San Diego, California - The Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigate USS Vandegrift (FFG 48) departed Naval Base San Diego for an independent deployment to the U.S. 4th Fleet area of responsibility, May 9.

The crew of Vandegrift will play an integral part in the counter-transnational organized crime (C-TOC) mission Operation Martillo (Spanish for "hammer"). Operation Martillo is a U.S., European, and Western Hemisphere partner-nation effort targeting illicit trafficking routes in coastal waters in Central America. Joint Interagency Task Force-South, a component of U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM), leads U.S. military participation.

"My officers and crew are ready and fully prepared as we head out to conduct this very important mission with our maritime partner nations," said Cmdr. Luis Alva, commanding officer of Vandegrift.

Operation Martillo is a component of the U.S. government's coordinated interagency regional security strategy in support of the White House strategy to combat transnational organized crime and the U.S. Central America Regional Security Initiative.

Along with the crew of Vandegrift, the drug interdiction team includes the ship's organic Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) team providing support for the embarked Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) 402. Helicopter Anti-Submarine Light (HSL) Squadron 49 Detachment 3 will provide embarked air support. The law enforcement phase of counterdrug operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean is conducted under the tactical control of the 11th Coast Guard District headquartered in Alameda, California.

Vandegrift helps provide deterrence, promote peace and security, preserve freedom of the seas, and humanitarian/disaster response.

Joint, interagency and international relationships strengthen U.S. 3rd Fleet's ability to respond to crises and protect the collective maritime interests of the U.S. and its allies and partners.