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German navy Lt. Cmdr. Mario Fink, the on-scene commander for mine countermeasures operations around Kuwait during the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise, talks to a Dutch officer while the auxiliary expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Choctaw County leaves port in Bahrain on April 10, 2016.

German navy Lt. Cmdr. Mario Fink, the on-scene commander for mine countermeasures operations around Kuwait during the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise, talks to a Dutch officer while the auxiliary expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Choctaw County leaves port in Bahrain on April 10, 2016. (Chris Church/Stars and Stripes)

German navy Lt. Cmdr. Mario Fink, the on-scene commander for mine countermeasures operations around Kuwait during the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise, talks to a Dutch officer while the auxiliary expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Choctaw County leaves port in Bahrain on April 10, 2016.

German navy Lt. Cmdr. Mario Fink, the on-scene commander for mine countermeasures operations around Kuwait during the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise, talks to a Dutch officer while the auxiliary expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Choctaw County leaves port in Bahrain on April 10, 2016. (Chris Church/Stars and Stripes)

Personnel and media from several nations stand on the flight deck, watch and take pictures as the auxiliary expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Choctaw County leaves port in Bahrain during the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise on April 10, 2016.

Personnel and media from several nations stand on the flight deck, watch and take pictures as the auxiliary expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Choctaw County leaves port in Bahrain during the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise on April 10, 2016. (Chris Church/Stars and Stripes)

Clement Jacotot, a member of a French explosive ordnance disposal team checks gear in the well deck of the USNS Choctaw County during the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise on April 10, 2016.

Clement Jacotot, a member of a French explosive ordnance disposal team checks gear in the well deck of the USNS Choctaw County during the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise on April 10, 2016. (Chris Church/Stars and Stripes)

Military officers take pictures in the well deck of the USNS Choctaw County during the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise on April 10, 2016.

Military officers take pictures in the well deck of the USNS Choctaw County during the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise on April 10, 2016. (Chris Church/Stars and Stripes)

An aircrew member waits to board media on an MH-53E Sea Dragon, which is used by the U.S. Navy for airborne mine countermeasure missions, to transit them from the USNS Choctaw County during the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise on April 10, 2016.

An aircrew member waits to board media on an MH-53E Sea Dragon, which is used by the U.S. Navy for airborne mine countermeasure missions, to transit them from the USNS Choctaw County during the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise on April 10, 2016. (Chris Church/Stars and Stripes)

The Military Sealift Command joint high-speed vessel USNS Choctaw County prepares to moor pierside at Naval Station Mayport, Fla., basin after picking up U.S. servicemembers. The Choctaw County currently is taking part in mine countermeasure exercises in the Middle East.

The Military Sealift Command joint high-speed vessel USNS Choctaw County prepares to moor pierside at Naval Station Mayport, Fla., basin after picking up U.S. servicemembers. The Choctaw County currently is taking part in mine countermeasure exercises in the Middle East. (U.S. Navy)

MANAMA, Bahrain — It may not be the prettiest ship in the Navy’s inventory, but don’t underestimate the unique capabilities of the USNS Choctaw County.

The Choctaw County has been turning heads since it arrived in the 5th Fleet area of operations in February. This shallow draft aluminum catamaran with a 22-man civilian crew is fast — traveling an average of 35 knots — and can carry about 600 short tons of military cargo, according to the U.S. Navy’s website. It also has a flight deck for helicopter operations, a well deck to store equipment, and an off-load ramp allowing vehicles to quickly drive off the ship.

“It primarily functions as a delivery vehicle for cargo, personnel and modular/tailored forces in response to a wide range of mission demands,” 5th Fleet spokesman Lt. Ian McConnaughey said.

Most recently, it’s been taking part in the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise, which began in early April across the Middle East region.

One of the exercise’s task groups took advantage of the Choctaw County’s cargo delivery and speed capabilities earlier this month to bring personnel and equipment from Bahrain to Kuwait to participate in operations around the country’s coastline and in a port, said German navy Lt. Cmdr. Mario Fink, the on-scene commander for the operations around Kuwait. He said it also would be used as a command-and-control platform during the exercise.

The ship is a force multiplier, McConnaughey said. Its skills compliment a variety of missions in the area, including countering illicit trafficking, theater security cooperation, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and noncombatant evacuation operations.

What the Choctaw County is doing during the exercise only scratches the surface of what the Navy will get out of the ship in the future, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command commander Vice Adm. Kevin Donegan said earlier this month.

“It’s not a front end combatant ship that you can drive into a combat zone because its not built that way. It’s a supporting ship,” he said. “But it can help us tremendously from moving equipment from A to B, and also provides a platform to do other things from it.”

church.chris@stripes.com Twitter: @CChurchStripes


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