Thursday, June 26, 2008

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.

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