By Lt. Cmdr. Eric Dobson, USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20)
“Moored. Shift colors.” - Those words, heard countless times throughout the fleet, would normally signify nothing especially auspicious, just the end of another voyage. But, when they were used on the Blue Ridge-class command and control ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20) at the end of its final underway of 2018, they capped off the end of an amazing year for the ship.
During the previous year, Mount Whitney achieved staggering numbers for ports visited, dignitaries hosted, and exercises and events executed, including sailing enough miles to circle the globe more than two times. From the Levant to the Atlantic, from the Equator to the Arctic, from the Black Sea to the Baltic, in 2018 Mount Whitney was there.
As flagship for both the commander, U.S. 6th Fleet and commander, Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO, Mount Whitney’s mission is to serve as afloat command post in the event of major events in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations.
Commissioned in 1971, the ship has been modernized several times over its lifespan, to include the newly installed Consolidated Afloat Network Enterprise System (CANES) network architecture. Now armed with the latest network technology, Mount Whitney and its 300-strong hybrid crew of both Navy and Military Sealift Command (MSC) personnel can deliver operational and administrative information to embarked staffs better, and faster than ever before. Through the Service Life Extension Program, the Mount Whitney can be depended on to meet the mission until the year 2039.
Mount Whitney’s busy schedule put those capabilities to the test throughout 2018.
“People still hear ‘Mount Whitney’ and think ‘Building 20,’ said Capt. Robert Aguilar, commanding officer of Mount Whitney. “Nothing could be further from the truth. We go to so many places and sail as many miles as any warship in the fleet… sometimes more. It’s truly amazing what this crew is asked to do. Team Mount Whitney delivers every time.”
Many Civil Service Mariners choose to return to Mount Whitney even after their time aboard.
“I look forward to each assignment because it’s a different platform and mission than the rest of our GOGO [Government Owned and Government Operated] ships,” said Civil Service Mariner Brad Musselman, a cargo mate aboard the ship.
During 2018, Mount Whitney participated in seven exercises and supported multiple key leader engagement events: Juniper Cobra ’18, Exercise Obangame Express, Steadfast Cobalt ’18, BALTOPS ’18, Seabreeze ’18, the Thessaloniki International Fair, and Trident Juncture ’18. These exercises and events demonstrated Mount Whitney’s ability to support command and control of joint service and multinational units during sustained operations in locations from the West Coast of Africa all the way to the Arctic Circle.
Mount Whitney steamed 39,940 nautical miles during 2018, a distance more than one-and-a-half times the circumference of the Earth. Add in loitering steaming at exercise locations and the number is well over 40,000 miles covered.
“Being the helmsman while in a 30-ship formation with our NATO allies was one of the highlights of my life,” said Civil Service Mariner Steve Meissgeier, who piloted the ship during BALTOPS 18.
During the year, Mount Whitney sailors earned the coveted Emerald Shellback for crossing the equator at the Prime Meridian; the Realm of the Czars for transiting the Bosporus Strait; and the Blue Nose for crossing the Arctic Circle.
The list of ports Mount Whitney visited would read like an enviable itinerary from a vacation planner: Naples, Italy; Haifa, Israel; Rota, Spain; Gabon, West Africa; Dakar, Senegal; Rijeka, Croatia; Lisbon, Portugal; Klaipeda, Lithuania; Kiel, Germany; Odessa, Ukraine; Athens, Greece; Thessaloniki, Greece; Theule Sur Mer, France; and Trondheim, Norway.
Mount Whitney hosted three diplomatic visits in 2018, to include the presidents of Ukraine and Lithuania. Additionally, Mount Whitney welcomed U.S. Ambassadors, allied and partner ambassadors, and numerous flag Officers.
Mount Whitney Sailors participated in community outreach and volunteer events across Europe and Africa, building bridges and forging ties between the U.S. and our friends and partners across Europe and Africa. They work hard, go the extra mile, and truly excel at everything.
Sailors aboard Mount Whitney achieved 75 Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist qualifications, 54 Enlisted Aviation Warfare Specialist qualifications, and 42 Enlisted Information Warfare Specialist qualifications.
During the year, 62 Mount Whitney Sailors were promoted to the next rank, five of which through the Meritorious Advancement Program.
“Those are truly astounding numbers, and are a testament to the quality of our Sailors,” said Mount Whitney Command Master Chief Andrew Hochgraver.
In addition to the earned recognition of its Sailors, Mount Whitney was the recipient of the 2018 Retention Excellence Award, the “Golden Anchor”.
“I am very proud of this crew – Team Mount Whitney,” said Aguilar. “Over the past 12 months Mount Whitney has executed its originally planned deployment schedule with several no-notice and short fused taskers to round out the year. Mount Whitney spent nearly 8-months away from homeport. It sailed enough miles to circle the Earth twice, promoted more than 36% of the crew to the next higher pay grade, operated in the North and South Hemisphere, marked significant navigational milestones at the equator and Arctic Circle, and participated in the largest NATO exercise since the Cold War, all while providing the embarked commander uninterrupted global communications. I would challenge any officer, chief petty officer, or Sailor who wants early responsibility, to operate on the tip-of-the-spear, and contribute to our nation’s strategy in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations to take orders to Mount Whitney.”
“In all I believe it to be a rewarding challenge of the hybrid crew that makes the USS Mount Whitney the best ship in the fleet! Every day we have something new,” said Musselman.
Mount Whitney had a truly remarkable year in 2018, and 2019 promises more of the same for the ship. With new opportunities and challenges on the horizon, Mount Whitney and its crew stand ready to live up to the ship’s motto, “VOX MARIS” – the voice of the sea.