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UNITAS Gold: 50 years of partnership.

Navy Counselor 1st Class Paul D. Soto--named for he Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, leader of the first European expedition into the modern day United States--grew up in a bicultural home where both Spanish and English were spoken daily. Born in New York City, he spent his middle school years in Puerto Rico, his father's birthplace, becoming fluent in Spanish. The diversity of Soto's background prepared him to serve as an ambassador for the United States Navy aboard the Chilean ship Blanco Encalada (FF 15), one of more than 30 ships participating in the 50th iteration of UNITAS Gold in Mayport, Fla.

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"My personal and professional background prepared me for this role," said Soto. "I truly believe the U.S Navy is the most diverse in the world with backgrounds ranging from every culture."

Soto embarked on the Blanco for the operational phase of UNITAS. During this time, Soto lived the life of a Chilean sailor participating in shipboard drills, building friendships and helping to keep the mess decks clean.

"It's been a while since I've cleaned the mess decks," said Soto. "On Blanco, they believe it's an honor to serve one another. My Puerto Rican background helped me connect to their culture, which is similar due to the Spanish influence. I'm able to communicate in meaningful ways due to the culture and being a blue shirt. Our conversations are based on us all being sailors and sharing one ocean. We enjoy the same things such as visiting other countries, enjoying other cultures and traditions including similar sports such as baseball. In the end its one ocean and one fight."

UNITAS, which means "unity" in Latin, was initiated in August 1960 with ships from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela and the United States. Fifty years later, the exercise has grown to include more than 30 ships, two submarines and 50 aircraft along with more than 7,000 sailors and marines, and included first-time participants, Canada and Mexico, to become the longest running, multinational exercise in the world.

"We have a close relationship with the U.S. Navy, in both distance and support," said Canadian Navy Lt. Karen O'Connell a force tactical action officer. "We've done combined training to combat drug trafficking. This operation gives us a better understanding of what assets the participating countries can provide and how they operate."

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Mexico, sent two ships and 45 marines, with the goal to gain new knowledge toward implementing long-range strategic planning for their military.

"We hope to take back knowledge on the process of organizing a staff and doing some planning to counter threats such as narco-trafficking and criminal activity," said Cmdr. Jose Barrabas of the Mexican General staff. "We desire to learn and observe how other country's staffs plan and a standardized way of planning and executing [multimission] operations together."

During the recent two-week exercise, the U.S Navy, along with 11 partner nations, rendezvoused in Mayport, Fla., to train together in a realistic scenario-driven environment featuring live-fire exercises, undersea warfare, shipboard operations, maritime interdiction operations (MIO), air defense and surface warfare, amphibious operations, electronic warfare and special warfare.

"Through the years, UNITAS has evolved to fit the landscape, needs and mutual naval and maritime interests of the Americas and Caribbean," said Rear Adm. Joseph D. Kernan, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command (NAVSO) and U.S. 4th Fleet. "As we move forward together, I am confident that future opportunities to work with our partners will not only strengthen our ability to operate together and provide for our nation's security, but will also build personal and professional respect and friendships."

Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 40, headed by Commodore Capt. Rodelio Laco, is the command element for 4th Fleet charged with executing the UNITAS evolution.

"Today's exercise focuses on interoperability and cooperation between the United States and its partner nations," said Laco. "The challenges we all face are common. This exercise helps us work together as a group toward identifying and minimizing threats. One way we work together is with the U.S. Coast Guard learning various boarding techniques."

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During the in-port phase of the exercise, the Coast Guard conducted three days of multinational training on visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) techniques with teams from Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Chile, Canada and the United States. The first day consisted of classroom instruction. The second day of training involved Sailors engaging in defensive tactics and handcuffing. On the final day, each country's VBSS team participated in a mock maritime interdiction operational (MIO) exercise.

"We travel all over the world training with our partner nations, sharing information and creating international bonds," said Lt.j.g. Cliff Harrison of the Coast Guard. "Whenever we bring these nations together to shake hands, make friends and work together, we're moving toward a unified front."

