Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The GONZALEZ Year in Review - 2008

2008 was a great year to be 66! While I look forward to the events of 2009, it is a pleasure to look back on the personal and professional accomplishments of GONZALEZ Sailors during the last year. Many of those accomplishments are captured in the posts or links on my blog, but I couldn't resist posting a quick top 5 highlights.

1. Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG-2) Deployment. From the 19 February to 18 August, GONZALEZ deployed to the Mediterranean Sea as the US Navy component to the SNMG-2 task force. While deployed to 6th Fleet, GONZALEZ Sailors experienced first hand many tenants of the Maritime Strategy.

2. Commemorating the 66th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway. What better way for the Sailors of DDG-66 to commemorate the 66th anniversary of Midway than to pose for some retro photos to remember those who have gone before us.

3. Celebrating Mrs. Gonzalez’ birthday. On the day of our return from deployment, we had the honor of combining our homecoming with Mrs. Gonzalez’ birthday. I will never forget the image of GONZALEZ Sailors singing happy birthday after we moored.

4. Participating in the North Carolina Seafood Festival. After such a successful overseas deployment, GONZALEZ Sailors had a chance to demonstrate their pride and professionalism during a port visit to Morehead City, North Carolina.

5. Successfully completing our Unit Level Training Readiness and Assessment Certification (ULTRA-C). While GONZALEZ Sailors will continue to be faced with assessment and inspection challenges in 2009, wrapping up 2008 with a successful ULTRA-C was an excellent conclusion point for the year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Gonzalez Holiday Cheer

Happy Holidays to all of our GONZALEZ family and friends! It’s that last time of the year between Christmas Day and New Years Eve, that time when children are out of school and for many of us things seem to be moving in slow motion as we await the New Year. Even though the ship is in a holiday leave and upkeep period, your Sailors still stand their watches, still stand duty, and still stand ready for the call. And while we are always ready, the best crew in the Navy certainly knows how to take care of our family and friends during the holidays. This year we held both a GONZALEZ Holiday Party and a Children’s Holiday Party. The GONZALEZ Holiday Party was a tremendous success and a real testament to the Sailors of the planning committee who organized it. Well done! One of the hits of the party this year was the dance contest. While we may not have anyone quite ready to dance with the stars, we did have a few stars of our own.

The very next day, we hosted our Children’s Holiday Party at the Bowling Center on the Naval Station. The GONZALEZ kids had a great time bowling, sampling pizzas and cake and taking part in a few special contests. The best part, of course, was the visit of Santa who brought gifts for everyone! Happy Holidays and Happy New Year! - Captain

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fighting Freddy BLOG Update

GONZALEZ Family and Friends,

We are two weeks away from closing out 2008, and as Commanding Officer of the Best Crew in the Navy it is easy to look back on the year with a swell of pride. Not only did we complete a very successful deployment to the Mediterranean, returning home with broomsticks lashed to the yardarms, we just passed our Unit Level Training Readiness Assessment Certification (ULTRA-C). Completing ULTRA-C caps off successfully completing every inspection, assessment, and certification since returning from deployment. The men and women of GONZALEZ (your sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, friends, and shipmates) are batting 1000% for the year, and we are taking that record into 2009. Keeping us so busy has meant less time for me to update the blog and tell you about all the great things your Sailors have been doing, and I am woefully delinquent on some significant updates. So here we go...

Way back in September after we returned from deployment, the Hampton Roads Surface Navy Association sponsored their inaugural Enlisted Shiphandling Competition. While GONZALEZ has several Sailors and Chiefs who have stood and still stand watch as Conning Officer on the bridge, I naturally selected our most junior and only qualified enlisted Officer of the Deck Underway, OS2(SW) Dennis Denk, to compete in the contest. I'll let the links below speak for themselves on Petty Officer Denk's performance.

In November, we had the opportunity to conduct a towing exercise with our DESRON TWO sister ship, USS NICHOLAS (FFG 47). It just so happened that we conducted this exercise just days before we took part in two actual rescues at sea (see our earlier post: GONZALEZ to the Rescue). I thought you might want to check out of few pictures of our work with NICHOLAS. As a well done to the Chief Boatswain's Mate and the Best Deck Crew in the Fleet, the Officer of the Deck closed up BRAVO ZULU OD Division on the starboard halyard.

In November we celebrated Thanksgiving onboard GONZALEZ with a phenomenal holiday feast. Is that the XO on the serving line?

In December we also selected our Sailors of the Year and held our Holiday and Children's Holiday Parties. I'll post a holiday and congratulatory blog next.
- Captain

Monday, November 24, 2008

GONZALEZ to the Rescue

Every day of the year the United States Coast Guard rescues people and property all across the United States, on our inland waters and territorial seas, on the high seas, and around the world. During our last training period at sea, GONZALEZ Sailors experienced two opportunities to provide rescue and assistance to other mariners on the high seas and work with the Coast Guard at the same time. On the 8th of November we responded to a distress call from the sailboat Gypsy Dane. Just a few days later, we responded to a second distressed sailboat, the Reina Del Sol. In the case of the Gypsy Dane, GONZALEZ Sailors repaired a completely destroyed rudder post and cut away approximately 50 feet of line tangled around the sailboat’s rudder, shaft, and propeller. Just as we finished our repairs, the Coast Guard Cutter SENECA arrived on the scene and made sure the vessel and master were good to go as we continued on with our training.

