Two Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division employees recently participated in the experience of a lifetime. Brian Mills, naval architect and test engineer, and Thomas Bruno, electrical engineer, both from Carderock’s Dynamic Measurements and Testing Branch of the Survivability and Weapons Effects Division, were Pacific Fleet (PACFLT) representatives for Exercise Valiant Shield, one of the largest U.S. military war games held in the Pacific Ocean.
Exercise Valiant Shield focuses on the cooperation between military branches, as well as the detection, tracking and engagement of military units at sea, on land and in the air.
“Valiant Shield is the perfect opportunity for the U.S. military to come together in a high-end training, joint environment to ensure the United States military maintains our competitive advantage,” Rear Adm. James Aiken said, Valiant Shield 20 Director, U.S. Navy.
The 12-day exercise, which ran from Sep. 14-25, saw more than 11,000 Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen come together to train in a real-world environment to demonstrate their military readiness.
Bruno, Mills and a few other individuals initially volunteered to be part of a different exercise back in February, but plans stalled due to the Coronavirus. When PACFLT came back later and asked for help with Exercise Valiant Shield, Bruno and Mills leapt at the opportunity, despite the rigid restriction of movement (ROM) requirements.
The two flew to Japan where they underwent an 18-day quarantine at Naval Station Yokosuka, bound to a single barracks room together.
“We were friends before, but sharing a room for that long definitely bonded us,” Bruno said.
Once their quarantine was complete, the two were transported directly to the USS Antietam (CG 54), where they served as data collectors.
“We were there to take notes and make observations – to capture what was going on in the room,” Bruno said. “PACFLT can see the different decisions the ships made, we were there to provide the why.”
Mills went on to add that, “We weren’t assessors; we were there to observe the actions. After each event we would type up our notes and submit them to PACFLT.”
The two did not, however, get to experience Exercise Valiant Shield together. Mills served aboard USS Antietam (CG 54), a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser, and Mills served aboard USS Barry (DDG 52), an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer.
“Typically there are a team of observers on each ship, and some ships had two or more observers (USS Ronald Reagan and USS Shiloh). Thomas and I were the only solo observers on separate ships,” Mills said. “We had no experience, so we had to learn on the fly.”
While the war game exercises took up the majority of their time, the two of them were still able to get a glimpse into the everyday life of being a Navy Sailor.
“We got to witness two or three live-fire events,” Bruno said. “That was incredible. Aside from that, I really enjoyed meeting the Sailors and listening to their stories. It was interesting to learn what it’s like to be a Sailor during COVID-19 – they are stuck on the ships, they can’t really go anywhere. Even when the ship is in port, they are never allowed farther than the pier.”
Mills, on the other hand, was already well aware of what it was like to be a Navy Sailor.
“I joined the Navy a few years after High School,” Mills said. “I qualified for the Navy Nuclear Power Program, which seemed like a cool opportunity, so I did that and went to work on submarines, because I wanted to learn more about them.”
Mills was on active duty for six years and served aboard USS Connecticut (SSN 22), a Seawolf-class nuclear powered fast attack submarine.
“Overall, it was a great experience, and I learned a lot,” Bruno said. “It was interesting to be in the ship’s command center and to see what modern naval warfare is all about. It was very rewarding to see how the work we do in our daily jobs affects the fleet and their effectiveness.”
For Mills, his favorite part about not only participating in Exercise Valiant Shield, but also working at Carderock is “the feeling of still being part of the Navy team and being able to provide a service,” he said.