By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Michael H. Lehman
Twenty-five midshipmen embarked the Harpers Ferry-class dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51) during exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2018 for a summer training surface warfare cruise, June 2.
The midshipmen summer training program provides U.S. Naval Academy and college Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) midshipmen the opportunity to experience the daily lives of officer and enlisted Sailors in the fleet while executing their mission at sea.
Throughout the training program, midshipmen had the opportunity to observe and participate in various evolutions, including getting underway from Klaipeda, Lithuania, deck landing qualifications with U.S. and international helicopters, and amphibious operations with the 350 embarked Marines and their equipment.
The midshipmen also took part in a distinguished visitor day in which Vice Adm. Lisa M. Franchetti, commander, U.S. 6th Fleet and commander, Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO, and Dalia Grybauskaite, the president of Lithuania, came aboard Oak Hill to observe an amphibious assault demonstration during BALTOPS.
Despite the high-speed tempo of this joint, multi-national NATO exercise, Franchetti took time to speak with the midshipmen following the amphibious assault demonstration.
“There is no doubt that you won the lottery when it comes to midshipmen cruises,” said Franchetti. “At the tactical level, you are underway in the Baltic Sea on an amphibious ship, conducting amphibious operations with our NATO allies. Operationally, you are able to work with our allies and partners in a strategically important area of the world.”
Franchetti said that no matter what service the midshipmen select upon commissioning, they will now have a better insight into the Navy’s joint, combined capability as a result of their time on Oak Hill during BALTOPS.
“The president of Lithuania and other foreign nationals came aboard the ship,” said Midshipman 3rd Class Moses Tauteoli, from Salt Lake City. “Being able to see everyone work together and execute the mission has been an eye-opening experience.”
Upon arrival to Oak Hill, the midshipmen were paired with “running mates” – junior officers and exceptional enlisted Sailors to help train them and provide mentorship.
“The midshipmen being paired with enlisted Sailors gives them the opportunity to be on the deck plates with us and see first-hand what we do on a day-to-day basis,” said Engineman 2nd Class Jakob Armstrong, from Mattoon, Illinois. “It makes me feel good knowing that I had a hand in molding a future division officer who will lead Sailors just like me.”
The running mates are one of the many important pieces of the overall framework designed to make the most of the limited time that midshipmen will spend on Oak Hill before returning to the U.S. for other training and summer leave.
“We built a robust schedule of events that encompasses several question and answer sessions, ship tours, training briefs and various leadership opportunities,” said Lt. j.g. Kevin Banks, the training officer aboard Oak Hill. “Every officer aboard Oak Hill helped shape the program into a positive and insightful experience for our midshipmen.”
Cmdr. Rod Jacobo, the executive officer of Oak Hill, hosted nightly leadership lessons with the midshipmen.
“Even with all the operations going on, the executive officer has taken the time to meet with us every night to ensure we are having a productive training cruise,” said Tauteoli. “Other officers aboard the ship have come to us and shared their stories and what they have learned, so when we enter the fleet we can put our best foot forward.”
Tauteoli said that this cruise has helped him determine where to focus his studies and what to do with his remaining time at the U.S. Naval Academy to help support the enlisted Sailors he will eventually lead.
“Seeing the leadership of the officers and understanding that the crew is the most important aspect of any ship are the single greatest experiences I have gotten from this program,” said Tauteoli.
BALTOPS is the premier annual maritime-focused exercise in the Baltic region and one of the largest exercises in Northern Europe enhancing flexibility and interoperability among allied and partner nations.
Oak Hill is deployed in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations conducting naval operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe and Africa to enhance capability and interoperability with our allies and partners in the region.
The Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group embarks the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit and includes the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), the San Antonio-class transport dock ship USS New York (LPD 21), Oak Hill (LSD 51), Fleet Surgical Team 4 and 8, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 28, Tactical Air Control Squadron (TACRON) 22, components of Naval Beach Group 2 and the embarked staff of commander, Amphibious Squadron 4.