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Navy warship joins massive NATO exercise

USS GUNSTON HALL (LSD 44) (Navy League of the United States/Facebook)
January 26, 2024

In the same year that marks NATO’s 75th anniversary, the USS Gunston Hall, a Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship, departed Norfolk on January 24, kicking off a NATO exercise years in the making.

Exercise Steadfast Defender 2024 is expected to take months to complete, includes approximately 90,000 service members, utilizes 50 naval assets and 1,100 combat vehicles, and involves 31 allies plus Sweden. 

According to the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS), prior to the departure, Royal Canadian Navy Rear Adm. David J. Patchell visited Norfolk for several days to discuss the exercise, calling the exercise a show of commitment to NATO.

“This crew’s preparations and their journey across the Atlantic represent the starting point of this historic NATO exercise,” Patchell said. “Demonstrating NATO’s ability to rapidly deploy forces from North America and other parts of the Alliance, Gunston Hall will represent the U.S. Navy
and is an essential element of the multinational NATO amphibious force.”

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Exercise Steadfast Defender 2024 is the result of collaborative efforts among military forces across the globe. The exercise is designed not only to test the ability of NATO forces to deploy rapidly when needed but also to test NATO’s new defense plans. Portions of the exercise will be conducted globally, including Finland, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

“The departure and transit signify the first tactical movements of the exercise and demonstrate the strength of the trans-Atlantic link,” said Vice Adm. Doug Perry, commander, Joint Force Command Norfolk and U.S. 2nd Fleet. “Working with our Allies and partners, Gunston Hall will embark Swedish and Finnish forces who will conduct amphibious landings throughout Norway. I am also sending a contingent of my U.S. 2nd Fleet staff to Norway to command and control NATO maritime forces as Task Force North. These efforts clearly demonstrate North America’s commitment to NATO.”

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the exercise is based on probable military maneuvers in the event of an attack on the alliance by a fictitious enemy, with NATO officials noting, “NATO exercises are not directed against any country. In an unpredictable security environment, we must remain ready to deter all threats and to defend all allies.”