By Petty Officer 1st Class Fred Gray IV
The Lewis B. Puller-class expeditionary sea base USS Hershel “Woody” Williams (ESB 4) participated in visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) training evolutions as part of exercise Phoenix Express 2022 (PE22) in the Mediterranean Sea, from May 29 - June 1, 2022.
During the VBSS training scenarios, Hershel “Woody” Williams served as a target vessel for participating allied and partner nations, including Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia and Italy.
“Phoenix Express is an important training exercise with our partners in the Mediterranean, and allows us to build upon our collective strength and resolve to improve maritime domain awareness and enhanced security efforts,” said Capt. Chad Graham, commanding officer of the Hershel “Woody” Williams Blue military crew. “Past crews, embarked forces and partner nations aboard Hershel “Woody” Williams have seen first-hand the success that comes from the expertise shared during the Express series exercises between our partner and allied nations.”
VBSS evolutions are specifically tailored to assess participating nation’s procedures and feature training scenarios including drug-smuggling, arms trafficking, human trafficking, and illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
“Successful events, such as the drug-smuggling interdiction led by Sierra Leone, is truly an all-hands effort,” said Graham. “The training and scenarios that are utilized throughout PE22 help better prepare all participating nations to better combat sea-based illicit activity, and vastly improve interoperability and readiness postures.”
In February, Hershel “Woody” Williams’ Gold military crew and embarked maritime forces from Senegal, Cabo Verde, and Sierra Leone conducted maritime security patrols in the Gulf of Guinea which prevented two maritime crimes; an illegal fishing situation and illicit drug smuggling.
PE22, sponsored by U.S. Africa Command and facilitated by U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF), is one of three NAVEUR-NAVAF-facilitated regional exercises designed to improve regional cooperation and increase maritime domain awareness, information sharing practices, and operational capabilities in order to enhance efforts to promote safety and security in the Mediterranean Sea and territorial waters of participating North African nations.
For over 80 years, NAVEUR-NAVAF has forged strategic relationships with allies and partners, leveraging a foundation of shared values to preserve security and stability.
Headquartered in Naples, Italy, NAVEUR-NAVAF operates U.S. naval forces in the U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) and U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) areas of responsibility. U.S. Sixth Fleet is permanently assigned to NAVEUR-NAVAF, and employs maritime forces through the full spectrum of joint and naval operations.