Local sailors participate in Navy training exercises

MAYPORT, Fla. – The USS Farragut from Mayport is the only local ship involved in the destroyer squad of ships conducting training exercises of the northeast Florida coast.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt and most of the other ships are home ported in Norfolk, Virginia. News4Jax reporter Chris Parenteau got a behind-the-scenes look at the exercises.

In addition to the Farragut, Helicopter Maritime Strike 46 from Naval Station Mayport is part of the air wing involved, Patrol Squadron 8 is from NAS Jacksonville, and many sailors stationed on the Roosevelt have ties to the First Coast.

"It prepares us for a lot," said Cmdr. Andy Barlow, executive officer of Patrol Squadron 8. "There are a lot of different scenarios that we do during COMPTUEX that will prepare us quite a bit."

As sailors aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt train before deployment, it's busy days full of scenarios that are thrown at them.

"Life on the ship is nothing like anyone would expect it (is) either. I'm glad I joined," sailor Connor Whitlow said. "It's given me a really strong foundation. I was really lazy before I joined, so I'm glad I'm here. It's difficult, but I'm looking forward to taking what the Navy gives me."

Whitlow lives in Jacksonville and said that joining the Navy is one of the best things he has done. He is preparing to deploy with the Roosevelt shortly after training is complete. He is an aviation administration maintenance man in the Navy with his squadron focusing on electronic attack.

"They are out there jamming the enemy so that our guys on the ground can go in and basically do what they have to do," Whitlow said.

Cmdr. Chris Richard is the executive officer of HSM 46, based in Mayport. The group is part of the air wing in the Roosevelt strike group. He said the group's mission is anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare and maritime patrol.

"We have a lot of very technologically advanced sensors that are designed to search the ocean for enemy surface craft, enemy submarines, and obviously to paint a picture of the battle space for the strike group commander," Richard said.

Another local group in the training exercises is the VP-8 squadron from NAS Jax. The squadron is training with the carrier strike group but doesn't necessarily stay with it once the strike group deploys. VP-8 is patrolling around the group to prepare for whatever group it will join.

"We forward deploy. We don't necessarily deploy with the strike group," Barlow said. "We forward deploy our squadrons. As they come into the AOR, the squadrons that are there will support the strike group."

"It's a very versatile asset. The presence of a carrier strike group is a stabilizing force in and of itself," Richard said. "Very often our mission is simply to be present, keep the sea lines of communication open, and to be ready to respond should a threat arise."