On the Reina Del Sol, repairs were not possible, so we towed the sailboat with our 7 meter Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB) and embarked the two crew members for the night until the Coast Guard Cutter SPENCER arrived the next morning. SPENCER took the sailboat under tow for further transfer to the Canadian Coast Guard. All in all, I can’t express well enough in words how proud I was of every GONZALEZ Sailor who participated in our two rescue and assistance missions. The Coast Guard Atlantic Area Commander even said he would welcome us into the Coast Guard Fleet as an honorary cutter…as long as we could get just a few more search and rescues under our belt.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Training, Training, Training

One of the questions I often get asked by family and friends is, “What does the ship do while you are in port?” Day for day, it seems that in port we are always much busier than when we are at sea. At the same time, it is actually much easier to explain what we do while we are at sea on deployment rather than explaining what we do all day in port. Primarily our in port days are filled with training and maintaining GONZALEZ in the best material condition possible so we are always ready for any range of mission whether that be a surge deployment, a homeland defense, or a humanitarian assistance/disaster relief call.

During October we were afforded an opportunity to do some training with our installation command, the Norfolk Naval Base. We participated in an Exercise called Citadel Protect 2008. Check out the link to the exercise to read more. GONZALEZ Participates In Citadel Protect

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Seafood and Tigers!

On Wednesday, the 1st of October, Fighting Freddy sailed for Morehead City, North Carolina to participate in the 22nd Annual North Carolina Seafood Festival. The morning of our departure we also embarked 37 Tigers – family and friends who joined us the ride down to the Crystal Coast of North Carolina. Our Tigers got to see us put the ship through her paces over the two and half-day transit during which some of the highlights included a gun shoot, damage control drill, F-18 fly-by, and a demonstration of our maximum speed. Mostly, I think the Tigers enjoying seeing their Sailors at work and getting to experience a few days of life at sea on a ship of war.

We arrived at the port of Morehead City early on Friday morning and moored as close to down town as our draft allowed. From the moment of our arrival we participated in a host of Seafood Festival Activities, including the opening ceremonies, the 8K Twin Bridges Race, and the Blessing of the Fleet. We also took the opportunity to visit the Harbor View Towers Nursing Home and volunteer with the North Carolina Coastal Federation. Of course, we also opened up the ship for tours and had almost 2000 festival attendees tour the ship on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

For me personally, following our six month deployment to the Mediterranean, I enjoyed the opportunity to visit a great American city and see GONZALEZ Sailors ashore in their white uniforms. I was very proud to see local folks shake the hands of my Sailors and thank them for their service. At a time when there are concerns about so many things going on in all of our lives, it was an honor to simply be surrounded by such a strong community whose livelihood, like ours, also depends on the seas. Please take a moment to check out some of the local news we generated.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

We're Back!!

We’re back! After a six month deployment to the Mediterranean Sea as part of the Standing NATO Maritime Group Two, GONZALEZ is home again. And what a homecoming! Not only was it great to see all of our family and friends, but Mrs. Dolia Gonzalez, our sponsor and mother of our namesake Sergeant Freddy Gonzalez, was on the pier to greet us. Even better, the day of our homecoming was also her 79th birthday, and we helped her celebrate in style with a 200 strong chorus of GONZALEZ Sailors in their dress white singing “Happy Birthday’ to her from the bow of the ship. In addition to Commander Second Fleet, Commander Carrier Strike Group Twelve, and Commander Destroyer Squadron Two, we were honored to also be welcomed home by a contingent of Marines, both active duty and retired. To see our entire GONZALEZ family gathered together as one on homecoming was a great reminder of the experience of serving with the best crew in the Navy!

Now that we are home, I intend to update our blog every other week or so to keep our family and friends up to date with all of the great things we will be involved in between now and our next deployment. In case you missed them, enjoy the new links to the media coverage of our homecoming. All the best, Captain.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

