PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii - Hawaii and San Diego-based surface ships, submarines and aircraft participated in the eleven-day exercise Koa Kai 12-2 in the waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands, March 30 - April 9.
Koa Kai is the primary integrated training event for Mid-Pacific surface combatant units with the goal of achieving deployment certifications and training. The Koa Kai exercise encompasses Hawaii-based surface, submarine and aviation assets, and other commands within the Hawaii region.
"It's a chance for us to do unit-level decision making in an integrated environment with other units," said Cdr. Luis Alva, the executive officer of the guided-missile frigate USS Reuben James (FFG 57), one of the ships that participated in Koa Kai.
Sailors aboard the ships that participated in Koa Kai took part in various events during the exercise, including visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) drills, anti-submarine warfare, counter piracy exercises, and a refueling at sea (RAS) with the underway replenishment ship USNS Henry J. Kaiser (T-AO 187), among others.
"We are independent deployers, and a lot of our missions have us doing things on our own," Alva said. "This gives us a chance to flex our watch teams, our people, and give them really solid training and go through every mission we have."
Capt. Wallace G. Lovely, deputy commander of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 31 and the on-scene commander for the sea combat command phase, and who was embarked aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60) during Koa Kai, discussed the progression the exercise has been taking.
"It's becoming more robust," Lovely said. "It's becoming more challenging. It is becoming a realistic assessment, a realistic measure of qualifications for our independent deployers."
This Koa Kai marks the first time San Diego-based ships, the guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold (DDG 65) and the guided-missile frigate USS Vandegrift (FFG 48), participated in this exercise.
"Benfold and Vandegrift joined us for this exercise," said Lovely. "There is not an independent certification that exists with the sole goal of certifying independent ships for Fifth and Seventh Fleet deployment."
"We have an opportunity to really embellish Koa Kai and make it become that independent deployer certification," added Lovely.
Senior Chief Johannes Gonzalez, command senior chief of the Reuben James talked about what the crew of the ships that participated in the exercise may have gained experiencing exercise Koa Kai. "I think it's always good to operate with ships and Sailors from the other fleets," he said. "It brings a perspective to the mix. Sometimes, we get used to doing things 'our way,' but we are all out here making it happen."
Gonzalez added, "I think it gives an idea to our Sailors what we could be confronted with in a real world scenario."
During Koa Kai, the surface ships were joined by assets from Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet; Helicopter Squadron Light 37; Commander Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 2; and the Royal Canadian Air Force 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron.