SASEBO, Japan – The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) arrived in Sasebo, Japan April 14, completing a three-month deployment in the Western Pacific.
Throughout the patrol, Essex Sailors, along with the embarked Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), participated in humanitarian aid and disaster relief efforts in Japan and conducted a number of bilateral training exercises.
“It was our mission to assist in whatever ways we could to support our host country of Japan,” said Capt. David Fluker. “Essex Sailors are very proud of their efforts. Working alongside the Japan Self-Defense Forces, our Sailors and Marines had a significant impact on people who were directly affected by this tragedy.”
After embarking more than 1,200 31st MEU Marines at White Beach Naval Facility in Okinawa, Essex sailed for the Gulf of Thailand and began its part in the U.S-Kingdom of Thailand sponsored multinational exercise Cobra Gold 2011.
“The main reason we conduct exercises like Cobra Gold is to learn from our partner nations,” said Capt. Bradley Lee, commander, Amphibious Squadron 11. “There are things that each of our partner nations do well that we may not do as well and vise versa. Sharing responsibilities and assets makes us a much more potent force.”
The militaries of the Kingdom of Thailand, Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, the Republic of Korea and Malaysia worked with more than 7,200 U.S. service members at multiple locations throughout Thailand to improve interoperability. The exercise was designed to demonstrate the ability of the participating militaries to rapidly deploy a joint task force to conduct combined operations at sea and ashore.
Essex arrived off the coast of the Kingdom of Cambodia Feb. 26 to participate in Cambodia Maritime Exercise 2011 with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.
“Our relationship with Cambodia and our ability to operate with them militarily is key to peace and stability in the region,” said Fluker. “This exercise gave us a perfect opportunity to further not only our bilateral military capabilities, but also to appreciate the uniqueness of their culture.”
Following the exercise, Essex pulled into Sepengar, Malaysia for a port visit March 11. That afternoon, an 8.9-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of northeast Japan. The earthquake and ensuing tsunami killed more than 13,000 people with another 14,000 left missing, and hundreds of thousands of Japanese displaced. After only a few hours in port, the Essex ARG recalled its personnel and made full speed for Japan to join USS Germantown (LSD 42) and USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) to provide aid and assistance.
Essex arrived off the northeast coast of Honshu, Japan March 20 and began flying humanitarian assistance and disaster relief supplies ashore using helicopters assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 262. These items included water, blankets and health and comfort kits.
On April 1, the Essex Amphibious Ready Group shifted its focus to Oshima Island. Landing craft utilities (LCU) assigned to Assault Craft Unit 1 (ACU-1) were used to deliver 15,000 pounds of relief supplies and transport civilian electric utility vehicles to the island to help restore electricity. Additionally, Essex Sailors and 31st MEU Marines helped clear debris from three harbors, roads, and a beach. The Marines also set up shower facilities at a local school for Oshima residents to bathe for the first time since the tsunami struck.
“It was quite fortunate for us to work with the Japanese forces hand-to-hand every day and be positioned to come to their aid,” said Rear Adm. Jeffery S. Jones. “Working hand-in-hand with the Japanese Self Defense Forces, both the maritime and ground defense forces, was a great opportunity for us to lend a helping hand.”
After delivering more than 80 tons of relief supplies and flying more than 200 missions in support of its friend and ally, the Essex ARG completed its part in Operation Tomodachi April 6.