ABOARD THE USS MESA VERDE – Capt. Larry LeGree sat on the bridge of his stealth warship, looked out and saw dozen of warships participating in exercises in the Atlantic Ocean, while a television monitor gave him a view of the flight deck as helicopters landed.
Tucked into the stern of the USS Mesa Verde, which has a very low radar profile, were two hovercrafts designed to deliver troops and supplies quickly to a shore.
LeGree is the Mesa Verde's commanding officer and he was pleased with his crew's work and the new ship, which is serving as the flagship of the multinational task force.
"I think it looks like a beautiful woman," he said Friday.
The U.S. Navy's longest-running annual exercise, UNITAS Gold, started April 20 and continues through Tuesday with several Latin American countries, Canada and Germany taking part.
It was the first time that UNITAS, now in its 50th year, was being held off the mainland United States, although the Navy has hosted the event in Puerto Rico.
Sailors, marines and other military forces have been performing live-fire exercises, undersea warfare, helicopter and amphibious operations, among other training. More than 25 ships, four submarines, 6,500 sailors and 50 aircraft are taking part in the exercise hosted by the U.S. Navy's 4th Fleet, based at Mayport Naval Station just north of Jacksonville.
On Thursday, the combined navies sank a mothballed U.S. Navy destroyer about 300 miles off the coast. They hit it with guns, missiles and bombs before the ship slipped beneath the waves.
U.S. ships participating in the $7 million exercise are the Mesa Verde, which is an amphibious transport dock ship, and a host of other U.S. ships, including the USS Harry Truman battle group. They are acting as the "bad guys" in the exercise.
Brazil, which sent a ship and a submarine, feels UNITAS provides valuable training for its sailors.
"We can learn some lessons and use those lessons to combat all the defense threats in the future," said Brazilian Cmdr. Mario Simoes, one of dozens of foreign sailors aboard the Mesa Verde on Friday.
Countries involved in UNITAS exercises are Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, Germany and Canada plus the United States.
In the lunch room on the Mesa Verde on Friday, it sounded like a United Nations assembly with sailors speaking English, Spanish, Portuguese and German.
UNITAS got its start in 1959 when the U.S. Navy and other Southern American nations participated in a series of anti-submarine training exercises. Later that year, after the First Inter-American Naval Conference, South American officers asked that the nations train again in 1960. In May 1960, the commander of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet called the exercise, UNITAS, for unity, united and oneness. Early planning documents suggested that UNITAS also stood for United International Anti-Submarine Training Exercise.
Over the years, the missions of the navies have changed to drug interdiction and fighting piracy and have included anti-air, anti-surface and electronic warfare, communications and seamanship.
Besides the at-sea operations, sailors attended training symposiums, humanitarian and community relations projects, plus some athletic games, concerts and social events.