By MC2 Kaila Peters
U.S. Sixth Fleet (SIXTHFLT) and Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO) staff embarked SIXTHFLT command and control ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20), Oct. 29, 2021.
During the underway, Mount Whitney and the embarked staffs will operate alongside NATO allies and partners in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, working together to ensure security and stability in the region. Operating and exercising together demonstrates NATO’s commitment to maintaining freedom of navigation in international waters for all nations.
The opportunity for the combined staff to operate together enhances interoperability by allowing the staffs to share processes and procedures, while training simultaneously from the same location in pursuit of a common goal. Training collectively also increases coordination with NATO allies and partners at the fleet level, and sets the stage for future operations and exercises.
Vice Adm. Gene Black wears two hats as commander SIXTHFLT and STRIKFORNATO. The continuity of having one commander for the two commands complements the flexibility and unique capacity that each command brings to the NATO Alliance.
"SIXTHFLT and STRIKFORNATO continue to prove their ability to seamlessly integrate U.S. and NATO forces in support of high-end operations and exercises," said Black. "The knowledge and expertise of my combined staff highlights the power of our NATO Alliance. I look forward to taking this team to sea, continuing to enhance our teamwork and our collective capacity to command and control forces.”
In June, STRIKFORNATO hosted the 50th iteration of the Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) exercise, attesting to the efficiency and capability inherent in the command structures of STRIKFORNATO and SIXTHFLT. BALTOPS validated interoperability concepts between the two staffs, which will continue during this embark.
Most recently, STRIKFORNATO participated as NATO Headquarters in the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) Strike Group's Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX), Oct. 16-18. The Strike Group Units trained on NATO procedures, communications and policy in order to better prepare the ships, aircraft and staff for their upcoming carrier deployment.
"The STRIKFORNATO staff is very much looking forward to embarking on USS Mount Whitney and training and operating with U.S. Sixth Fleet as we would in crisis and conflict," said Rear Adm. James Morley, deputy commander, STRIKFORNATO.
The SIXTHFLT staff previously embarked Mount Whitney in August for Large Scale Exercise (LSE) 2021. LSE 2021 is part of an on-going series of exercises that demonstrates the U.S. Navy’s ability to employ precise, lethal and overwhelming force globally across three naval component commands, five numbered fleets and 17 time zones.
Mount Whitney, forward deployed to Gaeta, Italy operates with a combined crew of Sailors and Military Sealift Command civil service mariners in the SIXTHFLT area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe and Africa.
STRIKFORNATO, headquartered in Oeiras, Portugal, is Supreme Allied Commander Europe's (SACEUR) premier, rapidly deployable and flexible, maritime power projection Headquarters, capable of planning and executing full spectrum joint maritime operations, primarily through the integration of U.S. naval and amphibious forces, in order to provide assurance, deterrence and collective defense for the Alliance.
SIXTHFLT, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners, in order to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa.