NORFOLK (NNS) -- More than 700 Sailors, Marines, Soldiers, Airmen and Coast Guardsman aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51) returned home here Dec. 21 following an 80-day deployment to Central America.
In support of Amphibious-Southern Partnership Station 2012 (AMPHIB-SPS 12), Oak Hill departed Oct. 3 for its sixth deployment in seven years. Embarked was a Tactical Law Enforcement Detachment (TACLET), a Navy Riverine Squadron (RIVRON) and a U.S. Marine Corps Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF). The focus of this AMPHIB-SPS 12 mission was the disruption of illicit-trafficking in conjunction with U.S and partner nation (PN) law enforcement agencies in the Caribbean.
"The linkage between drugs, drug money and the rise of transnational criminal organizations directly undermines regional security and threatens the vital economic development on which all regional partners depend," said Rear Adm. Kurt Tidd, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet.
"Oak Hill brings the unique capabilities of an amphibious ship to help counter these non-traditional security threats," said Tidd.
The operations furthered the national strategy to combat transnational organized crime and narcotics trafficking. The TACLET successfully interdicted two shipments of contraband containing nearly 4000 kilos, detained 24 persons suspected of trafficking and provided an assist on a third. The estimated street value of the narcotics interdicted by the Oak Hill team was nearly $475 million dollars.
The SPMAGTF conducted numerous construction projects and subject matter expert exchanges (SMEEs) with PN marine, navy, riverine, coast guard and civilian security services in Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala.
"The Marines and Sailors of the SPMAGTF performed brilliantly in the air, on land, and at sea over the past few months" said Lt. Col. Scott Conway, commanding officer, SPMAGTF. "We conducted vertical construction, infrastructure repairs, Marine Corps martial arts training, law enforcement exchanges, jungle warfare training, explosive ordnance disposal and improvised explosive devise training, aerial detection and monitoring, and many other tasks while engaged with four of our partner nations.
"Despite coming together for the first time when we embarked for the mission, the Navy/Marine Corps team came together to accomplish more than many thought possible. I was equally impressed by our host nations' forces, and grateful for the opportunity to learn from them," said Conway.
The ship and her crew also conducted SMEEs with 22 Panamanian public security force members and hosted visits from VIP's from Colombia and Honduras, to include Maj. Gen. Luis Gomez, commander, Colombian Naval Infantry and Rear Adm. Hernando Wills, Colombian Navy chief of operations.
Oak Hill was chosen for this mission because of her ability to carry, in addition to her normal crew, 400 combat-ready Marines, approximately 40 vehicles, and 40,000 cubic feet of cargo and equipment which can be transported by both helicopter and landing craft.
This deployment marks the first time an LSD has deployed with embarked helicopters. Since LSDs are not equipped to embark helicopters, the helicopter maintenance team from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 774, based in Norfolk, Va., had to take everything along with them that they would need on deployment. This included tools, repair parts, and gear to move and maintain the aging CH-46 helicopters.
In another first, Oak Hill embarked two armed River Patrol Boats (RPBs) from Riverine Squadron Three (RIVRON 3), Detachment 1, based in Yorktown, VA, for the deployment. The boats were stored aboard Oak Hill's boat deck and launched with the 30-ton crane. Originally built for river operations in Iraq, this deployment represents a new, viable mission for the boats. The RIVRON and Oak Hill team proved that RIVRON boats can effectively perform interdiction missions in rivers and coastal waters of Caribbean nations with the LSD serving as a supporting sea base.
"This deployment represents a new mission for amphibious ships," said Cmdr. David Bauer, Oak Hill commanding officer. "We found that an LSD can deploy with a wide variety of people and gear and effectively conduct the counter narcotics mission while at the same time supporting the Fourth Fleet Southern Partnership objectives and simultaneously being ready to conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster relief duties.
"An ability to conduct simultaneous air, amphibious and maritime operations, combined with a large cargo and fuel capacity, gives the operational commander the flexibility, stay time and punch needed to deploy medium sized forces around the world with little outside logistics support. On this mission, we proved that Oak Hill could deploy with Marine, Riverine, Coast Guard, Air Force and Army assets and truly become a Global Force for Good in the Caribbean region," said Baeur.
AMPHIB SPS-12 was also able to provide humanitarian assistance through its delivery of 95 pallets of Project Handclasp material, donated educational, humanitarian and goodwill material. During its SPS mission, Oak Hill stood ready as "first responders" to provide disaster relief throughout U.S. Southern Commands area of responsibility.
"AMPHIB-SPS 12 was a collaborative effort with all the branches of the armed services represented and working together aboard Oak Hill, and we demonstrated the flexibility of the Navy's amphibious ships by stretching the mission beyond what the LSD was originally designed to do," said Capt. Arturo Garcia, AMPHIB-SPS 12 mission commander. "With the SPMAGTF and its two CH-46E helicopters, two Riverine Patrol Boats and two Coast Guard boats, we carried and employed a unique and diverse capability into the region. With hard work and dedication, we were able to successfully complete all assigned tasks."
Southern Partnership Station is an annual deployment of U.S. ships to the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility in the Caribbean, Central and South America. The mission's primary goal is information sharing with partner nation service members and civilians in the region.
U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet (COMUSNAVSO/C4F) supports U.S. Southern Command joint and combined full-spectrum military operations by providing principally sea-based, forward presence to ensure freedom of maneuver in the maritime domain, to foster and sustain cooperative relationships with international partners and to fully exploit the sea as maneuver space in order to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central and South American regions.
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