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.

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