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Story by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Greg Johnson
USS ESSEX, At sea – The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) successfully completed exercise Talisman Saber 2009 (TS09) July 25.
During the exercise, Essex collaborated with the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) on various aspects of amphibious warfare, including a full-scale, mock amphibious assault.

“This exercise has always been essential to maintaining a high level of interoperability with the Royal Australian Navy,” said Capt. Brent Canady, Essex’ commanding officer. “The Sailors of both countries came together once again to demonstrate each country’s commitment to our great partnership.”

Essex embarked more than 20 RAN Sailors for the exercise to enhance cooperation across a range of mission activities, including flight deck operations, well deck operations and meteorological efforts.

“It was a fantastic opportunity to plan and execute amphibious operations with the U.S. Navy and Marines,” said RAN Capt. Stephen Woodall, commander, Australian Amphibious Task Group. “The exercise allowed us to better understand how we both operate and the capabilities each of us brings to amphibious operations.”

Early in the exercise, Essex Sailors opened the ship’s flight deck to Royal Australian Army UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters for a series of deck landing qualifications (DLQ), further improving the cohesion between Aussie pilots and Essex landing signalmen.

“DLQs help to improve our relationship with the Australian pilots,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 1st Class (AW) Darrio Davis, Essex’ flight deck leading petty officer. “It gives us a chance to practice different NATO signals and make sure everyone is on the same page.”

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Airman Cesar Salinas, an Essex flight deck chock and chainman from Los Angeles, helped tie down the helicopters after they landed on Essex’ flight deck. The opportunity to work with foreign aircraft during DLQs was extremely educational, he said.

“It’s good to get out there and work with some helicopters that I’ve never seen before,” said Salinas. “It’s a little different in the way you need to tie them down, so you need to learn quickly and stay alert.”

After perfecting their landing techniques with Australian Black Hawks, the Air Department turned their focus to Essex’ own arsenal of helicopters and conducted a full-scale, mock amphibious assault. The drill was a collaboration between the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit’s (MEU) Aviation Combat Element (ACE), Assault Craft Unit Five (ACU-5), Detachment Western Pacific, and Beachmaster Unit One (BMU-1). It maximized the ship’s amphibious warfare capabilities, as hundreds of Marines were transported to the beach by landing craft, air cushioned (LCAC) vehicles and CH-53E Sea Stallion, CH-46E Sea Knight and MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopters.

“It was very successful despite difficult weather conditions and a complex, challenging threat environment,” said Woodall.

Those difficult weather conditions gave Essex and Australian atmospheric scientists something to keep their eyes on as the exercise progressed. While the well deck, flight deck and beach were bustling with activity, these scientists were working to support that activity from Essex’ meteorological center (METOC). According to RAN Lt. Michael Jagger, U.S. and Australian weather teams shared more similarities than differences, making for a very productive work environment.

“There aren’t many differences because what we do is pretty standard around the world,” he said. “We use the same satellites, internet and we all use computers, it just depends on what region of the world you happen to be in.”

The Australians’ knowledge of the area proved to be extremely helpful in providing information to TS09 senior coordinators.

“We operated just like we normally would,” said Aerographer’s Mate 1st Class (AW/SW) Aaron Wimberly. “We combined our routine procedures with their detailed knowledge of the area. Because of that, we had a dynamic, joint forecast everyday for TS09.”

That collaboration proved crucial to the success of the mission, said Wimberly.

“Together, we had a joint website with weather updates, radar data and tides and currents to give to LCACs and pilots so they had a better grip on where to land,” he said. “Our ability to integrate with the Sailors throughout the ship was a big reason the exercise was so successful. It truly was a team effort.”

According to Woodall, the exercise did more than just enhance interoperability, it also brought the people involved closer together on a personal level.

“It was a chance to develop personal relationships that can prove invaluable should we ever be called upon to conduct short-notice contingency operations in the region, such as humanitarian assistance, disaster relief or evacuation operations,” said Woodall.

Talisman Saber is a biennial, combined training activity designed to train Australian and U.S. forces in planning and conducting combined operations and help improve combat readiness and interoperability between Australian and U.S. forces.

Essex is commanded by Capt. Brent Canady and is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed U.S. Amphibious Ready Group and serves as the flagship for CTF 76, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force commander. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with a detachment in Sasebo, Japan.

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