Essex ARG Embarks 31st MEU
OKINAWA, Japan – The Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ESX ARG) embarked the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) at White Beach Naval Facility in Okinawa, Japan Sept. 5-6 in support of the ESX ARG’s current patrol throughout the Western Pacific region.

Combat cargo Marines assigned to the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2), the amphibious transport dock USS Denver (LPD 9), and the dock landing ship USS Harper’s Ferry (LSD 49) embarked more than 2,000 Marines, along with their supplies and vehicles. Together, the three ships fall under Commander, Amphibious Squadron (CPR) 11.

In addition, CPR 11 embarked its own combat cargo element to aid in the planning of troop movements, such as the on-load, and to act as a liaison between the Marines and ESX ARG Sailors. The on-load proved challenging as the Sailors and Marines of the ESX ARG worked in strong winds and choppy seas that were the result of a typhoon that had recently passed through the region, said Gunnery Sgt. Anthony Richmond, CPR 11 combat cargo assistant.

“We worked hard, along with the crew, to work through the storm to get the Marines aboard and get under way as quickly as we could,” said Richmond. “Next, we will supervise the landing and deployment of the Marines and their equipment during the upcoming exercises.”

Foul weather around Okinawa delayed the on-load, but the Marines and Sailors were able to work through the storm.

“The main challenge with this on-load has been the weather, and it has caused us to change out plans and delay the on-load process,” said Capt. Mark E. Weber, commodore, CPR 11. “There are constraints as to what we can and can’t do based on the weather. Wind and sea state affect crane and craft operations and prevent the transfer of troops and equipment. I appreciated everyone’s hard work and flexibility, and asked that everyone stay focused and keep safety in the forefront of their minds, as we worked to overcome delays. We didn’t want to have a false sense of urgency.”

Preparation for the on-load began weeks before the ESX ARG departed its homeport of Sasebo, Japan, as new personnel were trained to perform in a fast-paced environment.

The 31st MEU consists of ground, command, air and combat support elements that allow the ESX ARG to conduct amphibious operations from the sea and project power ashore. While seasoned veterans comprise much of the MEU, the patrol will provide many Marines their first taste of life aboard a Navy ship.

“It is amazing how much equipment we can fit on a ship,” said Sgt. Arric Marshall, a combat cargo platoon sergeant. “Me and my guys are now looking forward to the upcoming operations and supporting our fellow Marines.”

During its patrol throughout the Western Pacific region, the ESX ARG will participate in numerous bilateral maritime training exercises, such as Valiant Shield 2010, Amphibious Landing Exercise 2010 and the Korean Interoperability Training Program. These exercises are designed to strengthen relationships and enhance operations and readiness between the U.S. and Western Pacific partner nations, such as the Republic of the Philippines and the Republic of Korea.

CPR 11 is the only permanently forward-deployed U.S. amphibious squadron.

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