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U.S. sailors help Pakistanis with warship training

MAYPORT NAVAL STATION — Over its 30-year history, the USS McInerney racked up a lot of firsts, from new propulsion systems to cutting-edge weaponry.

Now at dock at Mayport Naval Station for the final time, the crew of the oldest-serving Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate in the U.S. fleet is once again trying something new.

This time, it's figuring out how to help another crew from another country get ready to run its ship.

"It's been a learning experience as we've gone along," said Cmdr. Paul Young, commanding officer of the ship.

Shortly after the McInerney arrived home in April from its final deployment under the U.S. flag, a crew of Pakistani sailors began readying to sail the vessel to its new home more than 7,000 miles away.

At the end of August, the ship will be decommissioned — the first of Mayport's 13 frigates to be retired — and turned over to Pakistan. The country is paying about $65 million to buy and refurbish the ship, money which the United States has given it as a non-NATO ally.

Rechristened the PNS Alamgir, the frigate will go into a shipyard for the rest of the year before getting under way with the new crew.

A handover like this is known as a hot transfer, in which the vessel isn't packed away waiting for the new owner.

It's the preferred method for another country to take ownership, said Bob Gronenberg, deputy program manager for ship transfers at the Naval Sea Systems Command.

"We have the benefit of joint training," he said. "On-the-job training is the best form of training."

About 160 Pakistani crew members are taking part in the transfer, spending their days working on the ship and living on a barge docked nearby.

About 200 Pakistani sailors will be the ship's crew as it crosses the ocean.

Getting the Pakistanis ready for the job has fallen to the sailors who took the ship on its last U.S. deployment.

Even while still at sea, Young said, the crew was already pulling together a training plan, something that's never been done from the ground up.

That meant looking at each piece of what the crew does — from air warfare to communications to ship handling — and figuring out how to teach it.

The captain talks with his Pakistani counterpart each day, doing his own form of training as the two discuss ship handling, daily routine aboard the vessel and other issues of command.

The actual teaching has gone smoothly, said some of the sailors involved in the process.

"It's easy to train people when they're ready to learn," said Petty Officer 1st class Juan Pena.

As well as the training, the 140 U.S. crew members still aboard also take care of maintenance issues and other typical pierside jobs.

Much of that routine work is done on Friday, when the Pakistani sailors don't work.

"Friday is their holy day, and Friday is our McInerney day," Young said.

U.S. sailors help Pakistanis with warship training 07/11/10 [Last modified: Monday, July 12, 2010 12:43am]

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