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By Lt. j. g. Sarah Claudy and Lt. j. g. Teresa Meadows
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile Aegis destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) recently concluded operations in the Barents Sea as part of a second mission above the Arctic Circle, May 11, 2020.
Donald Cook operated above the Arctic Circle as part of a Surface Action Group (SAG) with fellow Forward-Deployed Naval Forces-Europe (FDNF-E) ships USS Porter (DDG 78) and USS Roosevelt (DDG 80). NATO partner Royal Navy frigate HMS Kent (F 78) also participated in the operation, while USNS Supply (T-AOE 6) provided logistics support.
This was Donald Cook’s second visit to the Arctic in less than a year. In October 2019, the crew operated in the High North for the first time, followed a historic port visit to the Faroe Islands. The 2019 Arctic trip prepared the crew for its recent operations in the Barents Sea.
After the ship’s first visit to the Arctic, Cmdr. Kelley Jones, commanding officer of Donald Cook, spoke with Admiral James G. Foggo III, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa, during a podcast interview.
“What distinguishes [U.S.] 6th Fleet from other areas of the world is that it's a relatively small geographical space, where we encounter diverse operations, operational environments, and regional actors,” said Jones.
In the podcast, she referred to experiences working with Black Sea partners and being shadowed by Russian forces. While 6th Fleet operations can certainly still be described as diverse, it seems that High North ventures are quickly becoming part of the Fleet’s routine.
As Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 60’s veteran Blue Nose, or a ship that has crossed north of the Arctic Circle, Donald Cook had several lessons learned for first-time Blue Noses Porter and Roosevelt. The first, and most obvious, was to dress for the weather. Temperatures in the Arctic are much colder than crewmembers are used to, especially compared to the weather in their homeport of Rota, Spain. The average air temperature for the Arctic operations was 38 degrees Fahrenheit, while water temperature remained near 35 degrees. To protect from the cold and snow, most lookouts opted to wear full-body insulated jumpsuits, called “pumpkin suits” due to their bright orange color.
Donald Cook’s team also improved upon off-ship communications capabilities. At such high latitudes, satellite coverage presents many challenges in the communications arena, as Donald Cook experienced during her first Arctic visit. A major difference between the destroyer’s first and second visits, however, was the necessity to establish communications between the SAG vessels. The ships of DESRON 60 primarily conduct independent operations, so establishing reliable circuits between the units comprising the SAG provided great training and demonstrated how effective ships can be as a group. It was one of the many ways Donald Cook benefitted from the multi-ship training experience.
Even with Donald Cook’s previous experience in the High North, ship life above the 66th parallel still comes with new and sometimes bizarre experiences. In contrast to the early sunsets and late sunrises during Donald Cook’s Arctic visit in October, sunsets and sunrises this May were almost non-existent. A quartermaster remarked that there were no sunset or sunrise times indicated in the astronomical data software used onboard for navigation.
The crew had mixed reactions to the virtually constant daylight, with some watch-standers enjoying the extra hours and others missing their usual sunsets.
“It completely confused me to have bright daylight during the midnight to 3 a.m. watch,” said Boatswain’s Mate Seaman Onyx Maldonado. “It helped me stay awake, though!”
After the SAG operations, but before leaving the Arctic Circle, Donald Cook held a traditional Blue Nose ceremony to induct crewmembers who were not aboard during the last Arctic visit. Sailors who had never before sailed into the Arctic completed a series of challenges that ended with “Aurora, Queen of Snows,” played by Jones, painting their noses blue and deeming them official Blue Noses.
During his podcast conversation with Jones, Foggo related his own experience with the Blue Nose ceremony.
“Your story about Blue Nose and the Arctic Circle north of 66, it's compelling because I did that on my first boat,” said Foggo. “I still have the certificate framed on the wall of my study.”
The SAG’s presence in the Barents Sea was a tangible reinforcement of the United States’ commitment to regional security and stability. U.K. involvement also made the operation a demonstration of NATO interoperability and mutual growing interest in the High North region.
Donald Cook, forward-deployed to Rota, Spain, is on its 10th patrol in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe.
U.S. 6th Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied, joint, and interagency partners, in order to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa.