USS Gunston Hall completes first phase of APS mission


The Africa Partnership Station (APS) West platform USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44) completed the first APS phase of its mission, the “Ghana hub,” in Sekondi, Ghana last week.

The ship and its embarked international staff graduated 65 embarked African partners from Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, and Togo at Sekondi Naval Base following 20 days of in port and at sea training. The sailors completed a rigorous program of courses designed to enhance their knowledge of maritime safety and security.
“The international aspect of the program is important,” said Captain Cindy Thebaud, APS West commander, during the graduation ceremony. “Maritime security is a partnership, it is not something that one nation or one group of people from one organization can do alone. The maritime security challenges transcend national and sub-regional boundaries, and so must the response.”

After the African sailors embarked Gunston Hall, they experienced classroom and hands-on training for 20 days in areas including small boat operations, fisheries management, oil platform security, basic first aid, force protection, and search and rescue tactics from training teams from Italy and the United States.
“The instructors were able to break down the training material so we could better understand it,” said Nigerian navy Petty Officer Obalaja Ademola, from Lagos, Nigeria, who did the small boat operations training. “I very much appreciate the training APS has provided me.”
“The students I help teach are really enjoying the training that the team is providing. I just hope they will take it back with them to help with training their navy,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Chirstelle Byll, a force protection instructor assigned to the Security Force Assistance Detachment of the Maritime Civil Affairs and Security Training Command (MCAST).

While some students were engaged in classroom instruction, other sailors were paired up with Gunston Hall sailors in similar career fields to further develop their skills in that field.
“Our colleagues were very receptive and eager to learn,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Michauli Martin, a Gunston Hall sailor who paired up with a Ghanaian logistics specialist. “We spent a lot of time talking and comparing the ways each of our Navies operate. I showed them how we order and inventory parts, using our supply system, and I compared that to the way they operated.”

Martin also added that she learned a lot about the Ghanaian navy from this experience and that it was important to interface with African partners because it helps improve the maritime safety and security in West Africa.
“The training I received here was fantastic,” said Godfred Darkwah, a Ghanaian navy Leading Seaman. “My trainer was excellent and I have never had an experience like this before. The quality of the training, how friendly the people were really helped me improve my knowledge of maritime safety and security. I learned a lot about logistics and I will take that training with me to my Navy to train others as I have been trained here.”

While the ship and embarked staff worked with the African navies, Marines from Great Britain, Portugal, Spain and the United States assigned to the embarked Security Cooperation Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SC-MAGTF) and Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 7 provided disaster-relief training to the Ghana Armed Forces (GAF) in Tema.
“During the exercise we worked with the GAF on patrolling, squad level tactics, and enlisted leadership,” said Marine 2nd Lieutenant Nicole Teat of the SC-MAGTF. “We hope to further hone the GAF’s capabilities and to increase their interactions with the US military.”

Also in Tema, a joint Navy and Air Force medical team worked alongside local staffs at the Manhean and Pram-Pram health centres to provide medical and dental care to an average of more than 300 patients a day.
“It really felt great helping out all those people,” said Air Force Captain Eirleen Hyun, a dentist from the medical outreach program. “It wasn’t just seeing people who needed a tooth pulled. A lot of our patients had not eaten for days because they needed a full mouth extraction. We were able to alleviate some of their pain so they could eat and work.”

The APS/Gunston Hall team also conducted three community outreach projects. These projects included refurbishing St. Theresa’s Early Childhood Development Centre, the Sekondi School for the Deaf, and the Sekondi Naval Base medical clinic.

Petty Officer 1st Class Darren Maxwell, from Staten Island, NY, commented that working at the school for the deaf enabled him to give back to something that he said was very personal to him.
“My son is hearing impaired,” said Maxwell. “Someday he’s going to see or read about what we’re doing here and I want him to know that his dad was a part of it. I want him to be proud of his dad.”

With the help of Assault Craft Unit (ACU) 2 and Beach Master Unit (BMU) 2, the team delivered nutritional meals, books, pharmaceuticals, and medical supplies to eight different schools, hospitals and medical clinics throughout Ghana as part of Project Handclasp. This also included a visit to Sao Tome and Principe to deliver 27 pallets of computers and wheelchairs. Seabees with NMCB 7 also assisted with some projects, including restoring a playground at St. Theresa’s.
“We enjoyed being able to make our mark in Ghana,” said Senior Chief Utilitiesman (SCW) Leslie Doyle of NMCB-7. “The partnerships we build today are going a long way for the future.”

Gunston Hall and her international staff now move into the final phase of the APS deployment. Their last round of activities will be based in Dakar, Senegal, where they expect to train with maritime personnel from Cape Verde, Equatorial Guinea, Liberia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, The Gambia and Togo

Gunston Hall is on a scheduled deployment in the 6th Fleet area of responsibility in support of APS West, an international initiative developed by Naval Forces Europe and Naval Forces Africa that aims to improve maritime safety and security in West and Central Africa.

Pic: USS Gunston Hall ( LSD 44)