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Essex Completes Balikatan 2010
USS ESSEX, At sea – The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) departed Subic Bay, Republic of the Philippines March 19 after completing exercise Balikatan 2010 (BK 10).

BK 10 was designed to improve interoperability, increase readiness and improve professional relationships between the United States and the Philippines. The 10-day, bilateral exercise involved ground, air, and naval integration training with the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“The Essex crew performed superbly during Balikatan, providing flawless support to the 31st MEU and also completing a very successful underway phase with the Philippine navy ships involved,” said Capt. Troy Hart, Essex’s commanding officer. “They also contributed to the local community during a highly successful community service project at a local elementary school, which gave our Sailors a good opportunity to interact with the local community. I’m very proud of the accomplishments of our Sailors during the exercise.”

Essex began the exercise by offloading more than 1,100 Marines, 75 vehicles and 300 pieces of cargo assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). They continued to support the Marines’ land-based operations throughout the exercise, launching helicopters assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 (HMM-265), as well as AV-8B Harrier jet aircraft assigned to Marine Attack Squadron 311 (VMA-311).

The exercise also gave Essex flight deck personnel an opportunity to improve their skills working with Philippine pilots and aircraft.

"We were able to bring aboard five Filipino pilots during the exercise and let them conduct deck landing qualifications,” said Lt. Matt Baker, Essex’s aircraft handler. "We always look forward to the opportunity to conduct interoperability training with the Filipinos."

Enhancing military interoperability was only one aspect of the exercise. Sailors and Marines also participated in humanitarian assistance and community service projects in various areas surrounding Subic Bay. During one of these projects, Navy doctors and hospital corpsmen of the 31st MEU Combat Logistics Battalion provided medical care to residents in the Ternate area, treating more than 4,000 people.

“I feel like we are giving some of these kids a chance at life when we do projects like this,” said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class (FMF) Joseph Castillo, who was born in Manila and lived in the
Philippines until he was six years old. “The work we did here demonstrates the close alliance our two countries have had for decades and strengthens it even further.”

During a project at San Juan Nepomuceno Elementary School March 18, more than 80 Essex Sailors and 31st MEU Marines participated in a community service project. Throughout the day, Sailors and Marines interacted with the students, sharing culture and food from both countries.

“The kids had a ton of energy and were very eager to have fun with us,” said Fire Controlman 2nd Class (SW/AW) Yondale Coston. “They made me feel like a kid again, playing games and running foot races. I couldn’t have had more fun.”

Upon completing BK 10, Essex’s crew enjoyed a two-day port visit in Subic Bay, giving both Sailors and Marines the chance to relax before their departure.

“This is my first time in this country,” said Operations Specialist Seaman Recruit Mathew Shaffer. “It was a good experience, and I’d like to come back someday and see more of what the Philippines has to offer.”

Essex, commanded by Capt. Troy Hart, is part of the forward-deployed Essex Amphibious Ready Group and is currently conducting spring patrol in the Western Pacific.
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