ANNAPOLIS, Md. (NNS) -- Sailors and assets from the U.S. Naval Academy provided a unique training opportunity Jan. 10 and 17 for the crews of USS Thunderbolt (PC 12) and USS Hurricane (PC 3) in the Chesapeake Bay.
The exercises were part of Thunderbolt and Hurricane's theater-tailored Advanced Phase Training Exercise, designed to prepare the crews for upcoming deployments.
Patrol Coastal (PC) ships are responsible for conducting Maritime Security Operations to include Maritime Interdiction Operations, as well as visit, board, search and seizures (VBSS) to prevent smuggling, piracy and human trafficking.
The trip to Annapolis afforded the PC crews experience navigating in unfamiliar waters, establishing security measures in an unfamiliar port, and conducting actual VBSS operations using the Naval Academy's yard patrol (YP) craft as exercise suspect vessels.
"The YP gave our VBSS teams an opportunity to actually experience what it's like to hook and pull a vessel that is underway and exposed to all of the elements," said Thunderbolt Commanding Officer Lt. Scott W. Larson.
"We were able to board a real vessel that was moving on water and in conditions that were not ideal," said Lt. j.g. Steve Phillabaum, Thunderbolt's operations officer. "We are used to practicing on a training platform where weather conditions were non-existent. But here we did it out in the cold just after early morning."
The experience was equally beneficial to the Naval Academy Sailors.
"Participating with the crew of the PCs is valuable because the junior Sailors aboard the YP's often have no prior deployments or exposure to shipboard operations, and this gives them a taste of actual boarding and underway operations," said Senior Chief Quartermaster (SW) Herbert Kelton of YP Operations. "Training also reconnects and strengthens our relationship with the fleet."
While deployed, the PC crews will be responsible for protecting the waters around oil terminals in the Northern Persian Gulf. This mission is critical because oil revenue from the terminals helps to support fiscal stability in Iraq.
"These oil terminals are considered critical economic infrastructure, and one of our primary roles is to conduct security patrols around those oil platforms to protect them from terrorist attacks," said Larson. "Every oil tanker that comes into port has to be swept."
The mission must be handled with diplomacy, because many of the ships Larson's Sailors inspect represent the livelihood of the Iraqi people.
"We have to remember that the majority of the vessels that we board are merchant vessels, and time is money for them, so we must operate professionally and proficiently," Larson said.
Because VBSS is both dangerous and critical to Operation Iraqi Freedom and the broader Global War on Terrorism, the Sailors who volunteer to be VBSS team members undergo a rigorous three-week training program taught by former Navy SEALs (Sea, Air, Land).
Sailors learn proper search techniques, room clearing procedures, close-quarters combat, tactical shooting and various self-defense and survival techniques. On ships such as Thunderbolt and Hurricane, the mission demands Sailors be versatile. With an average crew size of 28, Larson said patrol craft Sailors must be self-motivated hard-chargers.
"The crew members wear multiple hats," Larson explained. "I have an (Information Systems Technician) who is also one of my underway officers of the deck. I have a (Damage Controlman) who is also my search and rescue swimmer, and an (Electronics Technician) who also serves as an emergency medical technician; so it is very gratifying for me to see the selflessness that these guys possess."
The training assets provided by U.S. Naval Academy Sailors highlight the academy's diverse role in supporting the Global War on Terror. The Academy not only develops future Navy and Marine Corps officers morally, mentally and physically, but also actively supports fleet training and strengthens the U.S. Navy's combat capabilities.
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