July 29, 2019 – Standing NATO Maritime Group One (SNMG1) and Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG2) both transitioned flagship duties during a port visit to Rota, on July 26.
SNMG1 flagship duties were transferred from the US guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely (DDG 107) to the guided-missile destroyer USS Gridley (DDG 101) and for SNMG2, flagship duties were transferred from Canadian frigate HMCS Toronto, to HMCS Halifax. Both Rear Adm. Edward Cashman, Commander of SNMG1, and Commodore Josée Kurtz, Commander of SNMG2 will continue commanding their groups until the end of the year.
Gravely departed Naval Station Norfolk December 28, 2018 with 320 embarked Sailors and, with an Allied staff embarked, assumed duties as flagship with in Copenhagen, Denmark on January 14. Demonstrating the value of established NATO procedures, the crew and staff integrated seamlessly with assigned Allied units and operated successfully during the first seven months of 2019.
“I am extremely grateful the USS Gravely was chosen to serve as the Flagship for SNMG1,” said Commanding Officer Justin Hodges. “The chance to embark a Staff and integrate with our NATO allies and partners was a unique and invaluable opportunity for the crew, not easily found anywhere else. The success of this deployment continues to demonstrate the foundations upon which NATO was built – that our effectiveness as a force is enhanced by our partnerships and alliance with other nations.”
Following the quick integration, SNMG1 went on to effectively complete operations in the North Atlantic and the Norwegian, North, and Baltic Seas, including exercises Dynamic Guard, Joint Warrior, BALTOPS 2019, and Dynamic Mongoose. These four major exercises demonstrated the capability of NATO’s maritime forces to operate across the full spectrum of warfare areas as well as to integrate with air, ground, and other surface units in joint operations with NATO allies and partners.
Upon departure from Rota, SNMG1 will integrate a number of new ships into the force and continue their 2019 deployment. The second half of the deployment will see a continued focus on NATO Maritime Command’s Maritime Express construct which includes more exercises and operations designed to build and maintain readiness and interoperability. “The standing NATO maritime forces provide a continuous, enduring capability,” said Cashman. “As units and staff members rotate through the Standing Maritime Forces, there is a steady stream of ships with young men and women on board, who regularly join our services. They all learn NATO procedures as we operate together. They are the reason we must continue to train together, so that in the future they will carry on our mission to preserve peace by deterring conflict.”
Commodore Josée Kurtz assumed command of SNMG2 during a ceremony in Souda Bay, Greece, on 15 June, 2019. Shortly after this, SNMG2 sailed the Black Sea, with British frigate HMS Duncan, Romanian frigate ROS Regele Ferdinand, and Turkish frigate TCG Turgetreis. Together, they joined allies and partners participating in the joint Ukraine-US exercise Sea Breeze 19.
On conclusion, SNMG2 headed to Bulgaria to participate in the Bulgarian-led exercise Breeze 19. “I am absolutely thrilled with the hard work and professionalism of the ships that we have had the honor of sailing with since I took command,” said Kurtz. “Through their dedication, we were able to integrate quickly as an effective force, and contribute to important regional exercises that contributed to building our capacity and capability to act together where and when required. This is what NATO is all about – nations coming together to act as one, providing presence, and helping to assure our partners and allies of our commitment to regional security in their waters.”
Following its departure from the Black Sea, SNMG2 proceeded to Rota, Spain, where Commodore Kurtz shifted her flag to HMCS Halifax.
“On behalf of HMCS Halifax, I am incredibly honored by and excited for the opportunity to serve as Commodore Kurtz’s flagship,” said Commander Scott Nelson. “This is a tremendous opportunity for our team to work closely with the staff of SNMG2, and under the leadership of Commodore Kurtz.”
SNMG1 and SNMG2 are two of four standing maritime task groups composed of ships from various Allied countries. These task groups form the core maritime capabilities of NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF). They provide a continuous maritime capability to execute NATO missions across the spectrum of operations, demonstrate solidarity, and strengthen diplomatic and professional links among Allied naval forces.