USS GONZALEZ 4th of July and NATO Change of Command

It is tradition onboard USS Gonzalez for morning reveille on the ship’s announcing circuit to be preceded by a song chosen by the Officer of the Deck, but only when underway, not in port or at anchor. Yet, as Gonzalez swung on her anchor in the Italian port of Taranto on the 4th of July, the ship’s Command Career Counselor, NC1(SW/AW) Lisa Stocks, broke tradition by playing the American National Anthem to wake up the crew. Sailors rose out of their bunks to come to attention at the playing of the National Anthem, and then after the Anthem finished, the Commanding Officer, Commander Brian Fort, directed the crew to remain at attention. He then discharged and re-enlisted OS2(SW) Byron Harris over the same announcing circuit. After morning colors, CDMCM(SW) Keith Thomas re-enlisted IT3(SW) Franklin Fielder on the flight deck, and the Supply Officer, LT Kennis Sigmon, re-enlisted SK2(SW/AW) Mychal Travers in the Supply Support Office. What a great way for three outstanding Gonzalez Sailors to honor our National Day of Independence!
The 4th of July had only just begun for the crew of Gonzalez, however. On the same morning, 40 Gonzalez Sailors assembled on the pier at the Italian Naval Base of Taranto across from the Turkish Flagship, TCG Salehreis, and the Italian Flagship, ITS Luigi Durand De La Penne. Standing in a smart formation with platoons from Turkey, Italy, Greece, and Great Britain, they stood by for the Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG-2) Change of Command, in which Italian Navy Rear Admiral Giovanni Gumiero relieved Turkish Navy Rear Admiral Sinan Ertugrul. As is tradition, Rear Admiral Ertugrul commanded SNMG-2 for one year, always at the ready as the NATO Reserve Force and conducting a number of important exercises and operational training program events. During Gonzalez’ participation as the U.S. contribution to the task force, SNMG-2 participated in the Turkish Exercise Mavi Balina and the Italian Exercise Mare Aperto. Rear Admiral Ertugrul also led SNMG-2 through several periods Operation Active Endeavor (OAE) surge operations. As part of OAE, Gonzalez and the ships of SNMG-2 conducted maritime security operations throughout the Mediterranean. Using Automated Information Systems (AIS) carried onboard NATO ships, Gonzalez’ Combat Systems Officer, Lieutenant Brian Maynard summarized the purpose of OAE, “Our goal is to know who is who, and to detour merchant ships from any illegal activity. If we do that then our mission is successful.”
With the operational handover completed, Rear Admiral Gumiero will now lead the SNMG-2 ships into more further OAE missions and a similar training and exercise program. During his Change of Command speech he praised the work of Rear Admiral Ertugrul and the crews of the SNMG-2 ships. For the Gonzalez Sailors in formation on the pier, it was a moment of pride to hear both Admirals talk about how well the task force had performed. FC2(SW) Mona Healey recounted her thoughts, “I was very impressed with the honor Rear Admiral Ertugrul illustrated as he reviewed each platoon and saluted each flag one after the other. The symbolism was amazing especially being the Fourth of July, it was definitely liberating.” As the sun beat down on the band, color guard, and NATO platoons, STG3 Shawn Donahoe explained his feelings as part of the Gonzalez platoon, “It was great being a part of the platoon. Standing at parade rest for 30 minutes in the heat was difficult, but it was an honor to stand there with my shipmates, and all the NATO ships on the 4th of July.”
Gonzalez will conduct one more operational training program at sea and one more period of OAE surge operations with the Italian Flagship, ITS Luigi Durand De La Penne, and HMS Somerset before detaching from NATO and returning home during the NATO Summer Dispersal.

Teaching at a Different PACE

There have been many Navy College Programs Afloat College Education (PACE) Instructors who have walked the passageways of USS Gonzalez over the years, but none quite like Mr. Dennis Saliny. He was a unique PACE Instructor who not only understood the importance of education but also the discipline and dedication of military personnel, particularly those who invest in a higher education while deployed overseas.

A commissioned officer in the United States Army with a Bachelors Degree in Chemical Engineering from Purdue University, he served seven years in the Army including more than two years working with the South Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. As a Vietnam Veteran he was particularly in tune with Gonzalez’ namesake, Sergeant Freddy Gonzalez, who received the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty at the Battle of Hue City during the Vietnam War. Upon his discharge from the Army, Dennis worked for the Western Electric Company, Bell Laboratories, and Motorola, completing a Masters in Business Administration from Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois. In 2001 he after serving as the Manufacturing Director for the Automotive and Consumer Electronics Group for Motorola, he took an early retirement. Not long after retirement, however, he returned to Northwestern were he taught business and math courses. After four years at Northwestern, he needed a change of pace and a change of environment. In May 2006, Dennis joined the ranks of NC-PACE instructors, having found the perfect opportunity to combine his love for education and his dedication to the military.

Prior to reporting to Gonzalez, Dennis deployed as the NC-PACE Instructor onboard the cruisers USS Shiloh and the Chancellorsville where he taught business and math courses and most recently onboard USS Carter Hall where he taught another math course will deployed to the Horn of Africa. Like all Sailors, he had to learn to make the transition from life ashore to life afloat, getting great support one the home front from his wife, Melva, who also served in Vietnam as an Army MASH nurse. Dennis joined Gonzalez on March 16, 2008 while the ship was at anchor off Antalya, Turkey. From the day he joined, not only his Sailor students, but the entire crew knew he was going to be special – an outstanding shipmate. As the NC-PACE Instructor, he taught College Algebra I and II over the course of his four months onboard. Like the Gonzalez motto, he went “Beyond the Call” of mere instruction. He conducted two teaching sessions a day to ensure that any Sailor who wanted had the opportunity to attend his classes, and he conducted additional study sessions throughout the day so Gonzalez Sailors who may have been having difficulties in some areas would have the opportunity for personal tutoring. Added the Commanding Officer, Commander Brian Fort, “During Dennis’ time as our PACE Instructor, he was truly a member of the crew. He participated in everything we did underway and inport – drills, awards ceremonies, Captain’s Cup events, re-enlistments, fresh water washes, sea and anchor details. He even helped out on working parties and conned the ship for a man overboard drill. You name it, Dennis was there and involved.”

Being deployed with the Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG-2) Task Force, Dennis’ devotion wasn’t confined within the bulkheads of Gonzalez either. After seeing Dennis topside during some close order tactical maneuvering the Commanding Officer of the British ship in SNMG-2 asked about the presence of a civilian onboard. After learning of Dennis’ qualifications, HMS Somerset (F82) asked if he might be available to assist some their Sailors as well. He then spent a week onboard the Royal Navy frigate where he conducted a preparatory course helping British Sailors prepare for a mathematics test given by Cambridge University, pertinent to them for either advancement purposes or as a pre-requisite for a GED-like test or college placement upon discharge from the Navy. He held classes twice a day for six days and tutored eight students in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, statistics, and beginning Calculus. He even assisted a British Sailor who was taking a physics course as part of a distance learning course.

