USS SHOUP, At Sea (NNS) -- The USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) Carrier Strike Group (ALCSG), conducting missions in the Western Pacific in April, completed drills designed to keep the high seas safe.
A Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) exercise was conducted by a select group of Sailors from the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Shoup (DDG 86).
"Our mission is to board and search vessels suspected of transporting drugs and contraband, trafficking in persons, or harboring suspected terrorists," said Personnel Specialist 2nd Class Richard Isotalo, a member of the VBSS team.
Before becoming a part of Shoup's VBSS team, prospective members attend the three-week Noncompliant VBSS course at the Fleet Training Center in San Diego, in addition to completing both the basic and advanced Security Reaction Force courses.
"At the VBSS Course in San Diego, we learned a lot of more advanced hand-to-hand combat techniques, defensive tactics, team movement, ladder climbing and rappelling, as well as live fire with the Mk-18 assault rifle and M9 pistol," said Engineman Fireman Christopher Cavnar.
"The Navy SEALs (Sea, Air, Land) who taught there showed us some pretty brutal ways to put the 'hurt' on people," said Gas Turbine Systems Technician (Mechanical) 3rd Class Joshua Gonzales, a former Olympic wrestler who serves as the team's primary engineer and close-quarters combat instructor.
"We're all pretty proud to have completed it, because it's a tough school with a pretty high dropout rate," Gonzales said.
According to Gonzales, Shoup is the only ship in the ALCSG currently qualified to conduct a "noncompliant" boarding. With this distinction comes a lot of pride both in the team itself and the equipment they carry. Members are especially pleased with their new weapons and holsters.
"The coolest weapon we have is the Mk-18, which is basically a short barreled version of the M-16 with a folding stock. It's designed for fighting in [close quarters] such as inside the skin of a ship. It's very accurate, and the guys love it," said Gonzales.
Additionally, the VBSS team is equipped with quick-draw "Serpa" holsters for their M9 pistols. These holsters allow a trained carrier to draw their pistol almost reflexively in any situation, but make it extremely difficult for someone who is not familiar with the holster to take a team member's gun.
The most deadly weapon, which can work for or against a unit, is communication. Shoup's team uses hands-free headsets for their radio communication during boardings and an elaborate system of code words to represent mission objectives.
"Communication is a really big factor. It can save or kill a team," said Isotalo.
In addition to Shoup, the ALCSG is comprised of Abraham Lincoln, USS Mobile Bay (CG 53), and USS Russell (DDG 59) and is led by Rear Adm. Bill Goodwin. The ALCSG is on a routine deployment to the Western Pacific.
For related news, visit the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn72/.