Norfolk, Va. – The Norfolk-based guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge received the Navy’s Arleigh Burke Award during a ceremony Tuesday.
Adm. Bill Gortney presented the fleet’s top honor to the Bainbridge crew. He praised them for their efforts before preparing them for what comes next.
“This was terrific work, but don’t look in the rearview mirror,” said Gortney. “Look forward. You’ve got hard work in front of you, and then a deployment. With things the way they are, you will be sailing into uncertainty. We sail to crisis – that’s what we do.”
The Arleigh Burke Award is named after the Navy’s most famous destroyer squadron combat commander and chief of naval operations from 1955 to 1961. It is given annually to the most improved battle-efficient ship or aircraft squadron from both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleet.
Bainbridge’s path to excellence began when it deployed from Norfolk Jan. 4, 2011 as an independent deployer to conduct operations in the Navy’s Fifth Fleet. The ship joined U.S. allies as part of Standing NATO Maritime Group 2, and began anti-piracy operations in the heavily pirated waters off the coast of Somalia as part of Operation Ocean Shield.
For three months, Bainbridge played a key role in deterring piracy attacks and ensuring the safety and security of vessels in the Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman and Somali Basin. The ship’s visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) team executed more than 20 boardings with support from embarked HSL-48 Air Detachment 5’s SH-60B helicopter.
From April until June Bainbridge participated in NATO’s Operation Ketting III, denying freedom of movement to suspected pirate dhows along the Somali coast adjacent to the region’s most active pirate camps. The ship was assigned three escort missions where it ensured the safe travel of merchant vessels only recently released by pirates. Boarding operations also continued and their success was attributed to the ship’s outstanding training program, according to Bainbridge VBSS officer, Lt. j.g. Vanessa Sonnichsen.
“Crew members of the merchant vessels we assisted were so grateful for our help,” she said. “It brought us a great sense of pride. Our team was always locked on and prepared for every boarding because we trained hard and continue to do so for our next deployment.”
During the course of this operation, Bainbridge saved 38 mariners, detained 13 pirates and safely released three formerly pirated vessels. In addition, weapons used to conduct acts of piracy were disposed of, and countless future attacks were prevented or disrupted.
When not fighting piracy, Bainbridge was reaching out to local communities during port visits to the Syechelles and Israel. The ship’s crew completed several community relations projects, including a cleanup effort in the Seychelles where Fire Controlman 3rd Class John Pfeffer enjoyed the opportunity to help the area children.
“It was awesome helping out the kids in Seychelles,” said Pfeffer. “To be able to positively impact people of other countries, while being deployed for your own is a once in a lifetime experience.”
Bainbridge completed its 210-day deployment and returned to Norfolk Aug. 5, 2011. Within weeks the ship was underway again and continued to conduct operations including a hurricane sortie and various at-sea qualifications.
Throughout 2011, the Bainbridge crew declared their commitment to the Navy with an 84 percent retention rate. While on deployment, 95 sailors earned their Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist (ESWS) qualifications, enabling the ship to continue to fly the silver ESWS Pennant. Before earning the Arleigh Burke Award, Bainbridge was recognized as the best warship in Destroyer Squadron 22 with Battle “E” Award.
“Whenever or whatever it is asked to do, this crew makes it happen,” said Cdr. Bruce Schuette, Bainbridge commanding officer.
“My belief is, above all else, the crew made it possible for Bainbridge to win the Arleigh Burke Award,” he continued. “Bainbridge’s crew really has a ‘can-do’ attitude which is rooted by a rock-solid Chief’s Mess and that permeates throughout the command. I couldn’t be prouder.”
Bainbridge is currently finishing an intensive certification training with Afloat Training Group Atlantic in preparations for her 2013 Deployment.