Dennis further influenced Sailors onboard Gonzalez in teaching them that there is no limit to learning. STG2(SW) Benjamin Lane stated, “Mr. Saliny is a real go getter, and also a very unique instructor whose passion for teaching or passing down any type of knowledge is apparent. Even students who have had little knowledge for math in their previous years were brushing the cobwebs off with ease.”

Of course when asked why he loved to teach Dennis simply smiled and said, “I love and respect the Sailors. They are giving up their free time to do this in addition to working and completing pertinent qualifications. I have been impressed with their interest and dedication.” After a special ceremony to recognize Dennis’ service to Gonzalez, when asked what he liked most about the ship, he added, “I love how the ward room and Chiefs and the Sailors are so close and supportive of each other. I have also had the chance to interact more with the crew onboard this ship.”

Dennis departed Gonzalez and returned to his family with one month left to go in the ship’s deployment. To date, this was his longest period at sea as a NC-PACE Instructor. On behalf of the men and women of Gonzalez, fair winds and following seas to an outstanding instructor, Sailor, and shipmate.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

USS Gonzalez Makes Port Visits to Trieste, Italy and Koper, Slovenia

The Norfolk-based guided missile destroyer USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) recently made back-to-back port visits in Trieste, Italy and Koper, Slovenia while part of the Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG-2). Gonzalez, commanded by Commander Brian Fort, is on a routine deployment to the Mediterranean Sea and joined the ships of SNMG-2 in March. In addition to Gonzalez, SNMG-2 is currently comprised of warships from Turkey, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and Greece. SNMG-2’s mission is to provide an operationally ready force while serving as part of the Standing Maritime Element for the NATO Response Force (NRF). The SNMG-2 Task Force is commanded by Rear Admiral Sinan Ertugrul, Turkish Navy, embarked on the flagship, TCG Salihreis.

In Trieste, Gonzalez Sailors had their first opportunity to sample some of the best of Italian cuisine. More than half of the crew also enjoyed the opportunity to take the train from Trieste to Venice and enjoy one of the most beautiful and recognized cities in the world. Continuing the theme of international comraderie, the Gonzalez Chief Petty Officers’ Mess accompanied Chiefs from several of the NATO ships in celebrating an April version of Octoberfest onboard the German frigate, FGS Niedersachen.

In Koper, Gonzalez hosted several distinguished visitors, conducted tours for local guests, and hosted the NATO Force Reception on behalf of CSNMG-2. Among the distinguished visitors were the Slovenian Minister of Defense, Mr. Karl Erjaven, Chief of Slovenian General Staff, General Albin Gutman, and Koper’s Deputy Mayor. During the tours onboard Gonzalez, over 100 Slovenian naval personnel from the 430th Slovenian Naval Detachment and 75 students and faculty from the maritime academy enjoyed learning about the American destroyer.

The highlight of the ship’s port visit to Koper was hosting the NATO Force Reception for over 125 guests. In addition to officers and Chief Petty Officers from the NATO sister ships, Gonzalez hosted Slovenian military personnel and several American Embassy guests, including the Charge d’Affairs, Maryruth Coleman, and acting Deputy Chief of Mission, Grace Shelton. Other distinguished guests included the Turkish and German Ambassadors to Slovenia. Gonzalez Sailors beamed with pride to open their ship to such a broad range of multi-national guests. Culinary Specialist Third Class Julie Clark noted that the reception “reminded me of how much our Navy is committed to an atmosphere of excellence. I was proud to welcome visitors from other countries to show them how professional we are.” Ship’s Serviceman Seaman Recruit Staton added that “being part of the reception was the coolest thing I’ve ever done in the Navy.”

The two port visits also allowed Gonzalez Sailors the opportunity to say farewell to Sailors of the Greek frigate, HS Hydra while continuing to get to enjoy knowing their NATO shipmates. Although Trieste and Koper are sister ports, separated by only a few miles, the SNMG-2 ships sailed overnight between the ports. The overnight sailing providing an excellent opportunity for a traditional NATO Sail Past Exercise in which the departing Greek frigate sailed past Gonzalez the other ships at a close interval. In addition to rendering honors, Gonzalez Sailors said farewell with music from the ship’s band and a damage control exercise, including a display of the ship’s long range firemain capability. After bidding farewell to HS Hydra, in Koper Gonzalez served as the host ship to welcome the newest ship to join SNMG-2, HS Kountouriotis. Several Gonzalez Sailors also joined in on another international sports competition against the Slovenian Navy in soccer and volleyball. Fifteen Gonzalez Sailors also attended a SNMG-2 tour to the caves at Postojna and the capital city of Ljubljana, and while not touring the sites of Slovenia, Gonzalez Sailors enjoyed liberty with their NATO shipmates in the resort city of Portoroz.

Since joining SNMG-2, Gonzalez has made other port visits in Spain, Turkey, Israel, and Greece. The ship is currently in Palermo, Italy preparing to host NATO Parliamentarians and getting ready for their next big, multi-national exercise, Mare Aperto 2008. Gonzalez departed her homeport of Norfolk, Virginia in February and expects to return from her routine six-month deployment in August and rejoin Destroyer Squadron Two.

