EAST CHINA SEA - The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) embarked the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit's (MEU) Aviation Combat Element (ACE), Feb. 21.
The Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group and the 31st MEU will conduct joint force operations in the 7th Fleet Area of Responsibility.
The Aviation Combat Element of the 31st MEU includes AV-8B Harrier jet aircrafts, assigned to Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 223, "Bulldogs", based out of Cherry Point, N.C.
"This is going to be first time, for many of our personnel, on an amphibious platform, and the first time the 'Bulldogs' have been in the 7th Fleet AOR since 2010," said Capt. Jordan Hedges, VMA-223's safety officer. "Integration with the MEU, and the Sailors aboard Bonhomme Richard, is one of the most important aspects of these exercises."
Also included in 31st MEU's ACE will be CH-53E Super Stallions helicopters and MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 265.
"Having the ACE onboard gives us options," said Cmdr. Christopher Pesile, Bonhomme Richard's air boss. "They enable us to conduct humanitarian and amphibious operations, as well as, project a forward presence in the area."
Bonhomme Richard provides a number of services for the ACE including aircraft handling, combat cargo loading and unloading, air traffic control, aircraft taxiing and towing. The Air Department is responsible for safely directing, launching and recovering the ACE aircraft.
"I'm excited to put all my training into action," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) Airman Joseph Maicke. "It's a thrilling experience to assist flight operations onboard this ship. Getting the aircraft in the air and back on deck safely is a once in a lifetime experience that very few ever get to really experience."
The 31st MEU is the only forward-deployed MEU that maintains a presence in the Pacific Region at all times as part of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force and is based out of Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan.
Bonhomme Richard ARG reports to the Commander, Amphibious Force 7th Fleet, Rear Adm. Hugh D. Wetherald, headquartered in White Beach, Okinawa, Japan.