Saturday, May 02, 2009

UNITAS Gold Welcomes Mexican Navy

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brandon Shelander, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command - U.S 4th Fleet Public Affairs

ATLANTIC OCEAN (NNS) -- The Mexican patrol vessel ARM Oaxaca (PO-161) participated along with ships from 11 nations in the sinking exercise (SINKEX) of the former ex-USS Connelly (DD 975) April 29 during UNITAS Gold.

"Fuego!" says a mechanic voice over a radio as a loud boom echoes across the Atlantic Ocean, followed by another and another in a rapid series. Distant, soundless splashes rise into the air where the shells from a 76/62mm naval cannon mark their entry into the rough blue water during the SINKEX.

Practice firing the main cannon on board the Armada de Mexico (ARM) Oaxaca (PO-161) is nothing new for Oaxaca's Commanding Officer Efren Gomez Luis. What is new for him and his crew is the chance to train and work with 11 navies at once during UNITAS Gold, an annual maritime exercise that provides a rigorous training environment in which participating nations conduct joint and combined operations in a realistic scenario.

"Personally, UNITAS is a great learning opportunity for me and my crew, something I've wanted to do for a long time," said Luis, on the bridge of Oaxaca 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 will reset course to a position with the other ships. In front of Oaxaca, four ships make an orderly line, and behind, five more, all sailing in formation for UNITAS Gold.

UNITAS Gold is a two-week exercise with realistic scenario-driven training opportunities featuring live-fire exercises, undersea warfare, shipboard operations, maritime interdiction operations, anti-air and anti-surface warfare, amphibious operations, electronic warfare, and special warfare. In total, over 25 ships, four submarines and more than 50 aircraft have participated.

The primary goal of the training is to promote maritime security and stability as well as interoperability between partner nations. This year is the first time Mexico has participated. Its assets in the exercise include the offshore patrol vessel, ARM Oaxaca (PO-161) and frigate, ARM Mina (F-214).

"I feel very happy to be in this very important event. Our training has become stronger, as well as our capacity in stopping narco-trafficking and in defense of our national territories," Luis said.

The crew of the ARM Oaxaca echoed the sentiments of their commanding officer.

"I'm very proud to be in UNITAS," said Teniente de Corbeta (Lt.) Arturo Morales Desachy one of the officers in charge of translating incoming radio communications during the exercise. "I hope we keep participating and attend next year's UNITAS. We've brought some of the best officers from our country to take part in this," said Desachy.

"Three officers who've come in 1st place at the naval academy are on this crew. The Comandante Luis also asked the academy to send us their best midshipmen. We all want to learn as much as possible. I would like to learn about maneuvers, fire exercises, aerial and surface exercises and all things needed to be prepared in case we help with a natural disaster or are part of a task force," Desachy explained.

Officers aren't the only ones who see UNITAS Gold as a rich training experience and a chance to mingle with navies from other countries. The enlisted sailors aboard Oaxaca have a favorable outlook as well.

"It's good to be here training with the U.S.," said Maester 3rd Class Juan Carlos Morales Areualo, Oaxaca's barber. "It feels good for my country to be here with my shipmates for all its beautiful experience."

Areualo works in the bowels of the ship, in a small but tidy room used to cut hair. His primary tools are a buzz clipper with no attachments, and a straight razor.

"I never before have been here with these others navies training this way," he says while trimming the sides of an Oaxaca sailor's hair with a straight razor.

"It's good training," he continues once his current customer is happy and on his way, "we get more experience in things we don't usually do. I'd like to come back to keep training and get better and better. Go forward. I like it when they said that about UNITAS. 'To go forward together.'"

The sound of an alarm echoes through Oaxaca as they prepare for a fire drill. Later in the day, Areualo is on the flight deck, in a fireman's suit. He's put down the clippers for a fire hose. The training is constant during the two weeks of UNITAS Gold, but it's met by the crew of Oaxaca, who all share the same sentiment, and the same commitment to making this UNITAS the first of many for the Armada de Mexico.

UNITAS is being held from Apr. 20 to May 5, and will bring together participants and observers from the Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Germany, Mexico, Peru, the United States and Uruguay.