NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) -- The multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) returned to her homeport of Naval Station Norfolk June 23 after spending more than five weeks underway in support of the Dutch-led exercise, "Joint Caribbean Lion 2006."
U.S. forces focused on enhancing relationships with partner nations and improving operational readiness during the three-week exercise. Caribbean Lion provided an opportunity for the U.S. and other forces to operate in a multinational environment.
"I think the crew was really challenged by this exercise," said Bataan's Commanding Officer, Capt. David Hulse. "We did some stuff that was on the same level of complexity that we're going to have to perform at when we deploy, and getting to do that this early in the work-up phase was perfect."
In the midst of the exercise, the Netherlands' Deputy Secretary of Defense for Finance, the Honorable Cers Van Der Knapp, boarded Bataan to observe the exercise and talk with Dutch and French forces about its importance.
"The exercise was very important because we were testing the cooperation between the United States, France and the Netherlands," said Van Der Knapp.
Bataan Sailors and Marines worked closely with their Dutch and French counterparts during the exercise. Sailors from Assault Craft Unit (ACU) 2 and Beachmaster Unit (BMU) 2 transported Dutch and French soldiers and marines ashore to conduct amphibious assault exercises. Bataan's well deck personnel conducted more than 400 hours of landing craft operations. Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 28 also provided helicopter flight support during the exercise.
Commodore, Amphibious Squadron 2 Capt. Donna Looney led U.S. Navy participation in the exercise, which included Bataan, the Mayport-based frigate USS Taylor (FFG 50), and the amphibious dock-landing ship USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43), based out of Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Va.
Bataan crew members enjoyed a three-day liberty port visit to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands after the exercise was complete. Fifty-five Sailors and Marines participated in seven community relations (COMREL) projects around the island.
"We accomplished so much in two days; it was amazing," said COMREL Coordinator and Bataan Chaplain Lt. Ryan Rupe. "People all over the island were talking about [the projects]. They were so impressed to see that we were there to help, as well as have fun. That's what is so important about COMRELs. They establish goodwill and show that we are also a ship of peace."
The crew took advantage of the time underway to catch up on watch qualifications, damage control and Enlisted Surface and Air Warfare (ESWS and EAWS) qualifications. During the at-sea period, 154 personnel earned their ESWS qualifications and 108 earned their EAWS qualifications.
"The number of Sailors who qualified for ESWS was comparable to a full deployment," said Electronics Technician 1st Class (SW) Dennis Whelan, Bataan's assistant ESWS coordinator. "That can be attributed to support from the chain of command, pushing junior Sailors to get qualified."
Before returning to homeport, the crew welcomed aboard family and friends during a Tiger Cruise which originated in Mayport, Fla., and a Family Day Cruise off the coast of Virginia. Bataan embarked more than 600 friends and family members, in addition to nearly 150 friends and family members the ship picked up in Mayport, June 20.
Bataan is one of 24 ships that comprise Commander, Amphibious Group (COMPHIBGRU) 2, based at NAB Little Creek, Va. COMPHIBGRU 2, with its 16,000 Sailors and Marines, provides war fighting naval amphibious forces to operate with joint and combined forces for combatant commanders.
For more information about Bataan, visit the ship's Web site at www.bataan.navy.mil.
For more news from around the fleet, visit www.navy.mil.