The Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44) returned home to Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek, April 11, following Steadfast Defender 2024, NATO’s largest exercise in decades. Gunston Hall is one of the 50 NATO naval assets, 80 air platforms, 1,100 combat vehicles and 90,000 forces that participated in Steadfast Defender 2024.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the NATO Alliance, and this exercise being the largest NATO exercise in decades, showcased the alliance’s sheer strength and dominance.

Steadfast Defender 2024 demonstrated NATO’s ability to deploy forces rapidly from North America and other parts of the Alliance to reinforce the defense of Europe. The exercise also showed that NATO can conduct and sustain complex multi-domain operations over several months in any conditions, across thousands of kilometers, from the High North to Central and Eastern Europe.

“Our participation in Steadfast Defender demonstrated our Navy’s ability to work alongside and defend our allies,” said Cmdr. Christopher W. Van Loenen, commanding officer, USS Gunston Hall. “The Gunston Hall crew pushed the ship to her full capabilities in order to achieve the exercise objectives, and we did just that. I couldn’t be more proud of what we accomplished together.”

Gunston Hall departed Virginia late January this year. She sailed straight to Portsmouth, United Kingdom to embark part of the landing force, a platoon of French marines and six combat rigid raiding craft. Once embarked, Gunston Hall and her troops accomplished several amphibious training exercises in the English Channel to build proficiency and familiarity before the more complicated next phase. Subsequently, Gunston Hall sailed directly north into the harsh climate of the Arctic Circle to work alongside Italian Landing Assault Helicopter Ship Giuseppe Garibaldi, Italian amphibious transport dock San Giorgio, and French Navy Aquitaine-class frigate Normandie.

Once moored in Harstad, Norway, Gunston Hall embarked Swedish and Finnish marines along with two CB-90 fast assault crafts to complete the landing force. For the following two weeks, she operated in the High North carrying out five amphibious exercises and 19 well deck operations.