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Military, government officials mark start of Sea Breeze 2017

July 10, 2017 at 4:26 PM UTC
U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet Public Affairs

Military members from 16 nations, along with local government officials, gathered July 10, 2017, in Odessa to mark the start of the 17th iteration of Sea Breeze, a U.S. and Ukraine co-hosted multinational maritime exercise.

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The exercise, held in the Black Sea, is designed to enhance the interoperability of participating nations and strengthen maritime security in the region.

Nearly 3,000 service members, including 800 U.S. Sailors, Soldiers and Marines, are participating in Sea Breeze 2017, the largest and most complex version of the exercise to date.

“We are all stronger together,” said Navy Capt. Tate Westbrook, the commander of U.S. 6th Fleet's Task Force 65 and of the U.S. forces on scene. “We will finish this exercise all smarter, all better, and more prepared as a team and as individual navies.”

Other speakers at the opening ceremonies included Vice Adm. Ihor Voronchenko, the commander of the Ukrainian Navy and Ukrainian Navy Capt. Oleksii Neizhpapa, the Ukrainian exercise director.

“Our task ... is to fight as one team,” Neizhpapa said. “The joint force will have the number one goal: to secure the neighborhood.”

U.S. forces participating in Sea Breeze include the guided-missile cruiser USS Hue City (CG 66), the guided-missile destroyer USS Carney (DDG 64), plus a P-8 Poseidon from Maritime Patrol Squadron (VP) 16 and other units.

International forces include surface units from Georgia, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine; a submarine from Turkey; and land forces and dive teams from a variety of nations, including Georgia, Romania and Ukraine.

In a post-ceremony news conference with dozens of reporters, Neizhpapa and Westbrook explained the “free-play” concept, an important feature of Sea Breeze 2017.

Westbrook compared regular participation in military exercises to the development of a sports team, with early drills on fundamentals followed by opportunities to respond to unscripted challenges. The Ukrainian and other Black Sea navies are operating at a level of proficiency, he said.

Recent events have not weakened commitments, Westbrook said. Instead, they have drawn allies and partners closer together in support of the international community.

“The ships of my squadron will continue to operate in the Black Sea to reassure our partners,” he said. “We are here to stay.”

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