MAYPORT, Fla. -- The Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigate USS Underwood (FFG 36) returned to Naval Station Mayport from its final deployment, Southern Seas 2012 to Central and South America and the Caribbean, Oct. 30.
Underwood, with embarked Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light 48 Detachment 3, completed a 190-day deployment in the 4th Fleet Area of Responsibility. The ship will be decommissioned in March 2013.
Underwood announced its arrival in the Mayport harbor with a 36-gun salute. Family and friends waited on the pier.
"It is a wonderful feeling to return home after Underwood's final deployment," said Cmdr. Peter T. Mirisola, the commanding officer of the ship. "The crew performed admirably and I could not be more proud of them. They justifiably earned the accolades and admiration of our partners in South America and the Caribbean and represented the United States of America, our Navy and the thousands of Sailors who served on Underwood for three decades exceptionally well."
The ship departed Mayport April 23 to participate in Composite Training Unit Exercise before proceeding to Peru for its first international exercise in May.
Throughout the cruise, Underwood made 23 port visits, to include: Peru, Chile, Panama, Colombia, Jamaica, Curacao, Trinidad and Tobago, Guantanamo Bay, Honduras, and Key West and transited the Panama Canal twice.
The deployment involved theater security cooperation and counter-narcotic operations. Underwood participated in the multinational exercises UNITAS Atlantic, UNITAS Pacific, and Silent Forces Exercise. Bilateral exercises with Chile and Colombia and a group sail with Brazil were part of the theater security operations in which it participated.
During August and October, Underwood directly supported Operation Martillo, a counter-transnational organized crime operation focused on monitoring and detecting drug runners in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific. The ship is credited with recovering $27.5 million wholesale worth of cocaine with the help of the U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachments 101 and 107.
Underwood co-hosted receptions with ambassadors and a deputy chief of mission. In Chile, U.S. Ambassador to Chile Alejandro D. Wolff joined the crew in commemorating the Battle of Midway and the Battle of Iquique. In Jamaica, Ambassador Pamela E. Bridgewater and Underwood Sailors celebrated the 50th anniversary of Jamaica's independence and the establishment of the Jamaica Defence Force. In Trinidad and Tobago (TTO), Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy, Port of Spain, TTO, David C. Wolfe helped observe the 50th anniversary of TTO's independence.
Sailors participated in 12 community engagement events in Peru, Chile, Jamaica, Curacao, TTO and Key West. They also donated Project Handclasp materials in six countries. There was one rescue at sea, where Underwood saved the lives of six fishermen, including a child, who were stranded at sea for 10 days after their engine broke down.
At sea, Underwood executed three live-fire exercises and two drone exercises. Gunner's mates fired 173 rounds from the Mk 75 76 millimeter gun and 1,400 rounds from close-in weapon system.
Two foreign naval officers from Peru and Argentina and assigned to U.S. Navy Destroyer Squadron 40 embarked aboard Underwood for the final month of deployment to earn their surface warfare pins. Additionally, two ensigns from USS Simpson (FFG 56) were aboard for the last month and a half to work on officer of the deck qualifications while Simpson is in port.
Sailors also had momentous personal achievements this deployment. Forty-eight Sailors earned their Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist qualification and seven Sailors earned their Enlisted Aviation Warfare Specialist qualification. Underwood promoted 29 Sailors to the next rank over the past six months as well.
"Southern Seas 2012 has been an outstanding experience for Underwood Sailors," said Command Master Chief Michael P. Bates. "This deployment has set Underwood Sailors up for future success and the majority of them will never have the opportunity to experience a deployment like this again. Additionally, the majority of our Sailors were able to earn many tactical and technical qualifications which greatly enhanced Underwood's overall combat readiness and greatly impacted each Sailor's career development and progress."
Underwood deployed to Central and South America and the Caribbean in support of Operation Martillo and U.S. 4th Fleet's mission, Southern Seas 2012.
Operation Martillo (Spanish for "hammer") is a U.S., European and Western Hemisphere partner nation effort targeting illicit trafficking routes in coastal waters along the Central American isthmus. Led by Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) South, a component of U.S. Southern Command, Operation Martillo is a component of the U.S. government's coordinated regional security strategy in support of White House strategy to combat transitional organized crime and the U.S. Central America Security Initiative. Fourteen countries are participating: Canada, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.
JIATF South is a multiservice, multiagency, national task force which conducts counter-illicit trafficking operations and intelligence fusion to detect, monitor, and hand-off suspected illicit trafficking targets to law enforcement activities; promotes security cooperation and coordinates country team and partner nation initiatives in order to defeat the flow of illicit traffic.
COMUSNAVSO/COMFOURTHFLT supports U.S. Southern Command joint and combined full-spectrum military operations by providing principally sea-based, forward presence to ensure freedom of maneuver in the maritime domain, to foster and sustain cooperative relationships with international partners and to fully exploit the sea as maneuver space in order to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central and South American regions.