5th Fleet mission has USS New York showing off its ‘amphibiosity’
ABOARD THE USS NEW YORK IN THE PERSIAN GULF — “The only solid plan was yesterday’s plan.”
That’s what some sailors aboard this ship like to say. Their mission is being ready to respond. On any given day a downed pilot in a hostile area, an embassy in distress or any other crisis may send Marines off the deck in as little as six hours to execute a mission.
Capt. Chris Brunett, the USS New York’s commanding officer, said the crew is used to plans changing quite a bit. That’s the exciting part about what he called “amphibiosity.”
“It’s the ability to be trained up on a lot of different missions, quickly plan, and then go execute them,” Brunett said.
The Mayport, Fla.-based New York is currently on an eight-month deployment to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility as part of the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group, which also includes the USS Fort McHenry. The warship has been maintaining a presence in the northern Persian Gulf, while the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima is positioned near Yemen because of the conflict there.
Sailors aboard the New York express deep pride and commitment to their jobs, even though uncertain deployment schedules and long times at sea can be stressful. Sequestration cuts and the fight against Islamic State haven’t made the situation any easier.
“It takes a toll overall,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Jody McClain, who’s going to miss his son’s graduation this year. “But when you go to sea duty that’s why it’s called arduous, you never know when the nation needs to call for certain things, and when we have to do certain things.”
McClain’s not the only sailor who finds himself deployed during important life events: So far six sailors have missed the birth of a child since the ship left home port.
With a crew of 360 sailors and an embarked landing force of some 700 Marines, the New York can respond to a full range of missions, from combat to humanitarian assistance.
It’s equipped with a well deck with two Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) transports, a flight deck capable of supporting a mix of helicopters and MV-22 Osprey aircraft, and a cargo bay filled with various types of combat vehicles. The ship even has a hospital, complete with operating rooms and a medical staff capable of handling a mass-casualty situation.
“We bring a lot to the fight,” Brunett said. “On any given day we’re getting our intel updates, and we’re looking at probably a half dozen different places.”
Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen are potential hot spots where the New York might be needed.
In June, the ship conducted a surge deployment in which it played a crucial role in the capture of suspected Benghazi attack ringleader Ahmed Abu Khattala in Libya. Along with work-ups, the ship spent most of last year at sea, leaving in December for its current deployment.
The ship’s embarked Marines recently spent a month ashore in Kuwait conducting weapons training and live-fire exercises. Besides serving as a ready crisis-response force, the ship is routinely involved in theater security cooperation efforts.
Amphibious warships like the New York are in high demand but in short supply.
The Navy’s chief of naval operations, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, said last month that the Navy has been able to keep only one other amphibious ready group in a readiness posture on average. The requirement from combatant commanders is three, so the Navy can respond to a potential major crisis. The Navy has only 31 of the 38 amphibious warships it says it needs to support global operations. Navy leaders have warned that the degraded readiness of the amphibious fleet may leave the service unable to properly respond to a contingency.
In addition, the Navy has struggled to bring stability to the shipboard deployment cycles in recent years, as sequestration cuts have caused massive maintenance backlogs. Its current plan to curtail deployment lengths and give sailors more predictable schedules is at the mercy of next year’s budget, the Navy’s top brass warns.
Aboard the New York, the high operational tempo is most demanding for the engineers who keep the ship in running order.
“Stuff breaks down a lot, but then you get to fix it. I love fixing stuff; I love the work,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Allison Hodge, who works on the ship’s air-conditioning systems. “It can be stressful at times, but we’re a big family and we get through it, one day at a time,” she said.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Dailey, an engineman who maintains the ship’s diesel engines, said deployment isn’t as bad as people make it out to be. “I think you’ve got to know why you’re here and what your motivation is, and just kind of hold onto it.”