Gunner's Mate 1st Class Geoffrey Collier of the U.S Coast Guard help lead the mock boarding on the last day which consisted of each VBSS team attempting to find an unaccounted person on the vessel.

"Normal procedure when boarding a vessel consists of the security team taking a muster of the crew and conducting an inspection of all persons aboard," said Collier. "The protocol varies due to each country capabilities [and] in accordance with their laws. We're here to share common practices across the board."

First Corporal Roberto Sanchez is a weapons engineer and member of the MIO team from Chile. Their MIO operation, depending on the mission, consists of securing the bridge while the team initiates a search of the vessel.

"If we find something of illicit nature, we would notify our commanding officer, and he would make procedural calls accordingly," said Sanchez. "We only board compliant ships. We have another specialty team to search and board non-compliant ships."

Ensign Roger Eyrolles, electronic maintenance officer aboard USS Oakhill (LSD 5), led the U.S. VBSS team during the mock MIO boarding.

"This training was a good opportunity for all the nations to observe and learn from each other," said Eyrolles.

The U.S. VBSS teams are taught and trained to search and board compliant and non-compliant ships. The skills they learn include hand-to-hand maneuvers, discharging a weapon and the ability to up the level of aggression during a boarding if needed.

"Due to our present environment, we're always looking for the next move, like a chess game, so we know what's coming before they can throw it upon us," said Eyrolles.

Once aboard a ship, the U.S team will immediately conduct a "blow through" taking control of the pilot house and engine spaces. The next phase involves sweeps throughout the ship with team members searching for stowaways, castaways, illegal weapons, contraband, drugs and human smuggling.

"Every pound of drugs we find is one less drop in the bucket to fund Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups hoping to do us harm," said Eyrolles. "That's one less drop in their bucket to bring the fight to us. Through VBSS we're bringing the fight to them."

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During planning meetings, every aspect of the UNITAS operations was discussed and agreed upon. All the participating nations were informed about measures to mitigate the environmental impact from the use of sonar during the exercise.

"Throughout the planning process for UNITAS we ensured safety and adherence to all environmental standards especially marine mammal mitigation procedures were discussed among the partner nations," said Laco. "All guidance was translated in English, Spanish and Portuguese to ensure everyone was up to speed."

"We hope to take back knowledge on how the U.S is working to protect the environment," said Barrabas.

On April 23, the multinational fleet got underway to begin the at-sea phase of the exercise, which included a robust schedule of back-to-back evolutions from flight quarters to underway replenishment and small boat operations. With 10 to 15 events on each participant's daily schedule, all departments on every ship had a role to play.

UNITAS is traditionally held in waters off the coast of South America, but the United States offered to host the 50th iteration of the exercise.

"We asked to host one combined exercise as an opportunity to share resources we have in a maritime training environment," said Laco. "This is an opportunity for us to share our resources in a composite unit training exercise (COMPTUEX) type environment."

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One of those resources the U.S. Navy shared was USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19), that served as headquarters for DESRON 40 and the UNITAS evolution.

"My team aboard Mesa Verde is a true total force staff comprised of DESRON 40, U.S Navy Reservists from across the country along with 79 multinational representatives from our partner nations," said Laco.

Lt. j.g. Juan Saltos, an aviator from Ecuador, served as an air defense commander (ADC) viewing air operations during the evolution. Saltos was one of four Ecuadorian officers embarked aboard Mesa Verde.

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"We have similar threats in our region such as piracy, people trafficking and narcotics," said Saltos. "Our country can gain from the more experienced navies working with our partner nations during this exercise."

One of the highlights of the at-sea events was the sinking exercise (SINKEX) of the former ex-USS Connelly (DD 975). The assault began when a Colombian AS-555 Fennec helicopter from ARC Almirante Padilla (FL 51) aimed its crew-served machine guns at her empty hull and opened fire. Following close behind was a Mexican B0-105 Bolkow helicopter from the frigate ARM Mina(F 214) carrying 2.75" high-explosive rockets.

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"Personally, UNITAS is a great learning opportunity for me and my crew, something I've wanted to do for a long time," said Commanding Officer Efren Gomez Luis, on the bridge of ARM Oaxaca (PO 161) while watching the horizon with large binoculars.

