PASCAGOULA, Miss. (NNS) -- USS Thomas S. Gates (CG 51) returned to her homeport at Naval Station Pascagoula, Pascagoula, Miss., Aug. 2, after a successful five-month deployment for her crew of nearly 400 Sailors and officers.
The deployment covered a variety of missions, including circumnavigating the South American continent.
"The ship and the crew have achieved a great amount over the past five months," said Cmdr. Richard Rainer, commanding officer of Thomas S. Gates. "Whether it be counter-drug operations, public affairs missions, or operations with U.S. and South American naval assets, the men and women of the Gates have excelled at every opportunity."
Departing Pascagoula March 10, Gates and her embarked helicopter detachment, Helicopter Anti-submarine Squadron Light (HSL) 42, Det. 9, out of Mayport, Fla., immediately began counter-narcoterrorism operations in the Caribbean Sea.
In the early morning hours of March 19, her U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) boarded the cruise ship Celebrity Summit to serve a federal warrant for the apprehension of Jose Miguel Battle Jr., also known as "El Padrino," a suspected leader of an organized crime outfit, "The Corporation."
LEDET 101, based in San Diego, and embarked on Gates, was directed to board the cruise ship and apprehend Battle. After confirming the location of the suspect, the Coast Guard boarding team was able to safely and silently secure Battle, and then turn him over to proper authorities. Throughout the operation, Gates was under the tactical control of the Miami-based 7th Coast Guard District and supported Coast Guard personnel in execution of their mission.
Following release from her counter-narcoterrorism duties, the ship visited New London, Conn., in support of Commander, Navy Region Northeast, and Submarine Base New London's annual submarine birthday ball. While in New London, Gates was open for public tours and hosted an estimated 3,000 guests.
Gates' next port of call was Philadelphia, Pa., and the ship navigated the Delaware River to Penn's Landing to help the city celebrate Armed Forces Day. Gates wrapped up the month of May by anchoring in Annapolis, Md., in support of commissioning week at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Following the visit to Annapolis, Gates departed south to escort the Navy's newest aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) as the carrier circumnavigated South America heading to its new homeport in San Diego. Gates also served as the Ronald Reagan Strike Group Air Defense Commander during the U.S. Navy's "Summer Pulse 2004" exercise.
"Working with the Ronald Reagan Strike Group was an outstanding training opportunity for our crew," said Lt. Cmdr. John Rexrode, Gates' executive officer. "Typically, Navy ships in Pascagoula are assigned 'independent steaming' duties in support of counter-narcoterrorism operations, or in support of South American multinational exercises, and are not usually afforded the opportunity to participate in U.S. Navy carrier strike group or expeditionary strike group operations.
While deployed in support of the Reagan Strike Group, Gates participated in naval exercises with the Brazilian, Uruguayan, Argentine, Chilean and Peruvian navies, and escorted Ronald Reagan through the Strait of Magellan - the first passage of a Nimitz-class carrier through the passage.
Due to heavy seas in the Pacific Ocean, Gates did not exit to the Pacific Ocean via the Strait of Magellan Pacific exit, but with the assistance of the Chilean Navy, became the first Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser to transit the Smyth Canal passage through the Patagonian archipelago, exiting 700 miles to the north after 36 consecutive hours of restricted maneuvering waters. The overall transit took more than three days to complete through channels varying in widths from four miles to less than 150 yards.
"The entire navigation detail was pretty tired by the end of the transit," said Quartermaster 1st Class (SW) Paul Dumas, "but I was proud of what we had accomplished. The bridge team and the pilots really came together on this one."
While serving as the Reagan escort, Gates visited Punta del Este, Uruguay, and Valparaiso, Chile. During Gates' visit to Punta del Este, her Sailors gave generously of their time, participating in community relations projects and in the Navy's Project Handclasp. Gates' Sailor volunteers received high praise from both the beneficiaries and from the Office of Defense Cooperation representative in Uruguay, who remarked that it was the best Project Handclasp event execution that he had ever seen.
"I had so much fun painting the school during the community relations project," said Gunner's Mate 2nd Class (SW) Kelly Draper. "It was something that needed to be done, but [the school] couldn't afford the outside help. It was fun to be the ones providing [the help]."
After leaving Chile, Gates and other units of the strike group traveled north to the waters off the coast of Peru to participate in UNITAS, a South American fleet exercise that derives its name from the Spanish word for "unity." Navy and amphibious (Marine) forces from 11 nations operated together during the exercise, which became the largest amphibious exercise in South American history.
Following the amphibious phase of UNITAS, Gates served as the flagship for Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command, and Commander, Destroyer Squadron 6, during the two-week Pacific phase of UNITAS, where naval forces from the United States, Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Argentina, and Colombia conducted extensive naval exercises, and concluded the event with a three-day mock battle at sea.
"These past few months have been a marvelous experience for Gates crew members, and has helped prepare them for events they will participate in when they transfer to ships in Mayport, Norfolk and San Diego," concluded Rexrode.
Gates is the fifth ship of the Ticonderoga class of Aegis cruisers and is assigned to Destroyer Squadron 14 and to U.S. 2nd Fleet.
For related news, visit the Naval Station Pascagoula Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/nspascagoula.