By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kevin A. Flinn
YOKOSUKA, Japan – U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) departed Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka to patrol the 7th Fleet area of operations, strengthening and supporting strong relationships and partnerships throughout the Indo-Asia Pacific region, Feb. 22.
Forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan for 36 years, Blue Ridge provides advanced communications and command and control capabilities to 7th Fleet, enabling theater security cooperation and the coordination of fleet engagements within the Pacific.
“A lot of the work we did in selected restricted availability (SRA) was to ensure that the ship is ready to go to sea and able to do the necessary tasks to allow us to have a forward presence,” said Master Chief Charles Ziervogel, Blue Ridge’s Command Master Chief.
Blue Ridge recently completed sea trials, allowing the crew to verify and ensure the operational readiness of the ship after a SRA maintenance period, undergoing repairs and the installation of new equipment.
“Maintenance requires a lot of coordination with outside entities and it really removes us far from underway requirements and training,” said Cmdr. Jason Eckhardt, Blue Ridge’s Executive Officer. “It takes a great effort from all hands to understand that we are entering a much more dynamic and autonomous phase in the ship, where we are relying upon ourselves to ensure we operate safe and ensure mission accomplishment.”
Blue Ridge is currently manned by more than 900 crew members including embarked 7th Fleet staff, the “Golden Falcons” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 12 and Marines from Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team Pacific (FASTPAC).
FASTPAC Marines plan on participating in many joint exercises with foreign militaries while Blue Ridge visits foreign ports providing training in hand-to-hand combat and visit, board, search and seizure demonstrations.
“They will also be learning from their counterparts,” said Ziervogel. “This is why there are joint exercises: so we can learn from each other. That, in itself, will not only help strengthen ties in foreign countries, but it will also give them the trust and confidence they need to know that we’re there to help them.”
While on patrol in the Pacific, Blue Ridge will not only be available to foreign militaries, but will also increase interaction within local communities. Blue Ridge and embarked 7th Fleet staff will continue to solidify regional relationships through community service events as well as theater security cooperation engagements.
“We’re here for 7th Fleet,” said Ziervogel. “We are here for the Navy. We have become ambassadors to Pacific countries. Not only do we live and work on the ship, but we’re going to take the place we live and work and show it to other countries.
“It’s important that every single Sailor and Marine onboard understands what our mission is. It’s not just 7th Fleet’s mission. It’s what the bottom line is: it’s the mission of everyone onboard. We all have a part to play.”
As the flagship for Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, Blue Ridge is committed to strengthening and fostering relationships within the Indo-Asia Pacific region.