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.

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