By Lt. j.g. Dino Teppara
Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 28 is conducting flight operations from the Blue Ridge-class command and control ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20) in support of exercise Obangame Express 2018 (OE 18). OE 18 is a regional U.S. Navy exercise sponsored by U.S. Africa Command to improve interoperability and cooperation among the maritime forces of Gulf of Guinea nations, Europe, and North and South America.
Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 28, stationed at Naval Station Norfolk, is conducting flight operations from the USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20) in support of exercise Obangame Express 2018, the largest regional maritime exercise in West Africa.
The eight-day exercise, sponsored by U.S. Africa Command, focuses on countering the trafficking of illegal arms and drugs, human trafficking, illegal migration, piracy, and illegal fishing. Additionally, maritime interdiction operations and search and rescue training are incorporated as part of the exercise.
HSC-28, known as the “Dragon Whales,” actively deploy with the Second, Fifth and Sixth Fleets to provide critical mission support. Their capabilities include search and rescue operations, cargo and passenger transport, and fleet support to Navy, Air Force, and Army units along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. The squadron consists of 14 aircraft, 267 enlisted Sailors, and 51 officers.
“We are very excited to be here with the crew of the Mount Whitney supporting OE 18,” said Lt. Cmdr. Richard Shiels, officer in charge, HSC-28, Detachment 1. “This is an opportunity for us to showcase the seamless integration of our flight operations with the ship and offer our support. We know that this is an incredibly important exercise for the Navy and our friends in the Gulf of Guinea. Our presence here in West Africa demonstrates our commitment to the region and improving maritime security on a long-term basis.”
Mount Whitney operates with a combined crew of more than 300 Sailors and Military Sealift Command civil service mariners. The ship’s forward operating presence in the Gulf of Guinea represents the U.S. Navy’s commitment to support West African nations in countering illegal activities at sea while expanding training opportunities and cooperation among regional maritime forces.
The goals of OE 18 are to provide participating maritime forces the opportunity to work together and share information, as well as refine tactics, techniques, and procedures in order to assist Gulf of Guinea nations with monitoring their territorial waters and exclusive economic zones. The exercise takes place from March 21-29, and encompasses an in-port command post exercise and an underway field training exercise.
The 31 nations scheduled to participate in OE 2018 include Angola, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Canada, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, France, Gabon, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Morocco, Namibia, Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Spain, Togo, Turkey and the United States, as well as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).