Each summer, ROTC midshipmen with hopes of becoming commissioned U.S. Navy officers take to the seas for two weeks of real-life training.

The U.S. Navy in Europe takes the program “up another notch” and embarks foreign midshipmen aboard U.S. ships afloat in the Mediterranean.

“We’ve invited foreign midshipmen … or junior officers” in the program, said Senior Chief Petty Officer Steven Galvan, a spokesman for Naval Forces Europe/6th Fleet.

“Basically, it gives them hands-on experience as to what sailors do on board ship,” he said. “They can be seen working with enlisted [sailors] … or junior officers who have already gone through the same program.”

Ten U.S. ships are participating in the Foreign Exchange Training for Midshipmen 2005 program, but the program is expanding, said Cmdr. Mary Ann Gworek, the foreign midshipman exchange coordinator for U.S. Naval Forces Europe and 6th Fleet.

Sixteen countries have sent 34 midshipmen and junior officers to study aboard the participating U.S. vessels, including Algeria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

“We make every attempt to match foreign midshipmen to U.S. ships participating in multinational exercises that involve their own navies, so that they can observe an exercise from another country’s navy,” Gworek said.

Robert Drapala, 23, is a midshipman from the Polish Navy deployed onto the frigate USS Klakring.

“This is a great pleasure for me,” he said during a telephone interview while the ship was docked in Spain. “I like the officers and the crew. They are very friendly to me and very helpful.”

While the Polish navy has a similar midshipman program, Drapala said being aboard the U.S. frigate lets him learn skills from an experienced crew accustomed to working on that specific class of ship. The U.S. Navy has sold several of the Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigates to the Polish navy.

“The main thing they asked of us when they got here was for us to do the best we could in showing them how to run administration for maintenance and training, and not so much [lessons] on watch-standing principles,” said Lt. Cmdr. Ed Gettings, the Klakring’s executive officer. “They’ve had a navy for a long time and know how to drive ships on the open ocean.”

The big push next year is to involve more countries from North Africa, the Gulf of Guinea, the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, Gworek said.

“By expanding the program to include more of our emerging naval partners, there is a greater opportunity for embarked midshipmen, or junior officers, to observe operations, such as maritime interdiction operations, and see, first-hand, methods the U.S. Navy employs to fight the global war on terror,” Gworek said.

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