NATO, Turkey and Pakistan Join Together for Maritime War Games in Exercise Mavi Balina

The Turkish Navy Invitational Exercise MAVI BALINA ’08 took place last week off the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. The Turkish Navy invited the Standing NATO Maritime Group (SNMG-2) and Pakistani Navy to participate in various naval exercises driven by synthetic tensions between fictionalized opposing forces. SNMG-2 is currently comprised of warships from Turkey, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Greece, and the Netherlands. The mission of SNMG-2 is to provide an operationally ready force while serving as part of the Standing Maritime Element for the NATO Response Force (NRF). The SNMG-2 Task Force is commanded by Rear Admiral Sinan Ertugrul, Turkish Navy, embarked on the SNMG-2 flagship, TCG Salihreis.

The main objective of Mavi Balina was to provide operational training for units and staffs in planning and conducting anti-submarine, anti-surface, and anti-air warfare. The exercise enabled the staff and ships of SNMG-2 to hone their combat skills in a complex multinational environment, better preparing the force for combat operations in support of the NATO Response Force. Exercise Mavi Balina consisted of four phases: Force Assembly, Combat Enhancement Training/Force Integration Training, Tactical Exercises, and Force Disassembly.

The Force assembled in Aksaz, Turkey on March 7 in order to conduct pre-sail conferences and working group meetings in preparation for the exercise. The SNMG-2 ships comprising the Brown Forces included TCG Salihreis, USS Gonzalez, HMS Somerset, HNLMS Amsterdam, FGS Niedersachsen, ITS Euro, and HS Hydra. The Blue Forces were commanded by Rear Admiral Fikret Gunes, Commander of the Turkish Southern Task Group. The Blue forces were comprised of Turkish and Pakistani ships, including TCG Kemalreis, TCG Gelibolu, TCG Zafer, TCG Bartin, TCG Preveze, TCG Yildiray, PNS Tariq, and PNS Moawin.

The CET/FIT phase took place over the first three days of the exercise. The aim of this phase was to enhance interoperability in the principal maritime warfare areas through individual and mission-oriented events, including basic/intermediate anti-submarine warfare training and submarine vs. submarine operations in the Eastern Mediterranean. The final three days of the exercise consisted of the Tactical Exercise. The events during this portion of the exercise involved a wide spectrum of advanced anti-submarine training in a multi-threat environment, including convoy operations and advanced submarine vs. submarine operations. Exercise Mavi Balina culminated in a port visit to Antalya, Turkey, where the force conducted event debriefings and enjoyed some time ashore.

In addition to preparing ships and staff for complex maritime warfare training, Mavi Balina provided an opportunity for strengthen the NATO bonds between warships and their crews. The exercise demonstrated the solidarity and cohesiveness of coalition organizations such as SNMG-2. During the Force Assembly phase, Rear Admiral Gunes hosted a reception onboard his flagship, TCG Kemalreis, where Sailors from every ship in both forces joined together to celebrate the spirit of cooperation. Additionally, many Sailors spent time on other ships before, during, and after the exercise, giving them a chance to see how their NATO shipmates operate on a day-to-day basis. Sailors were quick to learn that while they may be of different nationality, they are very much alike, as they share a common bond of being mariners dedicated to their countries and families.

SNMG-2, previously known as NATO Standing Naval Forces Mediterranean, is a permanent, peacetime, multinational, naval squadron composed of destroyers, cruisers and frigates from the navies of various NATO nations. The Force operates and trains as a group, exercising NATO maritime tactics and procedures. Since it’s creation in 1967, the group has involved a total of over 500 ships and more than 150,000 service-men and -women. It annually schedules a series of NATO and national exercises designed to maintain readiness and foster interoperability.

USS Gonzalez Participates in NATO/Israeli Navy Exercise

The Norfolk-based guided missile destroyer USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) recently participated in a combined NATO/Israeli Navy exercise as part of the Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG-2). Gonzalez, commanded by Commander Brian Fort, is on a routine deployment to the Mediterranean Sea and joined the ships of SNMG-2 in March. In addition to Gonzalez, SNMG-2 is currently comprised of warships from Turkey, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and Greece. SNMG-2’s mission is to provide an operationally ready force while serving as part of the Standing Maritime Element for the NATO Response Force (NRF). The SNMG-2 Task Force is commanded by Rear Admiral Sinan Ertugrul, Turkish Navy, embarked on the flagship, TCG Salihreis.

During the NATO/Israeli exercise, SNMG-2 ships conducted several at-sea and inport training events with the Israeli Navy. For the underway exercises, the Gonzalez, Turkish frigate Salihreis, and Greek frigate Hydra participated in a Search and Rescue exercise with the INS Lahav and INS Keshet. Upon completion, the five ships conducted close-order tactical maneuvering drills and a tactical communications exercise.

After the underway events, the ships of SNMG-2 moored in Haifa, Israel for four days. While inport, Gonzalez held a damage control exhibition for over fifty Israeli Sailors, including equipment demonstrations on the ship’s flight deck and an internal fire fighting drill. “The United States Navy has made Damage Control a huge priority and I think foreign navies admire this and want to learn more about the successes we have had in this field,” noted LTJG Mary Scott, Gonzalez’s Damage Control Assistant. Gonzalez also hosted sixty Israeli Sailors for general tours, and several Gonzalez Sailors visited Israeli ships. Gonzalez Sailors also joined their NATO shipmates in friendly soccer, basketball, and volleyball competitions against Israeli Sailors. These events provided excellent opportunities for the Sailors from other countries to come together professionally and socially, share ideas, and build a sense of fellowship.

