News: USS New York makes first Strait of Gibraltar transit, protected by her Marines and sailors
Story by 2nd Lt. Joshua Larson
MEDITERRANEAN SEA – The USS New York carried Marines and sailors of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group through the Strait of Gibraltar, April 20, 2012, on her initial voyage into the Mediterranean Sea.
The transit of the New York, built with seven-and-a-half tons of World Trade Center steel, was historical yet far from a pleasure cruise.
Marines and sailors geared up and worked side by side, manning various weapon systems through the strait, which separates the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea and is less than eight nautical miles at its narrowest point. This protective stance, officially called Defense of the Amphibious Task Force, or DATF, is activated whenever there are potential threats based on the ship’s proximity to land.
Land-based threats pose a danger to ships because they’re harder to see, said Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Domzalski, the New York’s operations officer.
Due to these threats, the New York uses both Navy and Marine Corps assets to protect her as she crosses the world’s seaways.
During the ship’s maiden transit, sailors from a small-caliber action team stood behind several .50-caliber heavy machine guns mounted to the ship’s gunwales while Marines, posted throughout the ship, scanned the shoreline with sniper rifles.
“We use a Navy and Marine Corps mix in order to maximize skill sets,” said Lt. Col. Aaron Adams, the executive officer of the 24th MEU. “The New York is the Marines’ ship too, so we have a vested interest in making sure it is defended.”
But the New York was not alone during the crossing; in fact, 24th MEU and Iwo Jima ARG Marines and sailors followed close behind in the USS Gunston Hall, conducting their own DATF operations.
Marines trained several times before the deployment for situations such as this. Marine Corps Special Operations Training Group taught Marines what kind of real-life situations to expect by acting as enemy aggressors, while at the same time discussing common rules of engagement, explained Cpl. Joshua Brooks, a 24th MEU machinegun squad leader with Charlie Company, aboard the Gunston Hall.
“It was pretty essential for the Marines to do that training,” said Brooks. “The ROEs are really the most important thing, because it lets us know when and how we can engage potential threats.”
The 24th MEU’s air combat element was also involved in the transit, standing ready aboard the New York to support both ships, if necessary.
“We had a pair of Cobras and a pair of Hueys ready on the flight deck,” said Capt. Luke Mansfield, one of the 24th MEU’s AH-1W Cobra pilots. “Our job was to afford an additional measure of safety, primarily from surface contacts and we were ready to make our assets available to the ship if asked.”
The Strait of Gibraltar is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, but the New York made a seamless transit in less than four hours.
The commanding officer of the New York, Cmdr. William Herrmann, didn’t expect any problems and wasn’t surprised when there wasn’t any.
“The transit was smooth – just like every other Strait of Gibraltar transit I’ve ever been a part of,” he said.
With the ship’s navigation under control and a security posture in place, dozens of Marines and sailors took a moment to step outside and observe the surrounding landscapes, commenting on the unique opportunity to see the continent of Africa from one side of the ship and Europe from the other.
After the successful transit, the New York hummed quietly into the Mediterranean and provided a perfect time to reflect on the historical event.
“The Marines and sailors are excited to be here, especially with the significance attached to the ship through the tragic events of 9/11. We look forward to going forth and providing a forward presence for America,” said Adams.
Herrmann agreed, adding that the constant and continued success of the ship’s safety is due to the integration between the sailors and Marines.
“For me, it’s humbling being the commander of the New York and taking her on her first deployment,” said Herrmann. “Realizing what she represents – not just to those stateside, but worldwide – as we go toward places where people could potentially want to do us harm.”
The USS New York, on its maiden deployment, is one of three ships carrying 4,000 Marines and sailors of the 24th MEU and Iwo Jima ARG, currently deployed as a theater reserve and crisis-response force. The MEU/ARG team is capable of a wide range of missions from full-scale combat operations to humanitarian service and disaster relief.
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