PEARL HARBOR (NNS) -- U.S. Navy ships conducted a visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) exercise April 14 aboard the Battleship Missouri Memorial.
VBSS teams from USS Crommelin (FFG 37), USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60) and USS O'Kane (DDG 77) took turns boarding the historic site as they perform a non-compliant VBSS exercise where Sailors assigned to USS Port Royal (CG 70) role-played as the resistance aboard the battleship.
VBSS is the term for maritime boarding actions and tactics, designed to capture enemy vessels; to combat terrorism, piracy and smuggling; and to conduct customs, safety and other inspections.
"We typically do training on our own ships," said Ensign Ray Miller IV, assigned to the missile-guided frigate USS Crommelin (FFG 37). "We were thinking where we could do a boarding operation in a place where Sailors aren't familiar with. The Missouri Association has been incredibly helpful in allowing us to come over and do a training exercise on what's basically a museum."
Miller, who facilitated the event between the ships, was the Middle Pacific Maritime Interception Operations training coordinator for the event. Miller said he intended to have the teams train in as real-world environment as they can get. He wanted Sailors to enter spaces they've never seen and encounter role players they've never met.
Cryptologic Technician (Collection) 2nd Class (SW) William Humble was the designated boat officer and training team leader on the rigid-hull inflatable boat (RHIB) that transported the three VBSS teams to the battleship. With two years experience in VBSS, Humble said that the Missouri is unique in that Missouri's freeboard, the distance between the water line to the upper deck level, is much higher than what is typically encountered by a VBSS team.
"You almost never need a ladder on a dhow," said Humble. "When we practice VBSS on our ships, we have to climb 20 feet on a ladder to reach the deck level. The Missouri's freeboard is more than 30 feet high."
Each team ran slightly different scenarios during the exercise. Paul Hamilton's team, for example, viewed Missouri as a merchant ship that was cruising through the Sea of Japan. The ship was suspected of having weapons of mass destruction. Each team boarded and searched for those weapons.
"The information came in that the vessel in question was either carrying cargo or did not roger up to our bridge-to-bridge calls," said Ensign Mark Bohls, Paul Hamilton's boarding officer. "So we treated it as a noncompliant ship. When we boarded, we took extreme caution as we made our way through the space searching for people."
After boarding the ship, Paul Hamilton's VBSS team spilt into smaller groups as they searched different areas of the battleship, with safety in mind.
"If we go with the mindset that something bad is going to happen, we feel safer," said Bohls. "I know it's a bad way to think about it, but at the same time, it makes us feel safe. We have certain procedures we have to follow. We can deescalate, and at the same time we can ramp it back up."
The role players from Port Royal were immediately secured as soon as the team encountered them.
"The more experience the better," said Bohls. "Real life scenarios are so much better than talking about it. What can you see? What can you do? Actually doing it and going through the motions with your team is probably the greatest experience you get, because you know how they act and you knowing how to react to them."
By the end of the exercise, each team successful boarded, searched and communicated with the non-compliant crew.
"From what I've seen today, it turned out to be an outstanding training event," said Miller. "Every team had different experience levels, but every team will walk away from it more knowledgeable and more prepared for a real world situation than when they came in for the exercise."
VBSS training is managed by the Center for Security Forces in Norfolk, Va. The operation was created following the Gulf War in 1990 as a way to standardize and continue the Maritime Interception Operations introduced there as a result of U.N. resolutions.
Initial VBSS skills training is delivered by CENSECFOR at four locations: Chesapeake, Va., Mayport, Fla., San Diego and Pearl Harbor. The initial training continuum includes three courses lasting a total of eight weeks, with some team members receiving additional follow-on training. Skills taught in the VBSS courses include tactical movement and shooting, defensive tactics, repelling, searching and other team skills.