An elite U.S. Coast Guard unit joined the visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) team on amphibious dock landing ship USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41) to conduct counter-piracy and maritime security operations in the Gulf of Aden.
Members of a maritime safety and security team, based out of Seattle, Wash., and an advanced interdiction team from San Diego, Calif., came together in February, forming the eight-man team.
"Our team specializes in boardings," said Lt. j.g. Michael Holt, officer in charge of the Coast Guard team. "Back home, our focus is mainly on counter-drug operations, but it's fairly easy for us to put our training to use for counter-piracy missions."
Prior to joining Whidbey Island, Holt's team attended three weeks of additional training to prepare them for the unique overseas environment.
"It's a very similar mission, but out here we're not just enforcing U.S. laws, and of course the threat level is inherently higher," said Holt.
The Coast Guard team provides training, experience, and the perspective of full-time boarding team experts.
"For our team, VBSS is a collateral duty that's incorporated when our schedule permits," said Chief Master-at-Arms Gil Hurtado, Whidbey Island assistant boarding team officer. "The Coast Guard team is rated and billeted for this mission, making them a more fluid unit. Combining the two forces will sharpen our team's movements and enhance their tactics."
The Coast Guard unit trains with the ship's VBSS team twice a week. They cover topics such as mission planning, team integration, boarding fundamentals and detainee processing.
"The teams work well together, and we definitely benefit from the merger," said Hurtado.
"This is a unique opportunity, and one of the best Navy ships I've been on," said Holt. "Everyone has been very welcoming, hospitable, and gone out of their way to help us out any time we've needed anything."
Whidbey Island is deployed as part of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (BATARG), supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.
Article by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Rachael L. Leslie, USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41) Public Affairs