By By U.S. Sixth Fleet Public Affairs
The U.S. Sixth Fleet (SIXTHFLT) flagship, USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20), and embarked SIXTHFLT and Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO) staffs, returned to Gaeta, Italy, Nov. 18.
The ship departed Gaeta, Oct. 29, to operate alongside NATO allies and partners in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. These routine operations and exercises conducted in international waters highlight NATO’s commitment to regional peace and stability.
The ship and her crew demonstrated that commitment throughout the underway period, conducting port calls in Istanbul, Turkey; Batumi, Georgia; and Constanta, Romania while sailing alongside the Bulgarian, Romanian, Turkish and Ukrainian Navies and the Georgian Coast Guard in the Black Sea. Mount Whitney entered the Black Sea Nov. 4 and departed Nov. 15.
Vice Adm. Gene Black, commander of SIXTHFLT and STRIKFORNATO, led the combined staff aboard Mount Whitney as they worked to improve interoperability by sharing and refining processes and procedures as a combined staff. The enhanced interoperability this underway provided to SIXTHFLT and STRIKFORNATO sets the stage for future exercises and operations.
"The innovation and hard work accomplished by the combined SIXTHFLT and STRIKFORNATO team is exceptional," said Black. "The flexibility and capacity of each staff to command and control forces separately and as a combined force proves the capability of the NATO Alliance and underscores the importance of the Alliance for the defense of Europe.”
After departing the Black Sea, Mount Whitney performed maneuvers with ships from the Hellenic Navy in the Aegean Sea while fixed-wing aircraft from the Hellenic Air Force flew over the formation. U.S. Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt, National Security Advisor to the Greek Prime Minister Thanos Dokos, Hellenic Chief of Defense Konstantinos Floros, among other Greek and U.S. distinguished visitors, viewed this power of maritime partnership from Mount Whitney.
Greece is a vital NATO ally in the Eastern Mediterranean, and coordination between the U.S. and Greece in this region is critical in addressing security concerns and opportunities in the area. Operating alongside one another in the Aegean Sea is a tangible demonstration of this coordination and the importance of our partnership at sea.
“It's a very special honor for me and our entire U.S. Navy team to welcome Greece's National Security Advisor Dokos, General Floros, Minister Papathanasis, my good friend Captain Prokopiou, and others to this incredible ship to witness the deepening convergence of strategic interests between our countries and the extraordinary potential of our relationship, as demonstrated by the strengthening interoperability of our forces and the outstanding teamwork we've seen today between the U.S. and Hellenic Navies and Air Force,” said Amb. Pyatt. “The United States is strongly committed to taking our relationship with Greece to an even greater heights, accelerating our partnership in the maritime domain and advancing our shared goals for security and prosperity in the Eastern Mediterranean, Western Balkans, Black Sea region and beyond.”
NATO’s presence was felt on the decks of Mount Whitney throughout the underway period, as well as in the operations and port visits the ship conducted with allies and partners in the region. NATO allies and partners stand together to ensure a safe, stable and secure Europe, building partner capacity to improve effectiveness and interoperability
"The STRIKFORNATO and SIXTHFLT team have shown how capable we are when we work together as a combined battle staff and with our NATO allies and partners,” said Rear Adm. James Morley, Deputy Commander, STRIKFORNATO. “We have had the privilege to engage with a host of these allies and partners during this underway.”
Mount Whitney, homeported in 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.