GAETA, ITALY (NNS) -- USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20) Sailors and Military Sealift Command civil service mariners reunited with families and friends Oct. 11, following a five-month deployment.
During the deployment, Mount Whitney operated in the Mediterranean, Norwegian, and Baltic Seas, and the Atlantic Ocean. The ship participated and played vital roles in multinational exercises including: Baltic Operations (BALTOPS), JACKAL STONE 2010 and the annual France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States (FRUKUS) exercise.
"The multinational exercises enhanced interoperability and laid the foundation for future operations between the United States and the participating partner countries," said Tiffany Hill, USS Mount Whitney operations officer.
BALTOPS is an annual exercise aimed to improve interoperability among 12 regional allies. FRUKUS is an annual naval maritime forces exercise designed to formulate joint activities while improving interoperability between the nations. Jackal Stone is a 10-day special operations exercise featuring participation from seven nations, and is designed to promote cooperation and interoperability between the participating forces.
Mount Whitney also hosted more than 120 high level government distinguished visitors who attended numerous receptions in support of BALTOPS, FRUKUS, and JACKAL STONE Exercises 2010.
"We gained an appreciation and understanding of how to work with other nations to foster relationships between numerous countries," said Hill. "The increased interaction between the United States and partner countries enhanced camaraderie."
During the course of the deployment, the ship visited various ports and showed their support, built lasting relationships, and touched hearts by volunteering for several community relations (COMREL) projects. Many crewmembers also participated in friendly sports competitions with sailors from foreign navies.
"I enjoy arranging these events which gave Sailors different opportunities to make a difference by leaving a positive impact on others in need," said Electronics Technician 1st Class (SW/AW) Robert Navarra, USS Mount Whitney COMREL coordinator.
Midway through the deployment, a change of command ceremony was held, and Capt. Jeffrey Ruth assumed command of USS Mount Whitney.
"Despite the uniqueness of the hybrid crewing model, this ship makes it work well, and I am impressed daily with the professionalism from both halves of this group," said Ruth. "Working and leading within a ship of this size, doing important work while serving our nation, having the chance to interact with outstanding Sailors and civil service mariners (CIVMAR) is extremely rewarding and what I enjoy most."
While operating off the coast of Norway, Mount Whitney took part in the rare Navy tradition of becoming a Bluenose.
The Bluenose ceremony has stemmed from a naval tradition dating back to the early 19th Century, where each time a vessel crosses the boundary of the Arctic Circle its first timers must stand a trial of wrath before the Royal Court.
As loyal subjects of his Royal Majesty, all trusty Bluenoses are tasked with the responsibility of properly initiating eligible warm bodies into the royal and ancient order of the North Wind as Bluenose sons and daughters of Boreas Rex.
"This was a remarkable experience; it was something I always wanted to achieve," said Military Sealift Command CIVMAR, Earl W. Davis, the locksmith aboard Mount Whitney. "The greatest thing was to experience this with my son, who is also a CIVMAR, stationed aboard the ship," said Davis. "This was truly a remarkable experience I will never forget."
Prior to Mount Whitney returning home, the command hosted a Tiger Cruise which provided an opportunity for family and friends of Sailors to share the experience of being underway aboard a Navy ship.
"Since this is my first time on a Navy ship, I really enjoyed the whole experience including the air show, which involved a search and rescue exercise," said Fred Brock, wife of Navy Counselor 1st Class (AW) Robert Brock. "I am actually glad I had an opportunity to witness Navy life first hand."
During the cruise, three members from the Fleet and Family Support Center in Naples, Italy, were embarked aboard the ship for the trip back to its homeport. A clinical counselor and a deployment specialist provided "Return and Reunion" training which aimed to help Sailors reintegrate back into their community of Gaeta, Italy. The training was divided into three different groups: single Sailors, married Sailors, and married Sailors who have children.
"We wanted to brief the Sailors on the transition/change they will experience when adapting to real-world life after a deployment," said Mark Johnson, a clinical counselor. "Single Sailors are at greater risk for problems, which comes from difficulty in adjusting to normal life due to feeling left out, depressed, and being lonely. We provide positive feedback for situations which assure Sailor's they're not alone and there's help."
Vicki Shepherd, a 2010 Exceptional Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) award recipient attached to the Fleet and Family Support Center based out of Naples, Italy, provided Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) training to 151 crewmembers during the cruise.
The junior Sailors received three different topics of basic SAPR training and the senior Sailors received more in-depth training and updates about the SAPR program.
"Since resources in Italy are limited, due to resources not being available throughout the European region, I want to make sure personnel know what resources they have prior to reporting and transferring to their gaining or next duty stations," said Shepherd. "When I provide training I expect it to be a give and take for Sailors. I've done my job when at least one member is able to walk out and assist someone in any way possible prior to the training."
USS Mount Whitney is the U.S. Sixth Fleet flagship and operates with a hybrid crew of U.S. Sailors and Military Sealift Command civil service mariners.
For more news from USS Mount Whitney, visit http://www.navy.mil/local/lcc20/.