Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Walter Shinn.
Mist hovered over the ocean at dawn as water glistened from the sun’s vibrant purple haze streaming across the water, resembling a lake. What separated this area of ocean from a lake, however, were the authoritative shadowy figures of 13 naval vessels beaming across the water. These vessels had come together to participate in UNITAS, an operation that brought nations together to further develop and sustain international partnerships.
UNITAS, Latin for “unity,” is an annual U.S. Southern Command, multinational naval exercise designed to enhance security cooperation between South American and U.S. maritime forces. This is the 53rd year partner nations have participated in UNITAS, making it the longest ongoing maritime exercise in this region as well as the largest.
Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba, a 270-foot medium endurance cutter homeported in Boston, represented the service at this year’s UNITAS. They were joined by naval forces from Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the United States. Also participating this year were observers from France, Jamaica, Panama and Peru.
“During a typical patrol the crew aboard Escanaba conducts search and rescue operations, enforces migrant interdictions; however, working with international partners performing naval exercises is somewhat unique for a medium endurance cutter,” said Cmdr. Chris Glander, commanding officer of Escanaba. “The goal of UNITAS is to improve communications and interoperability with our partner nations and it has done just that as we are undoubtedly better prepared for our defense readiness mission than ever before.”
By design, UNITAS allows the naval forces to train in a variety of maritime scenarios, with each operating as a component of a multinational force. In doing so the annual exercise fosters friendly, mutual cooperation and understanding between participating navies.
UNITAS scenarios addressed the spectrum of maritime operations while testing command and control of forces at sea. Specifically, the naval forces participating conducted operations including electronic warfare, anti-air warfare and air defense, anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare and maritime interdiction operations.
Throughout the exercise, naval forces exchanged crewmem¬bers to ride aboard other nation’s ships. Royal Canadian NavySub-Lt. Zachary P. Johnson experienced Coast Guard operations firsthand as he rode aboard Escanaba.
I have had the pleasure of sailing onboard Escanaba for the UNITAS exercise. The first couple of days were the most challenging as I awoke to strange surroundings, new uniforms and new routines. However, the crew proved extremely hospitable and immediately welcomed me into their community. Working with the USCG I have found them to be an extremely competent and flexible organization. While war fighting is not the primary role of the Coast Guard they quickly adapted and integrated themselves into the task group by participating and excelling at the day-to-day exercises and events. However, what impressed me the most was when Escanaba received a SAR case midway through UNITAS. The crew seamlessly changed roles from war fighting to search and rescue and then, upon completion of the SAR, back again. My time on the Escanaba has been extremely enjoyable. I have met some great people and learned a lot about how the USCG functions. I think that these exchanges and joint exercises are greatly beneficial to both allow us to learn from each other, as well as cooperate more efficiently together.
The experience gained from UNITAS will not only help other servicemembers from their respective nations but also Coast Guard men and women. Ensign Michael Gonzales rode aboard HMCS Preserver.
For nine days, I had the privilege of sailing with the men and women of the Canadian Royal Navy aboard the HMCS Preserver, a supply ship not only for the Canadian Navy, but for her allies and any one in need of humanitarian assistance. At first, it is a bit intimidating trying to integrate with a foreign crew, especially one as large as Preserver’s; close to 300. However, we were welcomed with a genuine degree of hospitality, having members of the crew most excited to show you their job, treating you as though you were a member of the watch, not a guest.
After this experience, it is great to know that we are allies and that we can function successfully as a team if the necessity arises. As I conclude my trip, I feel as though I had a great time. I feel like I have made professional acquaintances, and some great friends. The open-door atmosphere allowed me to integrate well with the crew of the Preserver, and I learned quite a few new perspectives on deck watch and engineering watch that I will certainly take back to the Coast Guard with me.
Etched into the heart and soul of each Coast Guard member is the calling to be always ready. After participating in this exercise, crewmembers will now not only be ready for what the future may hold but will also be able to work in unity with naval forces from around the world.