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By Courtesy Story
The George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group (CSG) transited the Strait of Messina, a historically treacherous chokepoint between Southern Italy and Sicily, Nov. 26, 2022. For Cmdr. Brian Conlan, navigation officer aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), the transit represented a reunion of sorts with an old colleague, Italian Navy Cmdr. Pietro Lo Re.
Conlan and Lo Re first met in flight school in 2006, when Lo Re was training in the U.S., and became fast friends.
“When you go through something like putting on a uniform and flying together, naturally you develop a tight bond with people,” said Conlan. “Those bonds have a tendency to cross national barriers and underscore that NATO relationship.”
A decade later, while serving as department head of Patrol Squadron (VP) 45, Conlan ran into a challenge when some of the squadron’s pilots found themselves in need of a place to land but nowhere to go except an Italian airfield where no one spoke English. Conlan reached out to his old friend Lo Re for help, who immediately contacted the airfield and translated the pilots’ needs into Italian.
“My officers ended up calling me later that day and said ‘Sir, you wouldn’t believe it. We just had a bunch of Italian guys show up. They knew we needed 30,000 pounds of gas. They fueled the plane and took care of everything,’” said Conlan. “It’s probably the third time in a row I’ve had amazing assistance provided to me and my team that was based on a past relationship with a NATO ally.”
Transiting the Strait of Messina poses unique traffic and ocean current difficulties, and Conlan wanted to put George H.W. Bush in the best position possible so he reached out to Lo Re again. In addition to offering advice to Conlan, Lo Re contacted a former classmate from the Italian Naval Academy, the executive officer of the Italian frigate ITS Carabinere (F 593), already operating with the George H.W. Bush CSG in the Mediterranean.
As a result of that connection, Carabiniere supplied George H.W. Bush with its operations officer, Italian Navy Lt. Cmdr. Cosimo Andria, to assist on the bridge during the transit. Yet again, the years-old personal friendship between Conlan and Lo Re delivered great results for U.S. operations.
“I am proud and honored to have supported your prestigious and glorious aircraft carrier, side by side your outstanding Navigation team,” said Andria. “Our strong cooperation shows once again the importance of being together to strengthen the message of deterrence and defense capabilities for a safe and secure environment at sea.”
Personal and professional investment in the relationships of NATO helps ensure the success for all involved.
“Our cooperation with each other really pays dividends,” said Conlan. “I was able to rely on a decades-long friendship to improve the safety and smoothness of operations today.”
Conlan stresses the importance of continuing combined exercises to build NATO relationships, as well as building understanding of their importance on current and future operations.
“When you’re a junior officer or a junior Sailor, you don’t really know the roots of all this and there’s a tendency to think it’s all just platitudes,” said Conlan. “As your career goes on, you start to encounter bigger problems and fall back on old colleagues and friends. These enduring relationships will be the basis for our success.”
George H.W. Bush is the flagship of CSG-10, George H.W. Bush CSG. CSG-10 is comprised of George H.W. Bush, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 26, the Information Warfare Commander, and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55).
The ships of DESRON 26 within CSG-10 are the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Nitze (DDG 94), USS Farragut (DDG 99), USS Truxtun (DDG 103), and USS Delbert D. Black (DDG 119).
The squadrons of CVW-7 embarked aboard the George H.W. Bush are the “Sidewinders” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 86, the “Jolly Rogers” of VFA-103, the “Nighthawks” of VFA-136, the “Pukin Dogs” of VFA-143, the “Bluetails” of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 121, the “Patriots” of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 140, the “Nightdippers” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 5, and the “Grandmasters” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 46.