The ship’s visit to Israel afforded the crew numerous opportunities to explore the rich history of Israel, including tours of Jerusalem, Nazareth, the Dead Sea, and Mount Carmel. “It is almost hard to take in how important this area is to our world religions. I will remember this trip for the rest of my life,” said Hull Technician Third Class Cameron Davis. The Commanding Officers of the NATO ships also attended a wreath laying ceremony with Rear Admiral Ertugrul at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. “I cannot imagine a more endearing moment for this deployment than the opportunity I had to see the Admiral represent NATO at Yad Vashem. After the wreath laying ceremony as we toured the Children’s Memorial, I couldn’t help but notice that as we passed through and listened to the names of children being read aloud that the last name we heard was that of a 16 year old Turkish girl key who died in a concentration camp. With Admiral Ertugrul being from Turkey, it was indeed a powerful moment for all of us,” added Commander Fort.

Gonzalez and the ships of SNMG-2 are currently participating in Operation Active Endeavour, NATO’s maritime security operations in the Mediterranean Sea in support of the global war on terror. Gonzalez’s last port of call was Volos, Greece. The ship departed Norfolk, Virginia in February and expects to return from its routine six-month deployment in August and rejoin Destroyer Squadron Two.

Onboard USS Gonzalez: 30 Days of 21st Century Seapower as part of a NATO Force

On March 6, 2008, less than three weeks after departing Norfolk for a routine six month deployment, the guided missile destroyer USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) sailed over the Mediterranean horizon south of Crete and joined the other ships of Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG-2). Gonzalez reported for duty to the Turkish Flagship, TCG Salihreis, took station in a SNMG-2 Screen Wimbledon, and one hour later received fuel from the Dutch Oiler HNLMS Amsterdam. Over the next 30 days, the ship made port calls to both Aksaz and Antalya, Turkey; Volos, Greece; and Haifa, Israel, mooring pierside, outboard another ship, and anchoring twice. She served as Air Defense Commander for the NATO forces in the multi-national Exercise Mavi Balina 2008, conducted a PASSEX with the Israeli Navy, and commenced a period of Surge Operations in support of Operation Active Endeavor. Over those 30 days, Gonzalez Sailors experienced first hand the Navy’s role in the Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.

“One of the tenants of the our maritime strategy is to foster and sustain cooperative relationships with more international partners. Specifically, the strategy notes that trust and cooperation cannot be surged. That is exactly what Gonzalez’ role in NATO has been all about so far. Over our first 30 days we worked hard to build the trust of the SNMG-2 Admiral. He needed to know that while we were just another team player in his task force, we were ready to be his Air Defense Commander and ready to execute a broad range of NATO missions. We spent our first weeks in SNMG-2 learning to think with a multi-national NATO mindset as opposed to the U.S. Navy mindset. Without a doubt our first thirty days in NATO set the expectations for the deployment,” added Gonzalez’ Commanding Officer, Commander Brian Fort, a native of Little Rock, Arkansas. “In fact, I look back on our first month in NATO and can’t help but think we truly experienced, and are still experiencing, the 21st century vision of seapower the Chief of Naval Operations signed up for with the Commandants of the Marine Corps and Coast Guard.”

Soon after joining SNMG-2, Gonzalez participated in the Turkish Navy Invitational Exercise Mavi Balina 2008, which took place off the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. The Turkish Navy invited the ships of the Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG-2) and Pakistani Navy to participate in various naval exercises driven by synthetic tensions between fictionalized opposing forces. The main objective of Mavi Balina was to provide operational training for units and staffs in planning and conducting anti-submarine, anti-surface, and anti-air warfare. The exercise enabled the staff and ships of SNMG-2 to hone their combat skills in a complex multinational environment, better preparing the force for combat operations in support of the NATO Response Force. The exercise also provided an opportunity to strengthen the NATO bonds between warships and their crews, and many Sailors spent time on other ships during the exercise, giving them a chance to see how their NATO shipmates operate on a day-to-day basis. On completion of Mavi Balina and enroute to the port call in Antalya, Turkey, Gonzalez had the unique opportunity to shoot 5” rounds on a live Turkish gunnery range as opposed to a virtual range.

After Mavi Balina 2008, unique opportunities continued to spring up for Gonzalez. First, the destroyer made a rare port call to Volos, Greece; the first U.S. ship to visit Volos in more than seven years. While in Volos, several Gonzalez officers made a journey to see the site of the Battle of Thermopylae, popularized in 2007 in the movie 300, and the ruins of the Temple at Delphi. For Lieutenant Derek Cedars of Denver, Colorado, a history major from the Naval Academy, visiting Thermopylae was a once in a lifetime experience. “It was not my first battlefield visit, having visited many of the American Civil War sites in the Mid-Atlantic region while a Midshipman at the Naval Academy; however it was a great opportunity to visit the site of a major battle that took place over 2,000 years ago. There has been some substantial soil erosion and the current coast is about 20 miles from the original cliffs, but you can still feel the energy and picture the combined Greek Army battling the Persians.”

