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120305-N-S0729-557 EAST CHINA SEA (March 5, 2012) - Sailors take pictures of an AV-8B Harrier jet, assigned to Marine Attack Squadron 31, as it lands on the flight deck of the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2). Essex, commanded by Capt. David Fluker, is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed amphibious ready group. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Adam M. Bennett/Released)
Air Combat Element Embarks Aboard Essex
Story by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Matthew M. Bradley
SOUTH CHINA SEA – The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) successfully embarked aircraft and aircrews from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit's (MEU) Air Combat Element (ACE), March 5.
Essex embarked the ACE in order to conduct amphibious integration training (AIT), and certification exercise (CERTEX).

"With this Blue/Green team together on Essex, we become an extremely flexible force ready for any tasking in the region," said Capt. David Fluker, Essex commanding officer. "Our Sailors and Marines are well-trained, professional, and ready to execute whatever mission they are called upon to perform."

The ACE is comprised of a broad spectrum of aircraft with various capabilities. Assigned to the ACE are the AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters designed for close air support, the UH-1N Huey helicopter used for command and control, the CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopter with it’s heavy lift capabilities, CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter, which handles troop movement and medium lift, and the AV-8B Harrier ground-attack jet aircraft.
Using these aircraft, the ACE is able to perform a wide variety of missions, including air assault, personnel and equipment transport, aerial reconnaissance, as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Essex' Air Department is responsible for safely directing, launching and recovering the ACE aircraft. Cmdr. Hans Sholley, Essex’ air department head, or ‘Air Boss,’ said he is excited to be back at sea with the ACE.

“I enjoy helping the ACE in the performance of their mission,” said Sholley. “We are the airport for the ACE. Essex’ Air Department provides everything an airport would provide, we just happen to be on top of the ship.”

Essex provides a number of services for the ACE including aircraft handling, combat cargo loading and unloading, air traffic control, and aircraft taxiing and towing.

For Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (handling) Airman Christian Alton, working with the ACE provides a unique opportunity to work with his Marine Corps counterparts.

“I really enjoy the integration and seeing how our services work together,” said Alton. “Being on the Essex I get a lot more opportunities to work closely with the Marines than I could on an aircraft carrier.”

AIT and CERTEX gives Essex and the 31st MEU the opportunity to practice their skill sets in a combined environment. Throughout the deployment, Essex will support the 31st MEU by acting as a staging platform for amphibious operations involving well deck operations as well as flight operations. In addition to amphibious operations the 31st MEU will be training to conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions
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