By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Krystina Coffey
From March 30 through April 5, 2018, the U.S. 6th Fleet Blue Ridge-class command and control ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20) hosted six sailors from Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon and Nigeria, Gabon. This was part of a foreign exchange program in conjunction with exercise Obangame Express 2018 to facilitate building bonds within West Africa and the U.S.
Sponsored by U.S. Africa Command, Obangame Express is designed to improve regional cooperation, maritime domain awareness, information-sharing practices, and tactical interdiction expertise to enhance the collective capabilities of Gulf of Guinea nations to counter sea-based illicit activity. The exercise took place March 21-29 and included an in-port command post exercise as well as an underway field training exercise in the Gulf of Guinea.
“It was a great opportunity for sharing ways to ensure maritime cooperation in the Gulf of Guinea to fight illegal trafficking, piracy, illegal fishing, and other illegal activities at sea,” said Lt. j.g. Jacques Eddy Serge Delicat, from Gabon.
Mount Whitney, forward-deployed to Gaeta, Italy, operates with a combined crew of U.S. Navy Sailors and Military Sealift Command (MSC) civil service mariners. Lt. j.g. Djaiblond Dominique-Yohann Kouakou from Côte d’Ivoire said his military doesn’t have civilians and military working together on ships like Mount Whitney. “The ship works well with civilians,” he said. “They work hand-in-hand like one crew.”
When the sailors came aboard Mount Whitney March 30, Kouakou said he felt immediately welcomed by friendly faces and greetings.
One of the friendly faces was Dan “the man” Thomas, an MSC civil service mariner. Thomas led tours around the deck department, showing Mount Whitney’s guests the forecastle, flight deck, paint locker, and a rigid-hull inflatable boat.
“It was a great experience!” said Kouakou. “We saw how the different departments work at sea and can compare it to how we do things back home and improve.” Dan and the sailors discussed specific ways to paint the deck, preventing rust and adding non-skid or anti-slip additives.
Lt. Jeremy Causey and Lt. Steven Nieto, assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 28, showed the foreign sailors around their MH-60S Sea Hawk on the flight deck. With Lt. Cmdr. Ayi Ekpo Archibong from Nigeria in the pilot seat, Causey explained how the buttons, levers, and knobs within the aircraft function.
Mount Whitney is on a deployment to the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility in support of the international collaborative capacity-building program Africa Partnership Station (APS), U.S. Naval Forces Africa’s flagship maritime security cooperation program. The focus of APS is to build maritime safety and security by increasing maritime domain awareness, response capabilities and infrastructure.