By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Joshua J. Wahl, Fleet Public Affairs Center Detachment Sasebo, Japan
Visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) team members from dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) renewed their boarding proficiency aboard Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oilier USNS Pecos (T-AO 197), Feb. 5.
A newly combined VBSS team with 14 members began mock interaction patrols, utilizing rigid hull inflatable boats
to pull alongside and climb Jacob's ladders up the port side of Pecos. Once aboard, the VBSS team began conducting security sweeps throughout the ship.
"This is absolutely the best way to get hands-on training so when we are called upon for an actual boarding we will be ready to carry out the ships mission securing the seas," said Lt. j.g. Joshua C. Ray, Harpers Ferry VBSS team's boarding officer and team coordinator.
The boarding represented the first exercise for the Harpers Ferry crew since their 2007 Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training cruise six months ago providing a valuable training refresher on non-compliant VBSS techniques.
"Today was an invaluable experience for both the old and new team members allowing us to find our strengths and weakness," said Ray. "I believe now we can take what we learned and apply it more efficiently during futures boarding."
While boarding operations were conducted with the consent of Pecos, team members continued their non-complaint simulation training working on security sweeps and tactical maneuvers.
Veteran members of the group understood the significance of why this kind of experience is important.
"In my experience being on the VBSS team since 2005, every ship we board is a little different," said Hull Technician 1st Class (SW) Claude L. Lewis, a VBSS team member. "This training is intense, but [it] has helped me understand you have to keep on your feet and be ready to adapt at all times."
The honor to serve on this elite team required each Sailor to accomplish a series of courses, such as ship's reaction force qualifications, small arms weapons qualifications and advanced first aid, which are all prerequisites for being a boarding team member and attending VBSS school.
"As a non-compliant boarding team member it is important each person maintain their proficiency in all aspects of our job," said Operations Specialist 1st Class (SW) Harvey Sentel, range safety officer for the VBSS team.
Many Navy rates make up the strong backbone of the Harpers Ferry VBSS crew including hull maintenance technicians, quartermasters and boatswain's mates.
"We support each other on the team no matter what our rate because it is to get the job done," said Seamen Lawrence L. Attisano, a VBSS team member.
Harpers Ferry is forward deployed to Sasebo, Japan and is assigned to the Essex Expeditionary Strike Group servicing Combined Task Force 76, the Navy's early forward deployed amphibious force. Commander, Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility Okinawa, Japan with an operating detachment in Sasebo, Japan.