From the bridge of the Bertholf: Northern Edge 2011

As one of the Coast Guard’s newest assets, the national security cutters bring operational capabilities the fleet needs for mission success. Compass has asked the wardroom of Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf, the service’s first NSC, to share their unique perspective on how the fleet’s newest class of cutters will perform in the world’s most challenging operating environments. This update comes from the cutter’s executive officer, Cmdr. Dave Ramassini, and focuses on the national security cutters as a platform for joint service operations with the Department of Defense.


USS Lake Erie and Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf breakaway from USS Decatur during joint exercise Northern Edge 2011. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Post written by Cmdr. Dave Ramassini, Executive Officer, Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf.

Greetings from the North Pacific Ocean.

As we approach the 90-day mark of Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf’s current patrol, the ship and crew continue to perform remarkably with morale high as we have now shifted gears from our living marine resource enforcement, Exclusive Economic Zone protection and search and rescue guard duties in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska these past few months to our latest tasking – Exercise Northern Edge 2011. It’s great to once again be operating with our Department of Defense counterparts. Throughout my career I can’t help but notice how inextricably linked and complementary the sea services remain to one another.

Cmdr Ramassini and Lt Mills

Commander Dave Ramassini, Executive Officer of Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf addresses the crew on the flight deck. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Northern Edge 2011 is Alaska’s premier joint training exercise designed to practice operations, techniques and procedures and enhance interoperability amongst the services. Over 9,000 participants from all the services – Airman, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen from active duty, reserve and National Guard units are involved. We are sharpening our command, control and communications skills while refining interoperability plans. This joint exercise ensures U.S. joint forces remain ready for deployment worldwide and enables real world proficiency in detection, tracking and engagement of units at sea, in the air and on land in order to respond to multiple crises.

The professional exchange between the Navy and Coast Guard at sea during this exercise exemplifies the cooperation that makes our national fleet so effective. Bertholf’s law enforcement officers and the Navy’s visit, board, search and seizure teams on USS Decatur and USS Lake Erie had a great professional exchange. As well, the Navy strike and fire control officers and electronic warfare technicians who visited Bertholf offered priceless refinements to our combat information center work and information flows; enhancing Bertholf’s ability to sustain a multi-day battle rhythm that included tracking more than 60 aircraft and multiple seaborne threats, executing tactical maneuvers and signals, formation steaming while simultaneously conducting live-fire gunnery exercises and delivering large caliber ordnance on target.

USS DECATUR in formation astern of BERTHOLF delivering 5 inch Naval Gunfire Downrange.jpg

USS Decatur, in formation astern of Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf, delivering 5-inch naval gunfire downrange. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Clearly, our Navy partners possess significant and unique high-intensity capabilities that the national security cutter class does not, and we have a very real national security need for all of these arrows in our defense quiver. However, with our smaller crew size and extended independent range, the national security cutter could offer the combatant commander a rather efficient way to extend the peace overseas in low intensity conflict and theatre security cooperation by expanding global maritime partnerships with the Coast Guard serving as an olive branch. Combatant commanders have traditionally liked the Coast Guard operating within their areas of responsibility; I would offer that once they see the national security cutter in action they’ll not only like it, they’ll love it and want some more of it!

There will be a growing demand signal here as the national security cutter’s capabilities are not only able to answer the call by meeting all current mission sets outlined in the Quadrennial Defense Review. This platform also has tremendous potential in future mission sets to bring stability to regions in support of combatant commander theatre campaign pans and intelligence support activities.

Bertholf’s ability to conduct aggregate operations with a carrier strike group, disaggregate to conduct independent operations for an extended period unsupported, and then re-aggregate weeks later has the potential to serve as a powerful tool for promoting cooperative security.

Standing on the deck of USS Kitty Hawk nearly 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy stated, “…all through history that control of the sea means security. Control of the seas can mean peace. Control of the seas can mean victory. The United States must control the seas if it is to protect your security.” These words still ring true, if not more so, in today’s interconnected global economy – regional and global stability are key components to the function of the world’s economies; our nation and others rely on the stability in and along the global sea lanes that supply over 90% of the world’s commerce by weight and volume.


Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf and USS Lake Erie conducting “leap frogs” to build fueling at sea proficiency. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

As outlined in A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Sea Power; the ability to preserve this critical balance against man-made threats and regain the balance following the instability wrought by natural disasters are comprehensive roles of our sea services (Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps) as well as our international maritime partners. We preserve this balance by ensuring the free movement of goods throughout the maritime transportation system, and when an anomaly is discovered or crises arise ensuring we are able to surge to remedy. Our ability to sail far from U.S. shores and respond to a potential threat by sending our teams over the gunwale is our bread and butter and what we do best – some things just can’t be verified over the horizon and must be handled up close and personal.

The partnerships we build in exercises such as Northern Edge 2011 directly align to these strategic goals and translate into enhanced future interoperability in theatres around the world; from quelling regional conflicts from countering piracy in U.S. Central Command; to stopping illicit drug and human trafficking in U.S. Southern Command and U.S. Pacific Command; to helping our international partners in U.S. Africa Command stabilize and police the Gulf of Guinea.

The Coast Guard remains a truly unique instrument of national security; our maritime, multi-mission and military nature enables a quick transition from ongoing operations in the Bering Sea to immediately demonstrating our interoperability with DoD and defense readiness in a crisis as war-gamed in Northern Edge 2011. As we disaggregate from this exercise we will continue on to yet another mission somewhere thousands of miles south of our present location showing once again our adaptability and range throughout the Pacific keeping mariners safe on the high seas and our citizens safe at home.

I think the word is getting out that the Coast Guard has something special here – 418 feet of national and global security. The need for this type of capability and presence in the world is growing; the partnership and persistent presence that the national security cutter could bring would be a stabilizing force for greater order.

We will keep you posted on the next extended leg of our journey.

Coast Guard C-130 providing air support

A Coast Guard C-130 out of Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, provides air support during Exercise Northern Edge 2011. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

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