Upon sailing from Volos and enroute to Haifa, Israel, Gonzalez and the other ships in SNMG-2 participated in a robust underway training program to hone the task force’s air defense and maritime interdiction operations skills. Daily the SNMG-2 ships participated in link and air defense exercises and practice boardings, rotating between the U.S., British, Greek, Italian, German, Turkish, and Dutch ships in the group. On the day prior to pulling into port in Haifa, Gonzalez was selected to serve in a combined exercise with Israeli Navy ships in the Eastern Mediterranean. Although it is not uncommon for U.S. Navy ships to exercise with the Israeli Navy, the PASSEX opportunity was quite historic for NATO ships, the Turkish Flagship Salihreis, and Greek frigate Hydra. The three NATO ships participated in a search and rescue exercise with the INS Lahav and INS Keshet, and upon completion, conducted close-order tactical maneuvering drills and a tactical communications exercise. Once in Haifa, Gonzalez held a damage control exhibition for over fifty Israeli Sailors, including equipment demonstrations on the ship’s flight deck and an internal fire fighting drill. Later, Gonzalez hosted a variety of Israeli Sailors for general tours.

Common amongst all port visits as part of a NATO task force, Gonzalez participated in force receptions, personnel exchange programs, sporting contests, and other forms of positive engagement with both the other NATO ships and host nation community and Navy; all of which are inclusive to the overall maritime strategy of international partnership, camaraderie and fellowship among Sailors. Many Gonzalez Sailors quickly realized they had a lot in common with their foreign shipmates and found themselves looking forward to visiting with their new friends in the next port of call. They were quick to learn that while they may be of different nationalities, they are very much alike, sharing the common bond of being mariners at sea dedicated to their countries and families.

Of course, the port calls have also offered Gonzalez Sailors the opportunity to explore the rich historical cultures of the Mediterranean. Trips sponsored by Gonzalez’ now world-renowned Morale, Welfare, and Recreation committee took Sailors to places from the ancient ruins at Ephesus in Turkey to the holy city of Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, and Nazareth. Operations Specialist Second Class (SW) Travis Holloway from Norfolk, Virginia, noted, “I would never have imagined being fortunate enough to visit Jerusalem if it had not been for the Navy’s operations with NATO. Until recently, not many ships had come here. This was truly the chance of lifetime.”

Thirty days after Gonzalez reported for NATO duty, the SNMG-2 ships sailed from Haifa, and commenced a period of Operation Active Endeavour surge operations, NATO’s maritime security operations in the Mediterranean Sea in support of the global war on terror.
Over the remainder of her current deployment, Gonzalez will continue to serve in SNMG-2, participating as the U.S. Navy representative to the NATO Response Force, supporting the tenents of the Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower. Gonzalez departed her homeport of Norfolk, Virginia in February and expects to return from her routine six-month deployment in August.

USS Gonzalez Joins Standing NATO Maritime Group Two and Makes a Port Visit to Aksaz, Turkey

The Norfolk-based guided missile destroyer USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) joined the ships of Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG-2) on March 6, 2008 while deployed to the 6th Fleet Area of Operations. In addition to Gonzalez, SNMG-2 is currently comprised of warships from Turkey, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Greece, and the Netherlands. SNMG-2’s mission is to provide an operationally ready force while serving as part of the Standing Maritime Element for the NATO Response Force (NRF). The SNMG-2 Task Force is commanded by Rear Admiral Sinan Ertugrul, Turkish Navy, embarked on the flagship, TCG Salihreis. Upon reporting for duty, Gonzalez refueled with the Dutch oiler, HNLMS Amsterdam, and then made a port visit with the other SNMG-2 ships to Aksaz, Turkey in support of exercise Mavi Balina 08.

Exercise Mavi Balina 08 is a Combined Multinational Exercise designed to provide an advanced training opportunity in the various aspects of undersea warfare and submarine to submarine operations in a multinational, intense and complex environment and to improve cooperation and interoperability between the participating units. The ships of SNMG-2 are participating in the exercise at the invitation of the Turkish Navy. In addition to attending pre-sail conferences and syndicate meeting associated with the exercise, the Commanding Officer of Gonzalez, Commander Brian Fort, attended a reception onboard the Pakistani Naval Ship, PNS Tariq. PNS Tariq and PNS Moawin also arrived in Aksaz with the SNMG-2 ships and will join up the force again in Antalya, Turkey at the end of the exercise. Members of the Gonzalez Wardroom and Chiefs Mess also attended a reception onboard the Turkish ship, TCG Kemalreis, which is serving as Flagship for the opposition force during Mavi Balina-08.

While in Aksaz, Gonzalez Sailors enjoyed playing soccer and basketball with Sailors from other SNMG-2 ships. Gonzalez Sailors held their own in basketball, but succumbed to the excellent and fancy footwork of their NATO friends. Most importantly, engagement on the sporting field helped build a sense of camaraderie and fellowship among all players. Gonzalez Sailors also enjoyed liberty in Aksaz and MWR-sponsored trips to Marmaris and the ancient ruins at Ephesus. LTJG Per Lindstrand said, “Ephesus embodied the Turkish identity of East meeting West. The whole crew was amazed by the rich heritage and history of the Turkish culture.”

After departing Aksaz, the ships of SNMG-2 began the underway portion of Exercise Mavi Balina 08. In the final phase of the exercise, the SNMG-2 ships will make a port call in Antalya, Turkey. Gonzalez departed Norfolk on 19 February and expects to return from their routine six-month deployment in August 2008.

