SASEBO, Japan (NNS) -- The security reaction force (SRF) aboard the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) completed unit level training assessment anti-terrorism/force protection (ULTRA-ATFP) certification Dec. 5.
ULTRA-ATFP is an inspection performed by Afloat Training Group (ATG) which tests the ship's ability to defend itself from terrorist attacks. The inspection begins with an administrative review of security, ranging from class material review to qualification verification.
"ATFP is one of the largest and most important jobs on the ship, and there are only a limited number of us on board who specialize in it," said Ensign Steven Hoffen, Essex security officer. "This means parts of the job are left in the hands of people who don't do this kind of work every day, so we have to make sure they're properly trained and ready to respond at all times."
SRF is comprised of Sailors throughout the command; all departments on the ship must provide personnel to the force just as they do a repair locker for damage control. More than 200 Essex Sailors make up the augmenting SRF team.
"After 2001, the master-at-arms rating evolved from primarily law enforcement and physical security to include anti-terrorism and force protection. MA's and the security reaction force provide the first and last line of defense for the ship," said Hoffen. "There's an old saying in the MA rating, 'We man the watch so you can sleep at night.'"
During the drill, the "Iron Gator" security team underwent 18 real-world scenarios occurring in chain reaction style. These drills simulated events such as riots on the pier, bomb threats, swimmer attacks and hostage situations.
"Our mission is to maintain force protection readiness. We can't operate without making sure our ship and our people are safe," said Master-At-Arms 3rd Class Sarrah McDonald of the Essex security department. "That is why we train constantly. This is our chance to show that all of our efforts are paying off."
The ATFP certification is a two-day evolution conducted once every 24 months. The certification is vital to the mission of Essex because without an ATFP certification, the ship is not allowed to pull in to any foreign port.
"Everyone on the ship is like our family. So in a sense, we do this to protect our family," said Aviation Ordnanceman 3rd Class Duriel Rouchon, an SRF team member. "Because of that, it's important to keep in mind the dangers that terrorism present to us. Anything can happen at any time, and we need to be ready for it."
Essex is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed U.S. Expeditionary Strike Group and serves as the flagship for CTF 76, the Navy's forward-deployed amphibious force commander. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with a detachment in Sasebo, Japan.
For more news from USS Essex (LHD 2), visit www.navy.mil/local/lhd2/.