Saturday, February 06, 2010

USS Freedom Readies for Maiden Deployment

By Lt. Ed Early, USS Freedom Public Affairs

USS FREEDOM, At Sea (NNS) -- USS Freedom (LCS 1), the Navy's first littoral combat ship, is underway off the coast of Florida for final training and certification prior to its maiden deployment to the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) region.

Counter-illicit trafficking (CIT), damage control, and systems training began soon after Freedom's arrival at Naval Station Mayport, Fla., on Jan. 25.

"This training is extremely important for Freedom and will help us prepare for the CIT mission we expect to perform while in the 4th Fleet area of operations," said Lt. Cmdr. Mark West of Imperial Beach, Calif., operations officer for the Gold Crew, one of Freedom's two rotational crews. "Freedom can be an extremely formidable weapon in the war on drugs."

Freedom's crew is part of an innovative manning construct that reduces crew size, demanding each Sailor maintain high levels of proficiency in multiple fields, and optimizes ship operability with multiple crews. The ship is manned by two rotational crews, "Blue" and "Gold", of 40 Sailors each. Prior to deployment, each crew member must prove his or her competency across a wide range of skills.

Sailors attended counter-illicit trafficking/airborne use of force (CIT/AUF) instruction ashore, led by Afloat Training Group (ATG) Mayport, Destroyer Squadron 14 and Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) 407. LEDET 407 will embark the ship during deployment.

Freedom welcomed the Coast Guard detachment aboard for nearly three days of CIT/AUF exercises at sea. LEDET 407 worked with Freedom's core crew and its aviation detachment to certify the ship for CIT operations.

"The Coast Guard was extremely professional and knowledgeable, and I look forward to working with them in the future," West said.

While Coast Guard observers evaluated the aviation detachment – Norfolk, Va.-based Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22, Detachment 2 – in tracking go-fast boats, a Coast Guard coxswain was learning how to operate Freedom's 11-meter rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIBs).

"The Coast Guard does not operate our 11-meter RHIB, so this was important training for them as well," said Gold Crew navigator Lt. John Hill, a native of Auckland, New Zealand.

The LEDET soon gave way to an integrated training team from the San Diego-based Littoral Combat Ship Class Squadron, which put Freedom's crew through its paces in a series of damage control and firefighting drills. The exercises tested the crew's response to a variety of shipboard emergencies, from a simulated helicopter crash landing to casualty triage.

"The training provided a good refresher for us – it's a good opportunity to keep our skills up," said Chief Hospital Corpsman (SW/FMF) Joseph Dennis of Bridgeport, Texas, the Gold Crew's independent duty corpsman (IDC). "As an IDC, exercises like this give me confidence in my crew's ability to operate in any emergency."

Freedom's crew also engaged in combat systems testing, running through a series of live-fire and tracking tests using the ship's Mk 110 57mm gun, as well as the 30mm guns of the ship's tailored Surface Warfare Mission Package.

While the testing schedule has been a rigorous one, Freedom's Sailors are confident that the ship will be ready for its upcoming journey.

"I really believe the training provided will make our senior crew ready for the challenges ahead and pay dividends while Freedom is on deployment," said West.

Freedom is the first ship of the revolutionary Littoral Combat Ship program, a fast, agile, mission-focused ship that demonstrates the latest in naval warfighting technology. The ship is specifically designed to defeat "anti-access" threats in shallow, coastal water regions, including fast surface craft, quiet diesel submarines, and mines.

Freedom's deployment will conclude later this year with a transit to her new homeport of San Diego.