HMS Illustrious, USS Boxer Exchange Crew
UK and US personnel took the chance to cross decks and swap ships as their vessels met up in the same waters off the coast of Oman. HMS Illustrious, part of the UK’s Response Force Task Group deployed on Cougar 13, and the USS Boxer planned the encounter at sea south of Salalah.
USS Boxer (LHD 4) and the accompanying ships in her Amphibious Ready Group, amphibious dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) and amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18), are currently two months into an eight month deployment.
As well as an exchange of crew, the ships took the chance to fly each other’s aircraft from their respective flight decks. This included the Osprey V22 aircraft which recently flew from HMS Illustrious earlier in the deployment during a meeting with the USS Kearsarge.
Fifty personnel from USS Boxer transferred across to HMS Illustrious to spend the night with the Royal Navy.
Lieutenant Chelsea Irish, the Fire Control Officer in USS Boxer, said:
“This experience was absolutely incredible for me.
“My father and grandfather were born and raised in England. It was really cool to feel a part of my culture here and to be able to experience more of my heritage.
“I was able to talk to the sailors and marines onboard on what it means to them to be a British citizen and serve their country.
“I could draw the parallels between their pride for their country and my pride for my country as a first generation American.
“I felt like I was with my family during this time.”
As part of an overnight exchange of personnel Lieutenant Commander Rachel Sweeny and 19 other members of Lusty’s crew visited USS Boxer, as well as 30 Royal Marines from J Company (42 Commando) currently embarked in HMS Illustrious. She said:
“Everything is done on a completely different scale. Over 3000 people were on board USS Boxer and the ship is more than twice the size of Illustrious.
“I was struck by the capability they have. It was good to see some Harriers at sea which brought back memories and their V22 Ospreys just fascinate the Air Engineer in me.”
Lieutenant Charlotte Cooper is HMS Illustrious’s Catering Officer. She said:
“USS Boxer had a real buzz about it.
“When we arrived, the Boxer had just replenished over 270 pallets of food including turkeys for Thanksgiving.
“They reckon they could use almost a million bottles of tomato ketchup over the eight-month deployment!
“While we were there, there was a Halloween door decoration competition – lots of pumpkins and ghosts everywhere.
“Our chaplain, David Conroy, said goodnight prayers to the ship over the main broadcast which is a nightly tradition – I am not sure what the crew made of his Scottish accent.”
In his introductory address to the visitors from HMS Illustrious, Captain John E Gumbleton USN, Commanding Officer of USS Boxer mentioned that he had fond memories of the Royal Navy.
He had once flown over to HMS Ark Royal for a four hour stop but ended up staying for three days. However on this occasion, all of the American visitors were safely returned to their ship on time.
The RFTG is the United Kingdom’s high readiness maritime force, comprising ships, submarines, survey vessels, aircraft and a landing force of Royal Marines, which stands at short notice to act in response to any contingency tasking if required by government.
Press Release, November 05, 2013; Image: Royal Navy