Essex Embarks 31st MEU Aviation Combat Element
USS ESSEX, At Sea (Sept. 7, 2010) – The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) completed the fly on of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit’s (MEU) Aviation Combat Element (ACE) Sept. 7 in support of the ship’s current patrol throughout the Western Pacific region. 

The embarkation included AV-8B Harrier jet aircraft assigned to Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 542, as well as CH-53E Sea Stallion, CH-46E Sea Knight, AH-1W Super Cobra and UH-1N Huey helicopters assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 262. 

“I’m really excited about getting out here and having the chance to participate in the patrol,” said Maj. Peter Mantuano, an AH-1W pilot with HMM-262. “Today was our first real day of flight operations, and the flight deck officer, hangar bay crew and the entire air department has gone above and beyond expectations. Now that we’re aboard, everyone is focused on the upcoming exercises and any real-world contingencies that might come up.” 

The ability of Essex’s flight deck personnel and Marine pilots to work well with each other is vital to a successful patrol, said Lt. Michael Gerhart, Essex’s aircraft handling officer. 

“It’s absolutely crucial,” said Gerhart. “If we don’t have a good work relationship, we cannot execute our mission safely or effectively. It’s important for us to develop a good working relationship right off the bat to make us an effective war-fighting team.” 

Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) (AW/SW) Kevin Johnson, V-1 division leading chief petty officer, said he is confident both sides will be able to work cohesively because of extensive training and preparation. 

“Everyone, on both sides of the house, is a trained professional,” said Johnson. “We’re all properly trained and many of us bring a lot of experience to the table. I don’t expect any issues at all while working with each other.” 

The patrol should be a great opportunity for personnel from both sides to continue to perfect their skills, not only with each other, but with a number of partner nations, said Johnson. 

“This patrol will give us an opportunity to hone our skills with the ACE and some of the pilots from the other countries we’ll be working with,” he said. “Every time we get underway it’s a chance for us to get out there and do what we’re trained to do. Every day our experienced aircraft handlers are working to maintain a high level of proficiency and our junior Sailors are gaining valuable experience.” 

Many of the junior Sailors who work alongside Johnson on Essex’s flight deck are looking forward to gaining that experience, said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Airman Apprentice Daniel Navarroarizpe, of Gonzalez, Texas. 

“I’m looking forward to working with the Marines and working on my air pin,” he said. “For us, being out on the flight deck and doing our everyday job is good training when it comes to getting our air (EAWS) wings.” 

While a fly on always affects Sailors who deal with flight operations, this one presented a unique set of circumstances, as a tropical storm passed through the area. Situations involving severe weather demand flexibility from the entire crew, said Aerographer’s Mate 1st Class (AW/SW) Jeffery Ulmer, an Essex weather forecaster from Roosevelt, N.Y. 

“We really don’t want to get caught in excessive winds,” said Ulmer. “When we’re pier side, can present dangers when we are operating cranes, moving equipment and embarking personnel. Our job is to keep us out of those conditions and possibly save lives.” 

Despite the foul weather, Essex and the ACE completed the fly on safely with no accidents or damage to equipment. 

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

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