they want to see the sights, go to the beach and do some shopping, Güresçi said. “Shopping is probably the main thing,” he said.
Walking up the pier to leave, I spotted liberty parties departing the Niedersachsen, a working party of sailors from the Leyte Gulf carrying supplies on board, and Kemalreis crew members standing smartly at attention on the quarterdeck.
Regardless of the navy in which sailors serve, they work tirelessly in the difficult days at sea — away from family and friends for many months at a time. The weather has been beautiful and sunny since SNMG2 arrived in Norfolk. I hope the sailors of SNMG2 have a great visit and that the sun shines every day while they are in port Norfolk.