USS STETHEM, At Sea (NNS) -- USS Stethem (DDG 63) and three ships from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) were called upon to "plug and play" March 26 as escorts for USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), as the carrier entered the waters off the coast of Japan.
During the carrier's planned transit across the high seas of the Pacific, she had sprinted ahead of her normal escorts, requiring new ones when she arrived in the vicinity of Japan. Due to ongoing bilateral training between the U.S. Navy and the JMSDF, Stethem, JDS Kirishima (DDG 174), JDS Hatakaze (DD 171), and JDS Harusame (DD 102) were well-versed in carrier support and were able to "plug in" and "play" with Abraham Lincoln in that role.
While escorting the San Diego-based carrier, the destroyers took advantage of the opportunity and conducted a bilateral passing exercise (PASSEX).
While training and operating with the JMSDF is routine for Stethem, operating with a carrier strike group other than USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) was a new experience.
"I thought it was a great experience and good training for us being from [Destroyer Squadron 15]," said Lt. j.g. Joseph Hammond, Stethem's electronics material officer. "We are so accustomed to working with the Kitty Hawk Strike Group that it was refreshing to see how other strike groups operate. I also thought it was good for the Abraham Lincoln to see how we work out here in 7th Fleet with the JMSDF."
The PASSEX tested the escorts' and Abraham Lincoln's ability to cooperatively conduct anti-air, anti-surface and anti-subsurface operations in the dynamic U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility (AOR). As expected, the JMSDF ships demonstrated their professionalism.
"I was very impressed with the seamanship of the [JMSDF]," Operations Specialist 3rd Class (SW) Charles Milioto, who was on watch during a maneuvering exercise, said. "They really are some of the best ship-drivers in the world."
The "plug and play" ships seamlessly and smoothly integrated with the strike group. Sound 7th Fleet doctrine and instructions, and strong U.S. Navy-JMSDF working relationships were key to integrating with Abraham Lincoln.
At the end of the major portion of the exercise, the JMSDF ships departed, leaving Stethem as sole escort for the carrier. While the number of escorts decreased, the duties did not.
"We missed the JMSDF when they left. We had to pick up the duties they were performing, including alternate air defense commander (ADC), plane guard, designated deck landing qualification ship, and ready deck for helo operations," said Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Borchers, Stethem's executive officer. "The JMSDF truly integrate smoothly into the strike group and are a force multiplier."
Assuming duties from Kirishima as the alternate ADC was particularly rewarding, some Sailors said. The ADC is responsible for keeping a close watch on all aircraft in Abraham Lincoln's area of operations and defending the air space by directing airborne fighters and the use of missile systems.
"It was high-paced and a lot of fun to be given the awesome responsibility of controlling an air wing," said Chief Warrant Officer Ken Gulledge. "Destroyers don't usually get the chance to be an air defense commander, so it was really challenging and rewarding for us."
Besides benefiting from working with the Abraham Lincoln and the JMSDF, Stethem greatly enjoyed the experience. The exercise also demonstrated the JMSDF's capability to smoothly integrate with a continental U.S. (CONUS) strike group. Given the opportunity to work with Abraham Lincoln or another U.S.-based carrier again, Stethem remains confident that they and the JMSDF remain able to "plug and play."
Stethem is assigned to Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15 and operates out of Yokosuka, Japan. To learn more, please visit the Web site at www.ccsg5.navy.mil.
For more news from around the fleet, visit www.navy.mil.