Spanish marines depart the Spanish navy Descubierta-class corvette SPS Infanta Elena (P 76) during a visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) drill in the Mediterranean Sea during Phoenix Express 2010 (PE-10). PE-10 aims to improve maritime safety and security in the Mediterranean Sea through increased interoperability and cooperation among regional partners from Africa, Europe and the United States. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class John Hulle/Released)
USNS LCPL ROY M. WHEAT, At sea (NNS) -- Merchant marine vessel USNS LCpl. Roy M. Wheat (T-AK 3016) participated in exercise Phoenix Express 2010 (PE10) as a mock boarding vessel for Maritime Interdiction Operations (MIO) teams.
PE10 is a two-week, two-phase multinational, maritime exercise among regional partners from Africa, Europe and the United States. During PE10's second phase at-sea portion in the Mediterranean Sea MIO teams from different participating countries practiced various evolutions such as visit, board, search and seizures and helo visit, board, search and seizures on different vessels.
USNS Wheat was the biggest vessel that provided MIO teams with an ideal boarding environment and a chance to utilize what they had learned during PE10's first phase in-port at Souda Bay, Greece.
An average of two boardings per day by different countries took place. Wheat's Commanding Officer Capt. John W. Matfield was on the bridge to meet each newly arriving team and watch as they commandeered his ship.
"It's been interesting to see the different forces at work and how hard it is to pull it all together," said Matfield. "But it also surprises me that these teams do as well as they do on such short notices."
boarding team officer from the Portuguese Navy 2nd Lt. Doris Fonseca came aboard the Wheat as her country's MIO team performed a fast rope landing onto the Wheat's flight deck then secured the ship's bridge, crew members and engine room. She directed operations as the team performed a search through certain ship's spaces to find simulated, illegal material such as firearms.
"I think our team did very well," said Fonseca. "We don't have too many ships like the Wheat to practice this kind of training. The Wheat is a large ship but we were able to sweep all the compartments and we found what we were looking for."
According to Fonseca, exercises like PE10 are great for preparing her country to deal with international maritime concerns such as Somalia and the Horn of Africa.
Matfield explained his willingness to allow so many foreign boarders onto his vessel.
"The Wheat's motto is 'Whatever, wherever, whenever' so the crew and I see this exercise as a part of our job as well as a break from our normal routine," said Matfield. "We want to provide the teams with a realistic experience because for the most part their training platforms are not as similar as a commercial vessel."
A U.S. Navy Expeditionary Combat Command MIO trainer was on board Wheat to observe team performances during the week. He felt he could see all the training successfully come together.
"For the boarding teams which were able to go through the entire training phase of PE10 it is evident they have integrated those lessons into their operations," he said. "The best part of the underway phase is to have those same boarding teams put the knowledge to practical use while we simultaneously continue to provide feedback and training to better prepare them for the future."
PE10 is the second Phoenix Express exercise USNS Wheat, originally a Ukranian built and owned ship has participated in.
Wheat was commissioned as a U.S. Naval ship in late 2001. As part of the Navy's Military Sealift Command, Wheat is primarily used for the U.S. Marine Corps. The Wheat is named in honor of Marine Corps LCpl. Roy M. Wheat who died in 1967 during the Vietnam War and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
PE10 is the fifth annual exercise in a long-term effort to improve regional cooperation and maritime security. The principal aim of Phoenix Express is to increase interoperability between participating countries as well as promote friendship, mutual understanding and cooperation.