NAPLES, Italy - Military Sealift Command-chartered HSV Swift (HSV 2) completed a nearly 10-month deployment to the Europe and Africa areas of responsibility Jan. 31. During that time, Swift and her crew of contract mariners and a U.S. Navy detachment conducted 38 port visits to Africa and 15 to Europe, circumnavigating the African continent in support of Africa Partnership Station (APS) and theater security cooperation visits.
Swift kicked off the deployment by moving 290 tons of cargo and rolling stock from Poti, Georgia, to Constanta, Romania, in support of Marine Forces Europe’s redeployment of the Black Sea Rotational Force that had just completed participation in Exercise Agile Spirit.
Next came a visit to the Lora Naval Base in Split, Croatia, in April 2012. During the visit, Swift’s crew hosted several tours, and a non-lethal weapons class for more than 20 members of the Croatian coast guard and navy, presented by U.S. Marine Corps instructors from the Black Sea Rotational Force.
From there, it was on to Toulon, France, where Swift hosted high-ranking French naval officials for a tour and lunch.
“This is Swift’s first visit to France in a long time,” said Lt. Cmdr. Charles Eaton, officer-in-charge of Swift’s “Blue Crew” military detachment. “The tour [gave] the French command staff a chance to visit and see the ship, and learn more about what the Swift can do and how it is currently employed.” Swift also participated in several training events, including a passing exercise (PASSEX) and a photo opportunity with the French littoral combat ship, L’Adroit.
Heading to Africa, Swift arrived in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, where Sailors joined members of the Naval Forces Europe band “Topside” to entertain children at Institut National Supérieur des Arts et de l’Action Culturelle, and the Centre Pilote pour la Petite Enfance, May 10.
More than 100 students and adults at both locations shared smiles and music, while Sailors gave teddy bears to the children.
“We are grateful they came here to bring some joy and happiness to our kids,” said Emma Brousset, director of the Centre Pilote pour la Petite Enfance. “There are some here with handicaps who were able to feel the vibe of the music and dance.”
After theater security cooperation visits to Republic of Congo, Namibia and South Africa, Swift began engagement in support of APS, making port visits in Mozambique, Tanzania, and Kenya. During these port visits, Swift’s military detachment and embarked APS trainers and international staff conducted classroom and hands-on training in various topics, including basic infantry skills, hand-signal communication, non-lethal weapons tactics, leadership, port security, martial arts, and riot control.
Along the way, the ship’s crew, military detachment, and embarked staffs participated in community relations projects, soccer matches, blood drives, and distributed educational, humanitarian, and goodwill materials part of a program called Project Handclasp. As this was Swift’s fifth year of participating in APS, its contracted mariner crew has watched the program evolve.
“A lot of the partnership nations are really starting to develop and it’s great to see the U.S. Navy is taking an active role participating in that development,” said civilian mariner Third Mate Nathan Gresh. Swift’s crew are mariners who are employed by a company under contract to MSC. “I think the main goal is in the name ‘Africa Partnership.’ The idea is to help developing nations and build strong relations for the future. I believe we’ve planted good seeds with these APS missions.”
In July, the Swift’s U.S. Navy Gold Crew relieved the Blue Crew during a port visit to Naples, Italy, even as it made preparations for its next few months in supporting APS West 2012 and 2013.
Following a brief stop in Rota, Spain, to load cargo and supplies, including more than 147 pallets of various goodwill and humanitarian supplies to assist medical care in the region, Swift headed to Liberia.
“It’s amazing to think of the impact that some of these items will have,” said Lt. Christopher Ganske, Swift’s Gold Crew supply officer. “We have 11,000 eyeglasses, and that’s just an example of what two pallets contain, but that holds the possibility to affect thousands of people’s lives in just Liberia alone.”
The rest of the supplies were put to use by embarked medical personnel who conducted medical civil action programs during outreach events in West African ports.
Those ports included Ghana, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Benin, Togo, and Cape Verde. While the APS focus continued on military to military exchanges and training, a medical exchange component was added, as evidenced by the port visit to Ghana where a team of medical personnel from Swift conducted a medical civil action program with Ghanaian health professionals at the Supomu Dunkwa Health Centre, conducting classroom training engagements and planning for future APS evolutions. In Benin, Navy and civilian medical personnel from the non-governmental organization (NGO) Project Hope hosted a three-day medical civic action program (MEDCAP) health fair to provide optometry care, pediatric, general, and maternal health screenings, as well as patient education in the areas of hygiene and nutrition.
“This was a once in a lifetime event for everyone involved,” said Lt. Cmdr. Rommel Flores, medical team officer-in-charge. “As we wind down on this deployment, we’re focused on making sure our visit had an impact for the health professionals here in Benin and the people with whom we interacted.”
Another highlight came when Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus visited Swift Aug. 29, during a distinguished visitor's reception in Douala, Cameroon.
Mabus addressed the crew from the ship's flight deck during the reception, stressing the importance of continued partnership in building regional relationships that help to deter those who seek to disrupt the free movement of vessels at sea.
"The work you are all doing here with our partners in the region can not be overstated," said Mabus. "We face common concerns and common enemies, pirates, terrorists, and traffickers. If we stand together and if we continue to operate together as partners, we will prevail against these enemies."
SECNAVs visit was part of a trip across Africa that allowed him to thank Sailors and Marines for their service and to stress the efforts in sustaining security in the region.
"The Gulf of Guinea is a crucial waterway for not just the countries that border it, but the inland countries that are served by it and for the entire world," said Mabus.
The final APS port visit for Swift was in Mindelo, Cape Verde, in January 2013, where a team of U.S. Navy maritime civil affairs security training (MCAST) instructors completed eight days of training with Cape Verdian marines and coast guardsman aboard Swift.
The MCAST team from Dam Neck, Va., had the chance to use not only their military skills during courses on boarding team operations and armed sentry training, but also their language skills as two MCAST instructors used their fluency in Portuguese to translate and communicate instructions. The training comprised conducting simulated boarding procedures on the Cape Verde Coast Guard patrol boat NP Guardian (P511).
“The real reward from APS was to be engaged with African host nations, meet people, get to know what issues are important to them and feel like we are making a valuable contribution to their security and economy,” said Lt. Cmdr. Charles Eaton, officer in charge of Swift’s Blue Crew. “I think that’s probably the biggest takeaway you can have from any deployment, to feel that you made a difference in the world.”
Military Sealift Command operates approximately 110 noncombatant, merchant mariner-crewed ships that replenish U.S. Navy ships, conduct specialized missions, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world and move military cargo and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces and coalition partners.