By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan U. Kledzik
Sailors assigned to the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Oscar Austin (DDG 79) participated in a personnel exchange with the Lithuanian Vidar-class minelayer LNS Jotvingis (N42), Sept. 25, 2017.
Two Sailors from each ship embarked on their foreign counterpart’s ship for a day at sea, referred to in naval terminology as ‘crossdecking,’ to strengthen the enduring relationship with Lithuanian naval forces, and as an opportunity to learn about the culture of each other’s navies.
"This is a very significant opportunity for Sailors of both nationalities," said Cmdr. Janice Smith, commanding officer of Oscar Austin. "Crossdecking provides Sailors the chance to not only learn from each other, but to truly experience what a day underway in another country’s navy is like."
After a ride in Jotvingis’ rigid-hull inflatable boat (RHIB) across the Baltic Sea, Oscar Austin Sailors climbed aboard Jotvingis and were led to the ship’s bridge where they were introduced to the Commanding Officer, Lt. Jevgenij Vidiajev.
Vidiajev and the Jotvingis’ Executive Officer, Lt. Arunas Katauskas, provided a warm welcome to Ensign Wilman Martinez and Ship’s Serviceman 3rd Class Jesus Rodriguez, the two Oscar Austin Sailors chosen to tour the Lithuanian ship. After a gift exchange, Vidiajev and Katauskas gave the Oscar Austin Sailors a glimpse into the day-to-day operations of the ship’s bridge.
"It’s interesting to see how similar their ship’s bridge operates to ours,” said Martinez. “I also found it surprising that either their commanding officer or executive officer must be on the bridge at all times.”
Following the tour of the bridge, the two Oscar Austin Sailors were led through various engineering, weapons, and crew spaces by Lt. Julius Dziaugys, the ship’s chief engineer. Dziaugys explained the interworkings of the ship’s mine laying capabilities, elaborated on the functionality of the ship’s main engines, and toured the ship’s mess areas, providing a glimpse into the daily life of a Lithuanian sailor.
“Seeing the Jotvingis was amazing,” said Rodriguez. “I didn’t realize how similar everything would have been, with the exception of the language written on the signs. Even down to the sailors playing video games in their down time on the mess decks.”
Following the tour of Jotvingis, the Oscar Austin Sailors were treated to refreshments in the officer’s mess while waiting for their ride from Oscar Austin to come and pick them up.
As a RHIB full of American Sailors arrived alongside Jotvingis, the interoperability between the two navies was apparent. Although they were navigating rough seas and a language barrier, the personnel transfer went off without a hitch and the Oscar Austin Sailors safely returned to their ship.
“It was a great opportunity to learn from the Lithuanian Sailors,” said Martinez. “I hope I get the opportunity to do this again, as it was a great chance to strengthen the bonds between two allied countries.”