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ABOARD THE USS ENTERPRISE — American and allied naval forces in the eastern Atlantic Ocean have wrapped up a six-day exercise designed to practice maritime teamwork and test the ability to rapidly deploy.

The U.S. Navy ordered seven carrier strike groups out to sea in June as part of its new Fleet Response Plan, a strategy aimed at making a large number of ships available on a moment’s notice.

The USS Enterprise and USS Harry S. Truman carriers and accompanying ships and submarines cruised to the eastern Atlantic off the coast of Morocco to join ships from nine other nations as part of NATO-led Medshark/Majestic Eagle ’04. The multinational drill was the final portion of Summer Pulse ’04, a first-of-its-kind exercise involving the deployment of more than three-quarters of the U.S. Navy’s 12 carriers.

The Navy’s new plan is a major change in the way the fleet deploys to far-flung hot spots. Traditionally, the Navy sent carriers to sea for six months, followed by up to two years in port.

“It’s a little bit more of a responsibility for us,” said Master Chief Petty Officer Tim Gotkiewicz, command master chief for Carrier Air Wing 1, which deployed aboard the Enterprise. “The bottom line is that in today’s world, we can’t just work the way we used to. We realize that.”

Deploying ships much faster than in the past, something the Navy calls “surging,” is supposed to help mold the fleet into a maritime force that can better fight terrorism and respond to future conflicts.

The U.S. Navy and allied forces completed the exercise north of the Spanish Canary Islands on Friday. The training event included 20,000 military personnel on 30 ships and submarines. Eight U.S. surface ships, including the Sixth Fleet’s command ship USS LaSalle, participated in addition to two U.S. submarines and two maritime patrol P-3 Orion aircraft. Seven U.S. Air Force tanker aircraft provided fuel for planes.

Part of the training included aircraft dropping inert and live smart bombs on Morocco’s Cap Draa training range near Tan-Tan in the southwest region of the country.

Dropping live ordnance is a rare opportunity for pilots.

“It’s pretty realistic, I think,” Gotkiewicz said. “We have some people playing enemy forces and we play the good guys. They try to keep everything as realistic as possible. We don’t know what the enemy forces are doing. They’ll try and run on us and they’ll try and penetrate our space and all of that.”

At the conclusion of the exercise, commanders planned to put together a list of what went right and what wrong. Sailors found out earlier that there are logistical challenges that go along with deploying so fast. For example, some departments reported that they needed more supplies.

Command Master Chief Petty Officer Robin Spelman, the Enterprise’s command master chief, said the Navy is in the “baby phase” of the Fleet Response plan and is learning through this summer’s exercise how to improve it.

“People spent a long time planning this out working up to the point we’re at right now,” he said. “So, we want to make sure this really works and find out what the lessons learned are.

“Once we’ve done it, we’ve learned what the lessons learned are, then we go back and refine it.”


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