August 24, 2020 – USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116) concluded its participation Operation Nanook on Aug. 23, a joint exercise conducted in the northern Atlantic Ocean.
“Thomas Hudner performed very well during Operation Nanook,” said Cmdr. Brett Litchfield, the ship’s commanding officer. “The crew was very motivated and forward-leaning throughout the exercise. We have gathered many lessons learned that can be used for future Arctic operations.”
Operation Nanook 2020 is a northern operation conducted by the Royal Canadian Navy with Allied nations to ensure a stable, conflict-free Arctic region. In participating, the U.S. Navy strove to increase interoperability between allies, gain understanding on operational hazards in the Arctic Ocean and gain new insight from allies operating in the Arctic region.
Working with Allies in the Arctic region allows the U.S. Navy and allies to increase military presence in the region in the future. Fostering interoperability between nations will increase information sharing and situational awareness in the region, helping to ensure a safe Arctic Ocean.
“Operating in the Arctic is no small task,” said Lt. j.g. Madina Petashvili, Thomas Hudner’s navigational officer. “Having received the news of the operation, I had to educate myself with Canadian, Greenland and Arctic waters through various publications to include sailing directions. I wanted to ensure the information I learned was also shared with the bridge junior officer watch standers who not only have never been a part of such a mission, but were also young in their experiences on the bridge.”
During the operation, Thomas Hudner achieved new milestones such as conducting replenishments-at-sea (RAS) with Royal Canadian Navy ship MV Asterix, the first RAS with a foreign ship for Thomas Hudner. In addition to search-and-rescue live-hoist helicopter operations with the Royal Danish Navy, Hudner also made a landmark transit with Royal Danish Navy Thetis-class frigate HDMS Triton (F358) through Godthab’s Fjord in Greenland.
“I feel honored to be one of the few navigators who got to tame the waters of Greenland and on the only Arleigh Burke-class to sail within the fjords of Greenland,” said Petashvili. “I am thankful that the U.S. Navy gave me such an opportunity and responsibility of safety of the navigation of USS Thomas Hudner and her crew.”
Litchfield expanded on the accomplishments Thomas Hudner made during Nanook.
“The most memorable milestones for the crew were the transit of the Godthab’s Fjord in Greenland, seeing the Northern Lights and joining the Order of the Blue Nose,” said Litchfield. The Blue Nose ceremony is a traditional line-crossing ceremony conducted when Sailors cross into the Arctic Circle for the first time, thereby earning their “Blue Noses”.
Litchfield continued, “One of the more significant accomplishments of Operation Nanook was the multi-national Search and Rescue Exercise. Thomas Hudner, HMCS Ville de Quebec, and HMCS Glace Bay coordinated efforts to assist NRU Asterix as they simulated being a vessel in distress with structural damage and medical casualties after hitting an iceberg.”
Operating in the Arctic Ocean requires new skillsets and specialized training and gear. Operation Nanook provides USS Thomas Hudner the opportunity to learn from Canada and other partner nations and to refine the skillsets involved in operating in Arctic climates and severe cold.
“Environmental conditions turned out to be the biggest challenge in completing some of the planned events during Operation Nanook,” said Litchfield. “Sea state and fog often impacted gunnery exercises, air operations, and small boat operations.”
In the navigational department, Petashvili and Quartermaster Chief Petty Officer Marc Rowe were heavily involved in every aspect of the mission, from start to finish of each evolution. Rowe echoes his commanding officers’ sentiments regarding the environmental challenges and adds that communication idiosyncrasies were another factor that all involved parties had to work together to resolve.
“Other challenges were getting used to operating with Navies that might have different protocols and procedures than we do,” said Rowe. “Our requirements for ‘how we get there’ and ‘when we’re supposed to be there’; are slightly different from our Allied counterparts. I think success was based on the ability to communicate and adjust accordingly. I think overall the communication piece between the ships worked out, and most importantly, we learned from our Allies.”
“Participating in cooperative exercises allows the US Navy to combine the strengths of many nations into one force and allows us to learn from each other, thus improving our tactics and techniques for future operations,” said Litchfield.
Thomas Hudner participated in Canadian Operation NANOOK alongside US Coast Guard, Canadian, French, and Danish Allies to enhance their Arctic capabilities, and meet the requirements outlined in each nation’s respective defense policies.