NORFOLK (NNS) -- The Navy's "Top Gator," USS Nassau (LHA 4) returned to its homeport May 6, following a six-week surge to the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations.
While there, Nassau hosted the multinational two-week exercise Phoenix Express 2007, which strengthened and promoted friendship, mutual understanding and regional maritime partnerships with 10 NATO and North African countries.
Nassau conducted 60 training events designed to enhance maritime domain awareness and strengthened the 11 participating countries' abilities to operate jointly and effectively.
Events such as maritime interdiction operations, fast roping, small boat transfers, vertical replenishments, precision instrument approaches, day and night flight deck landings and medical evacuation procedures successfully brought together participants from Algeria, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Tunisia, Turkey and the United States.
"I had a chance to meet with each participating country's team and I asked them, 'Have you learned anything that you didn't know before?' And every one of the teams said we learned something from somebody else," said Vice Adm. John Stufflebeem, Commander, U.S. 6th Fleet.
"This is cross-pollination of nations and people within the nations, one to another. This is going to have a positive benefit and, maybe someday, they'll start to see themselves working together not just as an exercise, but as a real regional security issue," Stufflebeem said.
The different language barriers and cultural backgrounds were not enough to stop the training Nassau provided or the mission of its crew members.
"Most often these types of multinational exercises prove we have more in common as people than our history speaks of," said Marine Maj. Bruce K. Brahe, Nassau's air operations officer. "These exercises are important and they build friendships. We don't focus on the differences; but, we focus on what brings us together."
Building on the success of Phoenix Express 2007, planning for next year's exercise has already begun.
"The whole point is how you take this forward and advance this. What we don't want to do is keep coming back and doing the same thing every year," said Stufflebeem. "It's really more important to say, 'We saw what happened, let's say last year. We improved upon that for this year. What did we learn from this year to improve upon for next year?' Part of that question is still to be learned."
Nassau is commanded by Capt. Martin R. Allard, who was also commander of Amphibious Squadron 6, for the successful mission.
"Bravo Zulu on your excellent support to exercise Phoenix Express. Your professionalism, adaptability and willingness to take any and all missions assigned were cornerstone to making this year's exercise a stunning success," said Allard to his crew.
"You superbly supported the exercise as an afloat base for personnel and equipment from 11 different nations. Your performance during this exercise has definitely lived up to the title of 'Top Gator.'"
For more news from USS Nassau, visit www.news.navy.mil/local/lha4/.