Gaeta-based Destroyer Squadron 60 small, but mighty
Starting a war with three people may make things tough, but once the staff of the Gaeta, Italy-based Destroyer Squadron 60 grew to eight-strong, the entire Mediterranean Sea was in their hands.
The eight-person unit was set up in February to command some of the U.S. 6th Fleet’s destroyers and frigates, but had only three people assigned at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“They really hit the deck running without their full compliment,” said Capt. Dale Little, 6th Fleet’s operations officer. “Once they stood up and were operational, they played a significant role in planning maritime interdiction operations and leadership interdiction” of Iraqi leaders attempting to flee through the Mediterranean.
During maritime interdiction operations, Navy crews sometimes board and search civilian vessels suspected of supporting terrorists and question the ships’ crews. The destroyer squadron has taken a lead role in the interdictions.
“We are the smallest DESRON in the Navy,” said Cmdr. Mike Taylor, the squadron’s chief of staff. “We’re billeted at eight, and the other squadrons are normally at 20 to 24.” A fourth member, a senior chief petty officer, joined the squadron during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Most destroyer squadrons are based in the States and deploy, but three are permanently overseas. Destroyer Squadron 15, the Navy’s largest-staffed squadron, is in Yokosuka, Japan. Destroyer Squadron 50 is in the Persian Gulf.
These overseas-based staffs provide continuity to the fleet commander.
“There’s no learning curve, like when [the other squadrons] transitioned in,” Little said. “They already know our policies and practices.”
The destroyer squadron’s small staff works at Naval Support Activity Gaeta’s Monte Orlando complex. Its members have twice embarked on the Gaeta-based 6th Fleet flagship USS La Salle, but normally embark on destroyers.
One of the squadron’s original jobs, protecting military vessels traveling through the Strait of Gibraltar, has since been turned over to NATO warships, allowing U.S. warships to assume a wider variety of missions.
Even with the shifting of roles, DESRON 60 units escorted more than 65 combatants and 355 allied merchant vessels. They still provide operational control over the escorts in the Strait.
The squadron currently has two ships assigned; one taking part in a Baltic Sea exercise and the other making high-level diplomatic port visits, known as engagements, in the Black Sea.
The schedule has kept the staff so busy that it didn’t have time for a formal startup ceremony. They settled on a simple cake-cutting on the mess decks of the La Salle a few weeks ago.
The squadron is up to six people and will soon have its allotted eight. The staff now ranges from Capt. Tim Taylor, who in Navy terms is the squadron’s commodore, to the junior member, an enlisted surface warfare specialist-qualified first class petty officer.