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Nassau Strike Group Conducts VBSS training

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS071005-08
Release Date: 10/5/2007 1:14:00 PM

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class David Wyscaver, Nassau Strike Group Public Affairs

NORFOLK (NNS) -- The Nassau Strike Group’s (NASSG) visit, boarding, search and seizure (VBSS) teams participated in practice scenarios Sept. 25-27 as part of its Expeditionary Strike Group Integration (ESGINT) Exercise in preparation for its regularly scheduled deployment next year.

NASSG’s VBSS units included teams from USS Nashville (LPD 13), USS Ashland (LHD 48), USS Bulkeley (DDG 84), USS Philippine Sea (CG 58) and USS Ross (DDG 71). They all participated in the exercises to strengthen team building skills while working towards the VBSS teams’ overall goal of ensuring safety of the waterways by preventing piracy, the transportation of illegal goods and terrorism.

“Maritime interdiction operations are a primary mission for every strike group that goes overseas,” said Fire Controlman 2nd Class (SW) Jeff Lewetski, Aegis technician on board Bulkeley and member of the her VBSS team. “As a team, it is our job to conduct these boardings to carry out that mission. While on deployment we get off the ship and search any and every suspicious boat we can find. Doing this not only cuts down on terrorist activity that may take place, but also provides a safer environment for the fisherman that are out there trying to make a living.”

There are four VBSS threat levels. Levels 1 and 2 are low-threat situations, while a VBSS Level 3 involves non-compliance after an official request to inspect a ship in sovereign waters. Level 4 would involve overt armed resistance. Lewetski explained that Bulkeley’s team executed two VBSS exercises, one of which was a non-compliant boarding.

“As a sweep/security team member, I and the rest of the team are responsible for verifying the number of crew members on board and sweeping the ship for any type of cargo that may be unsafe or unauthorized,” Lewetski explained.

In order to conduct realistic training scenarios, the NASSG employs the services of Training Support Vessel Prevail (TSV-1), a 224-foot ship used to replicate a suspicious vessel for the VBSS teams. Once Prevail has been identified as "suspicious," teams then replicate their boarding, search and seizure procedures in order to hone their skills in a safe and life-like environment.

“The (strike group) has definitely benefited from using Prevail as a training platform during ESGINT,” said Lt.j.g. Reynel Saa, Nassau Strike Group VBSS officer. “It’s been a great opportunity to work out some kinks, sharpen our skills and prepare for the upcoming deployment.”

According to Lewetski, there are many benefits and advantages as to why these exercises are important to both the mission and readiness of the strike group.

“Every mock boarding we do together as a team builds our ability to conduct efficient and safe boardings,” he explained. “When we are in theater, on an unfamiliar boat, we don’t have time to stop and think. Once we get on board everything needs to get done as fast and as safely as possible. The more we practice the easier that will be.”

VBSS Sailors face many different challenges, obstacles and risks when conducting each and every mission, to include the chances of being attacked, experiencing rebellion and even suffering a casualty.

“It’s definitely a dangerous evolution but these guys receive the proper training and with that training they should be able to respond to any threat,” said Saa.

The ability to perform VBSS helps to set the conditions for security and stability in the foreign maritime environment, as well as complement the counterterrorism and security efforts of regional nations. It also assists in disrupting the use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport hostile personnel, weapons or other material.

The next certification step for NASSG and the VBSS teams will occur during Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) in Nov., when each unit will have the responsibility of successfully completing a boarding order outlining a particular VBSS mission.

ESGINT is the second of three pre-deployment exercises designed to test the fundamental capabilities and shipboard interoperability between the NASSG and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (24 MEU) out of Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Currently preparing for its regularly scheduled 2008 deployment, the NASSG is made up of more than 5,000 Sailors and Marines, and projects sea power ashore by maintaining the capability of landing amphibious forces by helicopters, amphibious track vehicles, air cushion landing craft, and assault craft whenever and wherever the need arises.

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