Originally at: http://www.navycompass.com/news/newsview.asp?c=163941
USS ANTIETAM, at sea – USS Antietam (CG 54), a cruiser equipped with the Aegis Combat System, has patrolled the Persian Gulf since arriving on scene with the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) Carrier Strike Group in mid-March.
The ship was a vital cog for the strike group as they conducted maritime security operations (MSO) and supported the coalition efforts in the region.
Among the numerous operations conducted by Antietam in the Persian Gulf were Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) operations and protection of vital assets such as Iraqi oil platforms and Carl Vinson. Antietam is also responsible for the air defense operations for the Carl Vinson Strike Group.
“Our basic goal in this domain was to set the conditions so that the bad guys don’t get to use [the Gulf] to transport people or materials,” said Antietam Commanding Officer Capt. E.J. Quinn. “While at the same time, we protect Carl Vinson, whose air wing is working to protect our troops ashore.”
The VBSS operations conducted by Antietam are two-fold in purpose. First, the searches act as a deterrent against coalition enemies to transport personnel or weapons to insurgent forces in Iraq or elsewhere. Secondly, the visits are intended to create an atmosphere of trust between coalition forces and the regional seafaring community, demonstrating the coalition forces’ respect for Arab culture.
“What we are doing is literally visiting the local fishermen to create a connection between these mariners and the coalition,” said Quinn. “We launch our small boats, which have teams that include interpreters, and those teams establish a rapport with the fishermen. We ask them if they need any assistance, and we often pass out water or working gloves, and tell them how they can contact us if they need anything.”
Another aspect of VBSS operations is searching large commercial vessels for weapons or terrorists. Antietam’s boarding teams have conducted hundreds of VBSS operations while serving in the Persian Gulf, including one arduous day where the teams visited 37 local fishing dhows.
“This is important work, and everyone on these boarding teams has been very motivated throughout our time in the Gulf,” said VBSS Coordinator, Senior Chief Gunner’s Mate James Delisle.
Though faced with operations that expanded the ship’s traditional air defense mission, the crew of Antietam has performed at the highest level, according to its skipper.
“[The crew] know why they’re here,” said Quinn. “They know that what we’re doing is much more than just another day’s work. This was a Sailor’s deployment. This crew has been working 24/7 under some pretty tough conditions. This is a warship acting like a warship. This is American Sailors doing their job – and doing it spectacularly.”
Beyond the operational successes achieved by the Antietam crew, another aspect of their performance speaks to their professionalism.
“We’ve had zero liberty incidents on this deployment, which is a testament to Antietam’s Sailors realizing the need to represent the best of America and to be positive ambassadors. Our crew knows this is also a vital mission, and they’ve conducted themselves accordingly,” said Command Master Chief CMDCM James Colbert.
Antietam also had the historic distinction of serving as the flagship for Royal Australian Navy (RAN) Commodore Steve Gilmore, commander, Task Force (CTF) 58 and his staff of approximately 20 RAN personnel. This marks the first time since World War II that an Australian coalition commander had led a combined task group in operations, and Antietam became the first U.S. Navy cruiser to operate as a task force flagship for a permanently-embarked coalition commander.
The Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group is currently deployed to the Central Command area of operations.
The Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group includes Carrier Strike Group 3, Carrier Air Wing 9, Destroyer Squadron 31, the guided-missile cruiser Antietam, the guided-missile destroyers USS O’Kane (DDG 77) and USS Mustin (DDG 89), and the fast combat support ship USS Camden (AOE 2).
MSO set the conditions for security and stability in the maritime environment, as well as complement the counter-terrorism and security efforts of regional nations.
MSO deny international terrorists use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons or other material.