USS Gonzalez Begins Deployment with Port Visit to Rota, Spain

USS Gonzalez (DDG-66) completed her first deployment port visit to Rota, Spain from February 29 through March 3. The ship left Norfolk, Virginia on February 19 on a routine six-month deployment to conduct multi-national and maritime security operations in the Mediterranean Sea.

Gonzalez crew members enjoyed spending time ashore in Rota and had the chance to participate in several tours coordinated by the ship’s Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) team. Many Sailors visited the historic cities of Seville and Cordoba, attended an evening flamenco performance, and climbed the Rock of Gibraltar. Ensign Scott Chase, the ship’s MWR Officer, said that “it was overwhelming being able to climb the rock of Gibraltar and look out in the distance to see another continent.” Boatswain’s Mate Third Class Carlos Talavera said “the Flamenco dancers were tremendous, and it was a great chance to experience Spanish culture.”

While moored at Naval Station Rota, Gonzalez Sailors held true to the ship’s motto, “Beyond the Call,” by helping a sister ship with repairs. Gonzalez engineers manufactured a coupling for the fast attack submarine USS Dallas (SSN-700), enabling the submarine to receive potable water from a shore connection. “This attests to the fact that the Navy is a small world and also a family who helps each other out,” said Gas Turbine Systems (Mechanical) First Class Mitchell Couture. Later, Gonzalez and Dallas Sailors welcomed one another onboard for ship and submarine tours, giving them a chance to share sea stories of their respective communities.

Rota was Gonzalez’s first foreign port visit in over eighteen months. The ship will join the Standing NATO Maritime Group (SNMG) Two in March and conduct coalition operations with ships from several NATO countries during the course of deployment.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

USS GONZALEZ Lebanon Evacuation 2006

“I've told the story a couple of times, I'll briefly go over it again, and it just -- it really has touched me. We carry a fair bit of our passengers here in civilian ferries, so we don't only have military transport, but we try and use, of course, as much civilian ferry transport as we can as well. And a few evenings ago, on a ship called the Orient Queen, it had come out of Beirut harbor fairly late in the day and it was making its way to Cyprus. As I mentioned earlier, I believe, we escort these vessels because of the precious nature of the cargo that's on board -- wonderful American citizens, and they are the most precious thing you could possibly image, if course, to us, and we guard them very carefully. So we had escorts guarding the Orient Queen. Normally we keep these escorts at a distance and they're unseen by the civil master of these vessels. They're not generally used to having large American steel that close abeam them. So we keep them out of sight just over the horizon, but still close enough to provide adequate coverage in case the vessel were to be attacked. At any rate, evening was setting, a light fog had rolled in; visibility was not that great. And in the setting rays of the sun that was going down, the USS GONZALEZ steamed out of the mist, close abeam the Orient Queen. And the last rays of the sun flashed upon the stars and bars flying proudly in the breeze. Every American onboard that Orient Queen broke into spontaneous sustained applause and cheering. And I had a Marine abroad who was part of the security detachment, and he got on his phone and he called and he said that that moment when that happened was the most patriotic moment of his life. This is a major in the Marine Corps who's been around the block a couple of times. He said he never felt prouder of being an American at that moment. And I can tell you that I think the American citizens on the Orient Queen never felt prouder themselves to be citizens of the United States.”

Brig. Gen Jensen, CTF 59 during his Pentagon Press Corps interview August, 2006

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hue City

USS HUE CITY (CG 66) and USS GONZALEZ (DDG 66) meet in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Gonzalez is named after Freddy Gonzalez, a Sergeant in the Marine Corps, who was the only individual to be awarded the Medalof Honor during the Battle of Hue City in Vietnam. HUE CITY is returning from a routine six month deployment to the North Arabian Gulf.

Half Way There

Aloha from the EasternMediterranean Sea,The Half-Way Day of ourdeployment has come and gone. While I know there have been some long days at sea and longer days at home, as I look back over the last three months I really wonder were the time has gone. It has been an amazing deployment thus far, and the remarkable men and women of GONZALEZ have answered every call and executed every mission with pride, professionalism,and operational excellence. It is my honor and privilege to serve as Commanding Officer, and I could not be more proud of our Sailors. I have every confidence weare the best ship on the waterfront! Just check our awards, advancements and promotions. My job as Captain could not be easier with the amazing array of talent and skill onboard GONZALEZ. Since the first week of March we have served in the Standing NATO Maritime GroupTwo (SNMG-2) Task Force which currently includes ships from Britain, Germany,Italy, Greece, and Turkey, inaddition to ourselves. We have had the unique opportunity to make port calls inRota Spain; Aksaz and Antalya Turkey; Volos Greece; Haifa Israel; Trieste, Taranto and Nisida Italy; Koper Slovenia; and Palermo Sicily, and we still have more port visits onthe horizon, including possibly the island of Malta,France, Crete and Spain and Italy again. We have also participated in two major MediterraneanExercises, Mavi Balina and Mare Aperto, and done more training in our first three months alone than I can recall having completed on entire deployments. This has been a remarkable deployment experience for the ship, and I hope you havehad the opportunity to read about our missions and successes in our press releases and in Navy News. If not, just give us a Google andyou can read all you want about your Sailors.