An English speaking voice comes through the radio--someone from USS Donald Cook (DDG 75). They relay course information and Oaxaca's radioman, a young officer fresh from Mexico's naval academy, replies in English. Oaxaca's finished its practice firing and reset course to a position with the other ships. In front of Oaxaca, four ships form an orderly line, and behind, five more, all sailing in formation for UNITAS Gold.

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In all, a multinational force of 15 ships and 12 aircraft unloaded more than 450 rounds of ammunition, one Maverick, three Harpoon and two Sea Sparrow missiles, two 2.75" high explosive rockets and four MK-83 during the six-hour SINKEX.

Another unique training opportunity was provided by the German Navy Combat Support Ship Frankfurt Am Main (A 1412). As the primary replenishment asset during the replenishment at sea (RAS) exercise, German supported RAS drills conducted by ARM Mina and multipurpose ship ARM Oaxaca, USS Mesa Verde and USS Donald Cook (DDG 75).

Amphibious forces had their time for action during an amphibious assault demonstration in which multinational forces arrived in four landing craft, air cushioned (LCAC) amphibious hovercrafts to set up security perimeters for additional troops and vehicles to come ashore.

"We have been training at Camp Blanding to learn how to get down from helos, combat shooting and urban combat with all different nations," said 1st Technician Julio Rodriguez, a Peruvian Marine. "It is good training because everybody learns from everybody from Latin America, South America and the United States."

Capt. Flavio Jaimes, advisor for the Colombian navy, is optimistic about the various strategies, tactics and techniques he can bring to his Navy from this exercise.

"We hope to learn how multinational forces and staffs can work together in a friendly environment with maximum efficiency to resolve myriad problems and manage the variables that are present in complex operations such as UNITAS," said Jaimes. "I believe this exercise increases the mutual confidence to counteract new threats every country has, such as drugs, weapons, human trafficking as well as any possibility to prevent terrorist actions."

Soto is also grateful and appreciative for his UNITAS experience.

"Overall, I am elated to have been afforded the opportunity to be here with a great crew," said Soto. "They all accepted me with open arms. Being out to sea is the lifestyle we know how to do best. Any day in the Navy we're able to accomplish the mission is a great day."

RELATED ARTICLE: UNITAS Gold Fleet

Included 30 ships, two subs, 50 aircraft, 650 Marines and 6,500 Sailors. Participants came from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Germany, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay.

Multi-mission training included undersea warfare, shipboard operations, maritime interdiction operations, air defense and surface warfare, amphibious operations, electronic warfare and special warfare.

United States

USS Nassau (LHA 4)

USS Doyle (FFG 39)

USS Kauffman (FFG 59)

USS Donald Cook (DDG 75)

USCGC Thetis (WMEC 910)

USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75)

USS San Jacinto (CG 56)

USS Hue City (CG 66)

USS Carney ((DDG 64)

USS McFaul (DDG 74)

USS Oscar Austin (DDG 79)

USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81)

USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98)

USS John L. Hall (FFG 32)

USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19)

USS Ashland (LSD 48)

USNS Laramie (T-AO 203)

Brazil

BNS Independencia (F 44)

BNS Tikuna (S 34)

Canada

HMCS Athabaskan (DDG 282)

HMCS Montreal (FFH 336)

HMCS Corner Brook (SSK 878)

HMCS Preserver (AOR 510)

Chile

CF Blanco Encalada (FF 15)

Colombia

ARC Almirante Padilla (FL 51)

ARC Cartagena De Indias (BL 161)

Germany

FGS Sachsen (F 219)

FGS Lubeck (F 214)

Franfurt Am Main (A 1412)

Mexico

ARM Mina (F 214)

ARM Oaxaca (PO 161)

Peru

BAP Palacios (FM 56)

Story by MC2(AW) Jonathan W. Hutto Sr.

Hutto is assigned to Defense Media Activity--Anacostia, Washington, D.C.
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Title Annotation:navies from different countries
Author:Hutto, Jonathan W., Sr.
Publication:All Hands
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2009
Words:2276
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