By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jamica Johnson, Amphibious Squadron 8 Public Affairs
Iwo Jima ARG, 24th MEU Complete Strait of Gibraltar Transit
STRAIT OF GIBRALTAR (NNS) -- The Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) completed their transit of the Strait of Gibraltar, April 24.
The Iwo Jima ARG, transiting the Strait of Gibraltar, includes Amphibious Squadron 8 (PHIBRON), USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44), USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) and USS New York (LPD 21).
The Strait of Gibraltar is the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean and is significant because it is the second busiest waterway in the world and one of five major choke points. The others include Strait of Malacca, Strait of Hormuz, Panama Canal and Suez Canal. New York, on her maiden deployment, now joins the ranks of many other historical ships that have navigated the Strait of Gibraltar, marking the first time she has officially entered the Mediterranean.
"The Strait transit is symbolic because it shows we aren't in the Atlantic any longer," said Cmdr. William C. Herrmann, New York's commanding officer. "Everyone on board is a little saltier now, for many, seeing the Rock of Gibraltar is something they will always remember."
"The historical relevance for our transit is quite significant," said Capt. Mark Scovill, commodore of the Iwo Jima ARG. "It not only shows the transition from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, the evolution from not salty to salty Sailors, but it bridges a gap of time between us and history. So many have passed through these straits for example, Commodore Bainbridge and Lt. Decatur during our war with the Barbary pirates."
As well as being the first transit for the New York, for a lot of Sailors in the ARG, the experience is new as well.
"Before coming in the Navy, I would always hear the term 'join the Navy, see the world,' now going through the straits and being able to say I was a part of the Iwo Jima 2012 deployment is surreal and an honor," said Personnel Specialist 3rd Class Antonio Gagliardo, a Sailor aboard Iwo Jima.
To prepare for the two hour evolution, the ship's navigation department must plan the entire trip with exact precision, taking several elements into account.
"The first thing we do in preparation for this is take a look at the charts. We make sure in advance that we understand all the symbols, the weather and climatology. We then lay the track and come up with a speed and a plan for the transit," said Lt. Cmdr. Mark MacNamara, Iwo Jima's navigator. "In total, prior to the evolution, it takes 10 to 12 hours to prepare."
When executing special sea-and-anchor and navigational evolutions, the safe transit of the ship and her crew is a vital element in the planning process.
"Because we were passing through such a major choke point, the ships and the MEU combined forces to execute the protective stance known as Defense of the Amphibious Task Force (DATF)," said Scovill. "Although it was not a high threat level area, we prepared as such, so if there comes a day when we need to be at a higher alert level, we've already sharpened that skill set."
The level of readiness for a Navy ship transiting the Strait of Gibraltar could not be more secure if not for the presence of the Marine Corps.
"Transiting the Straits of Gibraltar aboard a U.S. Navy warship is a special honor for Marines," said Commanding Officer of the 24th MEU, Col. Frank Donovan, embarked aboard Iwo Jima. "We were founded in 1775 to operate aboard the ships of the Continental Navy. Our forefathers sailed through these Straits toward sea and land battles against the British, French and the Barbary pirates. Then, like today, the Navy and Marine Corps team was instrumental in protecting America's overseas interests and keeping the world's shipping lanes open for commerce."
The Gunston Hall was also in a ready-state for any type of action she may have encountered during her transit.
"The entire Navy and Marine Corps team aboard Gunston Hall did a fabulous job during the Strait of Gibraltar transit," said Gunston Hall's Commanding Officer Capt. Andy J. Loiselle.
"We were impressed with the professional mariners we encountered and were ready to respond to any contingency that occurred. The crew got to see some amazing sights and very much looks forward to a closer view on our return to homeport."
Now in Mediterranean waters, the Iwo Jima ARG/ 24th MEU team assumes the watch, of keeping the waterways safe, acting as responsible ambassadors ashore and promoting a global force for good.
"We are in Sixth Fleet now," said Capt. Grady Banister, Iwo Jima's commanding officer. "We've worked together, done the training and our Blue/Green team is prepared and on standby to carryout any mission we are tasked with."
The Iwo Jima ARG with the embarked 24th MEU is currently deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility.