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Gates Tours USS Vicksburg During Ship’s Port Call in Bahrain

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

MANAMA, Bahrain, Dec. 6, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates made his first visit to a U.S. Navy warship, the USS Vicksburg, today to tour the vessel, meet its crew and thank them for their service in the Persian Gulf region.

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Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates walks up a deck on the USS Vicksburg, ported in Bahrain after a deployment in the Persian Gulf, Dec. 6, 2007. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jerry Morrison, USAF

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Arriving here for bilateral talks at a regional security meeting that opens tomorrow night, Gates took advantage of the Vicksburg’s port call in Bahrain to pay it and its crew a visit.

Navy Capt. Chip Swicker, Vicksburg’s commanding officer, greeted the secretary at the Mina Salman Pier and joined him as he climbed aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile vessel.

As the secretary climbed the steps toward the ship -- steps he later joked to reporters challenged his “64-year-old knees” -- the crew rendered a traditional Navy welcome. The sound of eight bells, the highest honor afforded any visitor, including the president, rang out, along with the call, “Defense arriving.”

Swicker led the secretary around the vessel, pointing out its vertical-launch missile system, rapid-fire cannons and SH-60 Seahawk helicopters.

This mix of weapons provides “a wonderful capability” to face threats in the air, ashore and on and underneath the sea. “It’s big and very, very heavily armed,” Swicker said, noting the ship helps provide security through its mere presence.

As he awaited Gates’ arrival, Swicker said he was looking forward to showing Gates the vessel’s hardware and weaponry, but wanted even more to show him the quality of his crew. “This is an awesome piece of technology,” he said of the ship. “But it’s those 350 young sailors who make it all happen.”

The crew has been conducting maritime security operations in the Central Arabian Gulf and Gulf of Oman since leaving their homeport of Mayport, Fla., on Aug. 2. They are slated to return home in late January.

While touring the ship, Gates expressed thanks to crewmembers, then administered the oath of re-enlistment to Senior Chief Petty Officer Johnny Taylor. Taylor, a 23-year Navy veteran who signed on for another three years of service, specifically requested that Gates perform the honors.

Swicker said Gates’ visit reaffirms the importance of Vicksburg’s mission as its crew works with coalition partners “to keep the maritime environment secure for everybody.”

Crewmembers have no doubt they’re playing an important role in the Gulf region. “We’re policing the seas, and preventing and deterring, just by projecting our image,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Dominic Bills, a fire controlman. “We’re here to do everyone good and to ensure the seas are safe. In this part of the world, it’s something that needs to be done.”

“I see it as bringing security to everyone,” agreed Petty Officer 1st Class Adrix Wyatt, an electrician who’s served in the Navy for 12 years. “We’re making a difference through our presence in this region.”

The visit was a highlight for Swicker, who will turn over Vicksburg’s command to Capt. Chuck Nygaard during a ceremony at sea Dec. 10. “It’s always bittersweet leaving a ship,” he said. “But to be able to host the secretary of defense and show him the quality of the men and women who make up its crew, well, that’s a real opportunity.”

Gates told reporters he had a great experience on the ship and was “just very impressed with the young people that are on the crew and by the ship.”

He said he was intrigued by the types of questions the crewmembers asked him. “It was really interesting. Most of the questions were about Russia, China, Iran,” he said.

Alluding to his past as a dean, then president of Texas A&M University, Gates added with a smile, “I felt like I was teaching a political science course.”

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Robert M. Gates

Related Sites:
Special Report: Travels with Gates
Photo Essay
USS Vicksburg

Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary Robert M. Gates talks to junior sailors aboard the USS Vicksburg, ported in Bahrain, Dec. 6, 2007. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jerry Morrison, USAF  
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