NORTH SEA (NNS) -- Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43) departed the Fjords in Namsos, Norway, after a final gear recovery before wrapping up its participation in Exercise Cold Response 2016 (CDR 16) March 10.
CDR 16 gave Sailors and Marines many opportunities they may never have again to include working with Dutch and Norwegian forces, becoming a member of the Order of the Royal Blue Noses by crossing the Arctic Circle and witnessing the Northern Lights.
However, CDR 16's main goal was to improve interoperability between partner and allied nations.
"The opportunity to work with other countries has helped tremendously," said Cmdr. Michael R. Johnson, commanding officer of Fort McHenry. "It's always beneficial to know and understand how another country operates, especially in its own backyard. The coming together of nations to support a higher strategic alliance is always beneficial during an exercise that covers so many different operations."
Consisting of more than 12 allied and partner nations, more than 3,000 United States service members and 6,500 members of the Norwegian armed forces, CDR 16 tested maritime, air and land operations in extreme cold weather conditions.
Fort McHenry was attached to the Cold Response Amphibious Task Group (ATG), led by the Dutch amphibious staff Royal Netherlands Marine Forces. The ATG included two Dutch landing dock ships, the HNLMS (L801) Johan de Witt and HNLMS (L800) Rotterdam. Fort McHenry carried U.S. Marines and equipment, including 16 amphibious assault vehicles, a landing craft utility and various other support vehicles.
As Fort McHenry's participation in CDR 16 neared its end, Johnson rewarded his crew with an opportunity many Sailors and Marines will never have: becoming a Blue Nose.
"We came this way, we worked this hard, and the crew has given 130 percent to this exercise, so to come this far and not give the crew the chance to become Blue Noses wouldn't have been right," said Johnson. "On the way home, we're going to paint the bull nose blue and make it known to Mayport that we're all Blue Noses now."
After returning to her homeport of Mayport, Florida, Fort McHenry is slated to head to New York for Fleet Week in May, where parades, tours and other events will showcase Navy ships.
For more news from Expeditionary Strike Group 2, visit www.navy.mil/local/esg2/.