USS Gravely in the Baltics: Joining fun with Ukrainian children while bolstering NATO allies
Daily Press May 17, 2022
(Tribune News Service) — Sometimes, following a military strategy can feel like a tug of war. Sometimes, it is one.
Operating 1,000 miles as the crow flies from the USS Harry S. Truman carrier strike group, of which the USS Gravely is part, its Norfolk-based crew is carrying out the group’s mission: bolstering NATO’s eastern flank.
And on a sunny day in Gdynia, Poland, that meant sailors had a chance to join the fun at a school field day, including adding some muscle to the kids’ tug-of-wars. Some of those children’s families had fled the fighting in Ukraine.
Gravely’s sailors also organized a warehouse full of items for displaced Ukrainian families.
Poland is on NATO’s front line with Russia, as is Lithuania, where the Gravely also stopped during its Baltic mission.
The ship hosted Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda during a port call in the city of Klaipėda, behind the northern end of the 60 mile Curonian Spit that straddles the country’s border with Russia.
“Our brothers and sisters in this country have been strong supporters of NATO,” said Cmdr. Hunter Washburn, Gravely’s commanding officer.
Such visits are “another step towards an even stronger partnership,” he said.
They are part of the message Gravely, like the other Norfolk-based destroyers that recently returned from operating in the Baltic, is there to send: the U.S. Navy is committed to bolstering NATO allies bordering Russia.
It is a message that involves more than a tug of war, or a presidential visit.
In the Baltic, Gravely has conducted air defense exercises with NATO allies, as well as drilling on ship handling and maneuvering with allies’ warships. Training also included divisional tactical exercises, a chance for junior officers to direct movements and operations as if they were in command.
Moving north from the Mediterranean, where the Truman and its air wing are running air policing missions over NATO territory and seas in southeastern Europe, meant breaking out “beanies, long johns, gloves and cold weather socks to make sure sailors were warm and safe while conducting their duties topside in the weather,” Washburn said.
“The cold affects different systems in different ways, but most of the concerns just require extra maintenance to ensure we stay mission ready,” he added.
And while “There are some logistical timelines that change, ... we have been able to depend on our partners and allies for support while receiving supplies and fuel during our port visits,” Washburn said.
Throughout, the crew did their work with Gravely-like flair — as when Petty Officer 1st Class Alexander Woods took his reenlistment oath 125 feet up in the air, on the yardarm of the destroyer’s mast.
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