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The multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) and her crew of approximately 1,100 Sailors returned home Dec. 22 from nearly three months deployed to U.S. Southern Command area of focus, wrapping up Southern Partnership Station (SPS) -Amphib 2009.
Wasp deployed Oct. 4 from Naval Station Norfolk. Working alongside Mayport-based Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 40 and Security Cooperation Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SCMAGTF) they worked to build interoperability and cooperation between U.S. and partner nation naval forces through a variety of exercises, theater security cooperation (TSC), military-to-military engagements and community relations projects.
"SPS 2009 deployment was the first of its kind here in the 4th Fleet area of focus. The deployment was designed to focus on counter-illicit trafficking (CIT), which included the USS Wasp as a forward operating base and a variety of different agencies embarked on the ship," said Capt. Rudy Laco, Commander Task Group 40.7.
The Wasp-DESRON 40 team joined forces with Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) - South, SCMAGTF, Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) 405 and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to conduct CIT operations in the Caribbean. The month-long interoperability mission working alongside Haitian and Dominican Republic civil and military agents resulted in a disrupted flow of drugs through the Caribbean and to the United States.
"The key to the success of this deployment has been that the Wasp, as a fusion center, has allowed us to bring to bear several assets that were able to work with Joint Interagency Task Force-South, conducting CIT operations in the south. The benefit is that we've been able to operate in different regions of the Caribbean," said Laco.
By mid-November Wasp and the embarked task force were conducting operations in Ocho Rios, Jamaica and Belize City, Belize, which included military-to-military exchanges and community relations (COMREL) projects. Humanitarian assistance was provided through the donation of over 100 pallets from Project Handclasp filled with medical, medicinal and hygiene supplies. Also, the Rotary Clubs of Cape Coral Gold Coast and Downtown Jacksonville, Fla., donated pallets of books and computers.
"We as the Navy will have opportunities to conduct engagements with the countries in Central America, Caribbean and South America and part of the strategy is to visit locations on a periodic basis and show the populace that the Navy is not just about fighting wars, but also humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and working to help other partners in the region to solve common issues like providing military-to-military exchanges," said Laco.
Wasp volunteers delivered backpacks and teddy bears from Hugs Across American to school children in Jamaica and Belize by Wasp Sailors and Marines. In addition, they traveled to Parry Town Basic School in Ocho Rios, Jamaica to help paint classrooms. With help from the U.S. Embassy, who provided the necessary paint and equipment, they were able to paint 12 classrooms, which held grades one through six for local children.
"When you have the opportunity to participate in a mission of this sort, there isn't a specific way to train � you go back to basics, to the things that your Sailors know and excel at � and then you modify slowly until each modification becomes a second nature," said Wasp Commanding Officer Capt. Lowell D. Crow. "Our crew not only made the necessary adjustments, but they made a seamless modification to their training schedules that allowed them to more than adequately complement the mission."
Wrapping up the deployment in December, Wasp completed CIT operations once again, this time with the Nicaraguan military and U.S. Coast Guard LEDET in an effort to disrupt the flow of narcotics through the Caribbean.
"The Wasp crew as a whole performed expertly, consistently adjusting and modifying to fit a rigorous schedule," said Crow. "The reward for them is fitting for so humble a crew: Being at home with their families and loved ones for the holidays."
Throughout the nearly three months at sea, Wasp continued to prepare for its upcoming INSURV Inspection. The crew also relaxed and enjoy some down time with three Steel Beach picnics sponsored by the ship's Morale, Welfare and Recreation department and the Wardroom, Chief Petty Officer Association and the First Class Petty Officer Association. The ship also held a talent show, chili cook-off and Bingo to help the crew take a break from daily operations.
In addition to Jamaica and Belize, Wasp also stopped in Panama and made several visits to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.