By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Scott Barnes
The Blue Ridge-class command and control ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20) returned to its homeport in Gaeta, Italy, after a two-month underway June 30, 2021.
During the underway, the Mount Whitney took part in Exercises Steadfast Defender 2021 and Baltic Operations 50 (BALTOPS 50).
Steadfast Defender 2021 was a collective defense exercise based on an NATO Article 5 scenario designed to deter aggression and respond to crisis if necessary. The exercise enhanced alliance security by maintaining NATO’s broad range of interoperability and military capabilities in order to deter potential adversaries and assure allies of NATO’s ability to defend sea lanes.
"Team 20 provided incredible support to Joint Forces Command Norfolk and Commander Second Fleet, providing persistent and reliable command, control, and communications, which enabled the successful execution of Steadfast Defender '21,” said Capt. David Pollard, commanding officer of Mount Whitney. “The Alliance proved we could secure strategic sea lines of communication, ensure transatlantic security, and reinforce Europe with North American supplies and personnel."
As part of Steadfast Defender, the Mount Whitney embarked staff from Joint Forces Command Norfolk and U.S. Second Fleet, including Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, commander, Joint Force Command Norfolk (JFCNF), and commander, U.S. Second Fleet as well as Canadian Rear Adm. Steve Waddell, vice commander, U.S. Second Fleet.
Upon completion of Steadfast Defender 2021, the Mount Whitney conducted a scheduled port visit to Oslo, Norway where the crew participated in a wreath laying ceremony at”Orlogsgasten,” a monument that was unveiled in Oslo Harbor by His Majesty King Harald V on Sept. 3, 1992 after an initiative started by the Norwegian Naval Veterans society with support from private persons and organizations.
"The United States and Norway are close NATO allies and collaborate on a wide range of issues important to both nations and to the rest of the Alliance,” said Pollard. “Allied logistics operations in Norway, evidenced through USS Mount Whitney’s routine visit to Oslo, builds upon Norway’s ability to receive Allied reinforcements and is critical to credible deterrence and transatlantic security.”
While in Oslo, after disembarking Joint Forces Command Norfolk and U.S. Second Fleet, the Mount Whitney embarked staff from U.S. Sixth Fleet, Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO, Expeditionary Strike Group Two, and 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade including Rear Adm. Robert Katz, commander, Expeditionary Strike Group Two, Brig. Gen. Marcus Annibale, Chief of Staff, Naval Strike Force and Support Forces NATO, and U.S. Marine Corps Col. Anthony Hendserson, Commanding General, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade for BALTOPS 50.
BALTOPS 50 is an annual international maritime-led joint exercise including 16 NATO allies and two partner nations demonstrating the ability of the alliance to contribute to deterring and if required defeating aggression.
“Every BALTOPS we increase our capabilities as an Alliance, maintaining an asymmetric advantage,” said Capt. Pollard, “Our logistics stop in Kiel enables continued presence in the Baltic and reinforces the bonds we build at sea.”
After completing BALTOPS 50, the Mount Whitney visited Kiel, Germany. While in port, Mount Whitney hosted the German head of Navy, Vice Adm. Kay-Achim Schönbach, during his meeting with Vice Adm. Gene Black, commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet and commander, Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO.
Following the meeting, Standing NATO Mine Countermeasure Group 1 (SNMCMG1) conducted an operational hand over from Dutch Cmdr. Jan Wijchers to U.S. Capt. Sam Brasfield. This is the first time that the U.S. has led one of the four standing NATO groups, demonstrating resolve and commitment in supporting NATO.