The amphibious assault ship USS Wasp sailed into Nassau for a three-day visit on June 28, 2023, to help the Bahamas commemorate both a half-century of independence and regional partnership with the United States.
The highlight of the Wasp’s port call was a June 30 reception onboard the U.S. Navy vessel’s flight deck to honor the special occasion and the close partnership between both countries. U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) and U.S. Embassy Nassau hosted government officials from the Bahamas, senior members of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF), community and business leaders, and foreign dignitaries onboard the Wasp, according to a July 1 Navy news release.
NORTHCOM’s area of responsibility includes portions of the Caribbean that encompass the Bahamas, whose nearest island to the United States is less than 50 miles from Florida.
The Bahamas earned its independence from the United Kingdom on July 10, 1973.
“While the Bahamas celebrates 50 years of independence, we are equally proud to commemorate 50 years of diplomatic relations with the United States,” Bahamian Prime Minister Philip Davis said during the ceremony, according to the Navy news release. “This milestone is a testament to the conjoined friendship and partnership between our two nations. The U.S. Embassy celebration serves as a platform to highlight the achievements of our shared journey over the past five decades. It reminds us of the successes we have achieved together, the challenges that will come and the aspirations we hold for a future that knows no bounds.”
Bahamian Governor General Cornelius A. Smith, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Usha E. Pitts, U.S. Army Lieutenant General A.C. Roper, NORTHCOM deputy commander, Wasp commanding officer U.S. Navy Captain Nakia Cooper, and Prime Minister Davis spoke during the ceremony. The reception that followed featured music from both the Rhode Island National Guard 88th (RING) Army Band and the RBDF Band, a flyover by two U.S. A-Z0C Thunderbolt II warplanes, and fireworks display in the harbor, according to the news release.
“The reception we had on the flight deck was probably the most impressive one I’ve ever seen in my time in the Navy,” said the Wasp’s executive officer, U.S. Navy Captain Christopher Purcell, according to the news release. “It was well-received by the Bahamians; it was well-received by the embassy.”
The Wasp’s outreach, however, extended far beyond those ceremonies. Sailors strengthened the “conjoined friendship” that Davis spoke of during his speech, visiting local organizations and meeting with the Bahamian military.
Wasp Command Master Chief Petty Officer James Timmerman, Rhode Island National Guard (RING) Command Sergeant Major Michael Wong and other senior enlisted leaders met with their counterparts at RBDF Coral Harbour Base in Nassau to discuss leadership and to improve the services’ interoperability, according to the news release. Onboard the Wasp, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade Victor Cooper gave a tour and shared best practices of the ship’s tactical operations centers with RBDF members. Sailors from the Wasp and soldiers from the RING also participated in community outreach to young people in Nassau, with funding from NORTHCOM, and helped provide mentorship and improvements at facilities for at-risk youth.
“We care enough that we want to put effort into a relationship with [Bahamians] and that’s what strengthens our bond,” said Joseph Jedding, the chief religious programs specialist on the Wasp, according to the Navy news release.
“Since 1973, the relationship between the United States and the Bahamas has proven an important one, as we depend on each other to keep our waterways safe and ensure regional stability,” said Capt. Cooper, according to the news release.
The Wasp is a multipurpose vessel whose primary mission is to support U.S. Marines in combat and to provide disaster relief and medical support to those in need, according to a June 28 Navy news release. In 2023, the warship was designated to provide aid to Caribbean nations in the event of a catastrophic hurricane. NORTHCOM routinely collaborates with the RBDF and the Bahamas’ National Emergency Management Agency to enhance disaster preparedness and response capacities.
The Wasp, which is homeported in Norfolk, Virginia, is the 10th U.S. Navy vessel to bear the name, according to the June 28 news release. The first USS Wasp, commissioned in 1775, also visited the Bahamas.
NORTHCOM, by strengthening military ties and expanding interoperability with the RBDF, strengthens security in the Atlantic region, which in turn enhances the defense of North America. The ties between NORTHCOM and the Bahamas also deny U.S. strategic competitors the opportunity to expand their presence and malign influence in the region.
“The close relationship between the United States and the Bahamas is rooted in democratic ideals and strong cultural ties,” Lt. Gen. Roper, said in his remarks during the ceremony. “Both our countries share a commitment to free societies, human rights, and the rule of law, which underscores the significance of our strategic alliance.”
Pitts called the Wasp a “wonderful symbol of (the U.S.-Bahamas) alliance.”
Capt. Purcell echoed Pitts’ sentiments, saying it was an honor for the ship to visit its regional neighbor and partner.
“The Wasp has a special connection with the Bahamas,” Capt. Purcell said. “Our presence goes back as far as the history of the United States.”