The amphibious transport dock ship USS New York (LPD 21), boarded two vessels, one compliant and one non-compliant, during Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) Dec. 14.
New York is part of the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), including Amphibious Squadron 8, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) and the amphibious dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44).
COMPTUEX is a major requirement for the ARG pre-deployment certification that evaluates an ARG’s ability to deploy and conduct major combat operations, with New York focusing heavily on maritime security and ensuring their team is prepared for anything.
“We take Sailors from the ship and train them to assist in maritime security operations,” said New York Operations Officer Lt. Rebecca Domzalski, from Great Quarters, S.C. “Essentially we are taking those Sailors, placing them on a small dhow and other boats on the high seas. Once aboard, they check for smuggled weapons, illicit drugs and human trafficking in accordance with international laws and enforcing U.N. sanctions.”
Both Navy Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) and Marine Expanded Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (EVBSS) teams carried out various training scenarios, with both compliant and non-compliant mariners.
“The difference between VBSS and EVBSS – EVBSS is more of a tactical mission. VBSS is used for vessels that are compliant and don’t mind us coming on board to search,” said Domzalski. “EVBSS is for those vessels that don’t want to be boarded, for example, the piracy operations, where the pirates take the vessel and refuse to stop, so our forces that are more experienced tactically go aboard.”
Although the primary mission of the VBSS team is searching for wrongdoers, while deployed, they are also tasked with the objective of building positive relationships and promoting peace.
“VBSS teams must be prepared for various situations. One mission specific to a certain region is the Approach and Assist Visit (AAV),” said Domzalski. “AAV is where they go to boats in the area and talk to people in the vicinity. They shake hands, see if there is any information. They try and build good relations.”
New York and her crew are both new to the open seas and the deployment challenges that await them. COMPTUEX is a transition exercise designed to bring ships into real-life scenarios.
“Our VBSS team is made up of both experienced and inexperienced people, some who have never deployed before,” said Domzalski. “The guys were given a lot of in-scenario missions because they need to get used to walking on to a vessel and seeing what it’s going be like and talk to people in character and deal with language barriers.”
The team progressed through different levels of training. From the bottom, where they experienced proper boarding techniques, to more advanced levels of training, where they dealt with a prize crew by assuming command of the vessel and driving it to the next port.
“We were tasked with two operations yesterday, counter piracy and escort ops,” said Ensign Jeremy Wellens, VBSS team Boarding Officer. “The first was a counterpiracy mission, where a motor vessel was attacked by four small boats and in that situation, our mere presence was enough for the boats to stand down. The second we found illicit materials on board, and at that point, the boat was seized.
“The lesson my team and I learned was, there is no one way to do something,” said Wellens. “In the situations we face, we have to trust our instincts.”
The Iwo Jima ARG is currently underway for COMPTUEX with a scheduled deployment in spring 2012.
Naval Today Staff, December 21, 2011; Image: navy