Tuesday, February 7, 2012

War Games

Friday, 02 December 2011

This bright, chilly morning finds USNS Arctic moored at Naval Station Mayport, just a few miles from Jacksonville, Florida.  We are completing cargo in preparation to get underway later today for participation in a Composite Unit Training Exercise, or COMPTUEX, off the coast of Florida and the Bahamas.

 What on earth is a COMPTUEX?  It’s a kind of graduation exercise for the ships and air units of a Navy Carrier Strike Group and Amphibious Ready Group, the culmination of a prolonged training process ensuring the force’s readiness for deployment.  The preparation for overseas deployment begins more than a year prior to that tearful goodbye at pierside, with individual ships’ companies working in classroom environments and simulators, qualifying in the theory and practice of damage control, boarding operations, rules of engagement (ROE) and of course fighting the ship in a variety of combat scenarios.  As months race by, and as Sailors and their families “psych” up for the coming separations, shipboard training intensifies in accordance with a well-established plan intended to have the crews and vessels operating at peak efficiency by the time they deploy, and slowly moving from single-ship practice to multiple vessels, then introducing the embarking air groups and supporting submarines, ever more intensive and complex training scenarios, and finally, mere months before the deployment is scheduled to actually commence comes the Composite Training Unit Exercise, which brings all the ships, aircraft, men and women of that incredibly complicated instrument of national policy that is a combined Strike Group together in a synergistic melding of people, machinery, and purpose.

Quite an event, and quite exciting for the crew of T-AOE 8 in general and for me in particular, as Arctic will have a role in this exercise well beyond the critical duty of providing fuel and supplies to the ships involved.  We will be assisting with the training itself, acting variously as a “suspect vessel” or piracy victim for boarding teams to practice storming by helicopter “fast-rope” and small-boat tactics, convoyed ship for destroyers to escort thru sub-infested waters, and even a vessel-in-distress to be “rescued”.  And, of course, we’ll be the subject of many a targeting exercise, the simulated object of many a phantom missile, torpedo or smart-bomb.  (Better than the real thing…)

It’s a tough job; we won’t get a lot of sleep in the weeks to come, and plenty of coffee will be consumed on the bridge, but I have been through COMPTUEXs many times, sailing in destroyers, cruisers and frigates as they prepared for overseas movement, and thus know well the value of Arctic’s contribution to this exercise.  We’ll put crews, aircrews, ships and aircraft through their paces, helping them to learn their duties more fully, so as to be even more ready when the unexpected comes along during their upcoming deployment.  We, the Captain, officers, men and women of USNS Arctic, in our great ship, will act as the whetstone that sharpens the skills of the Strike Group, making them that little bit more ready for the voyage ahead.

 Frankly, I can’t wait to get started.  This is gonna be good!

Tom Epps
Able Seaman
USNS Arctic
Mayport, Florida

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