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Naval vessels from 15 different nations navigated Colombian waters as they participate in UNITAS 2013, an operation that brought nations together to strengthen international partnerships.
UNITAS, Latin for “unity,” is an annual multinational naval exercise designed to enhance security cooperation between North and South American maritime forces. 2013 marks the 54th year of the event, making UNITAS the longest ongoing maritime exercise held in the region.
Coast Guard Cutter Forward, a 270-foot medium endurance cutter homeported in Portsmouth, Va., represented the United States alongside their shipmates from the USS Rentz. They were joined by naval forces from Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Germany, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Peru and the United Kingdom.
UNITAS 2013 was hosted by the Colombian Navy in Cartagena, Colombia. Before heading out to sea, the first three days of the event provided a time for fellowship. Crewmembers aboard Forward interacted with mariners from other nations, toured their vessels and further strengthened America’s relationship with partner nations.
“UNITAS provided an invaluable human experience where our crew met face-to-face and worked side-by-side with crews from Colombia, Chile, Canada, the United Kingdom and many other partner nations,” said Cmdr. Gregory Wisener, commanding officer of Forward. “We learned about one another’s cultures and realized how much we all have in common.”
UNITAS incorporates numerous maritime exercises designed to challenge vessels from various nations and encourage them to work together as one multinational force.
Each crewmember aboard Forward benefitted from participating in UNITAS 2013, including Seaman Brittney Durbin, a member of Forward’s deck department. “We have gained from this invaluable experience that we may not get a chance to ever see again,” said Durbin. “We enjoyed some friendly rivalry during the various events. We pushed our ship, tested the crew and learned we are more capable than ever.”
Scenarios presented challenges across a spectrum of maritime operations, including anti-air warfare and air defense, anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare and maritime interdiction operations.
It is tradition for two nations to exchange crewmembers to ride aboard the other nation’s ship. Forward had the unique opportunity to host Ensign Jhon Caceres-Gonzalez, a supply officer aboard the Colombian frigate Antioquia.
“I have had the pleasure of sailing aboard the Forward for the UNITAS exercise,” said Caceres-Gonzalez. “The first couple of days were the most challenging as I awoke to strange surroundings, new uniforms and new routines. However, the crew proved extremely hospitable and immediately welcomed me into their community.”
The purpose behind the tradition of exchanging crewmembers is so they can gain experience from a unique perspective. The individual ship rider is not the only one who gains this valuable experience. Each member aboard Forward benefitted from hosting Caceres-Gonzalez as a ship rider.
“I have found the Coast Guard to be an extremely competent and flexible organization,” said Caceres-Gonzalez. “While war fighting is not the primary role of the Coast Guard, they quickly adapted and integrated themselves into the task group by participating and excelling at the day-to-day exercises and events. What impressed me the most was when Forward’s crew received a search and rescue case midway through UNITAS and they seamlessly changed roles from fighting to search and rescue and then, upon completion of the search and rescue, back to fighting.
“My time on Forward has been extremely enjoyable and I think that these exchanges and joint exercises are greatly beneficial to allow us to learn from each other and cooperate more efficiently together.”
In the final 48 hours of UNITAS, two evenly matched forces launched a simulated “war games.” This final scenario provided vessels with the opportunity to apply the lessons learned over the course of UNITAS. Forward performed admirably in the “war games” and was credited with destroying two surface contacts. In the end, Forward and her allies were victorious over their opponent.
“We proved to ourselves that we can operate effectively at sea with naval forces from around the world” said Wisener. “We sharpened our inter-operability skills and will apply what we learned to future operations, including law enforcement missions against trans-national criminal organizations, search and rescue operations, emergency response during times of international crisis, and international defense operations.
After participating in UNITAS 2013, all hands aboard Forward stand ready to meet the complex challenges that wait on the horizon.