PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) -- Six ships and about 3,500 Sailors and Marines of Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 3 successfully completed their Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) Dec. 16 off the coast of Southern California.
COMPTUEX is the second of three at-sea training evolutions designed to prepare the strike group for its scheduled six-month Western Pacific deployment in support of the global war on terrorism in the spring.
"Composite Training Unit Exercise, just like the name implies, is bringing together all the units that make up Expeditionary Strike Group 3 to train together in a complex exercise," said Capt. Pete Morford, commander, Amphibious Squadron (COMPHIBRON) 3, who works on the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu (LHA 5), the ESG 3 flagship. "The pace is such that we're pressurized to get used to handling many diverse assignments at once."
Staff assigned to Commander, Strike Force Training, U.S. Pacific Fleet, evaluated the strike group during two distinct phases.
Phase I was a planned schedule of events designed to provide specific training and evaluation for the strike group and warfare commanders. Phase II consisted of two free-play, final battle problems without a published plan. This differs from ESG 3's first work-up, ESG Integration Exercise (ESGINT), completed Nov. 18, which had no free-play training.
"I contend this is the finest training you'll find among any navy in the world, and we would expect that from our Navy/Marine Corps team. The purpose of this exercise is to increase their warfighting competency so that they can certify themselves as ready to deploy," said Rear Adm. Christopher C. Ames, commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 5. Ames embarked aboard Peleliu to form the Senior Officer Observer Team (SOOT), which evaluates and gives advice to crew members about the exercise. "It's not easy work, but the strike group stepped up to the challenge and has hit home runs."
Ames, who is also the commander of Amphibious Group 3, said the exercise is designed to increase the "proficiency in warfighting confidence of the strike group before it deploys and heads over the horizon to answer our nation's call in whatever capacity that might be."
Morford is convinced the strike group will be able to handle any challenges. He added that, with the addition of the Aegis cruiser and destroyer, the submarine and the frigate to the strike group, his COMPHIBRON 3 staff now plays an atypical role in amphibious squadrons and gets to embark upon a different level of training.
"With the addition of all those assets to the strike group, we now have assumed some roles that our destroyer squadron counterparts with the carrier strike groups have traditionally executed. But amphibious squadrons haven't normally done this. So that's where it's really exciting, to do something new," said Morford. "I am very proud to be a part of this strike group. I think it's true, but I hope each and every member shares that same level of pride. It's fair to say my staff does, and I hope that's true for everyone else in the strike group."
Conducting these exercises requires Sailors and Marines to remain flexible and prepared for any scenario, simulated or real. Peleliu's Air Operations Afloat Officer Lt. Thomas Schrock and his crew of air traffic controllers carry out one of the most critical watches aboard the ship, controlling the flow of aircraft.
"A 10-hour day can quickly get stretched to a 17-hour day," said Schrock. "We get longer hours in a much more demanding environment. We have to carefully plan our day."
Having gone through a COMPTUEX with his own strike group, Ames said ESG 3 is performing well at this stage.
"We've thrown some very complicated scenarios at them, and they've handled them marvelously. We're very pleased," said Ames. "They are our nation's best hope. They soon will carry the flag of the United States forward, anywhere in the world because of the great maneuverability afforded naval forces. They go anywhere with unimpeded access, arriving quickly wherever the scene of action may be. They have a heavy responsibility ahead of them, and they are equal to the task."
ESG 3 is comprised of COMPHINBRON 3, Peleliu, the guided-missile cruiser USS Port Royal (CG 73), the frigate USS Reuben James (FFG 57), the dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD 42), the guided-missile destroyer USS Gonzales (DDG 66) with the crew of the guided-missile destroyer USS Laboon (DDG 58) embarked, the amphibious transport dock USS Ogden (LPD 5), the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Tactical Air Control Squadron 11, and the "Black Jacks" of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 21.
The guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey (DDG 97) is not part of ESG 3 but participated in the place of Gonzales, which did not participate in the training.
Peleliu completed its first work-up, ESG Integration Exercise (ESGINT), Nov. 18 and its second work-up, Composite Unit Training Exercise (COMPTUEX), Dec. 16.
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