PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) -- More than 4,500 Sailors and Marines with the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and the embarked 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) arrived in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility (AOR), Aug. 11, after departing San Diego July 25.
Sailors and Marines from the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conducted an emergent recovery of 11 researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from the Papahnaumokukea Marine National Monument Aug. 8.
The operation assisted the researchers in retreating from imminent danger of Hurricane Iselle that is expected to impact Lisianski Island, Laysan Island and the Pearl and Hermes Atoll.
"We work with NOAA and we're out here almost every summer in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands working with Hawaiian Monk Seal pups doing mostly population assessment," said Carrie McAttee, a NOAA researcher. "We've been here since June and we were supposed to be here until September."
The recovery was prompted by the threat of Hurricane Iselle, the first hurricane to strike the Hawaiian Islands in more than two decades, which threatened the safety of the researchers, who were not equipped to withstand the extreme conditions of the looming storm.
USS Makin Island (LHD 8), USS Comstock (LSD 45), and USS San Diego (LPD 22) each deployed rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIB) that traveled more than four miles and endured challenging seas but safely reached their destination. Once the boats reached the coastline, they carefully maneuvered to receive the researchers and their gear without affecting the endangered marine life below.
Getting the researchers onboard safely was a top concern. "It was important to us to ensure this was a safe evolution for all involved," said Capt. Vic Cooper, commodore, Amphibious Squadron Five. "We carefully considered the safety of the researchers, our Sailors and Marines, equipment and the environment, every step of the way."
Once all researchers were accounted for, the RHIBs returned to their respective ships and the researchers were given a warm welcome, a place to shower, dry clothing and a meal.
"It was quite impressive how quickly it all happened," said Kristine Meise, a NOAA researcher. "You guys were really efficient in getting here and getting us on board. We definitely want to thank everybody that we've met on the ship."
All of the researchers were grateful for the Navy and Marine Corps' commitment to lending a helping hand.
"Anytime we have the opportunity to help those in need, we will do our very best," said Capt. Alvin Holsey, commanding officer, Makin Island. "Our Navy makes a difference everyday throughout the world, and today we were proud to be able to make a difference here."
Capt. John Menoni, San Diego's commanding officer, echoed those thoughts.
"This is what the Navy is all about, helping others in need and being ready when called upon," said Menoni. "The San Diego team has shown our ability to accomplish anything and work together to get the job done."
The researchers were then flown to Midway Island. Although remote, Midway provides shelter for the displaced personnel and access to a runway if further evacuations are needed.
"Keeping ahead of the storm required rapid planning and swift execution by our pilots and air crews," said Lt. Col. Jason Holden, commanding officer of the 11th MEU's aviation combat element, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 163 (Reinforced). "This was a great opportunity to render aid to those in need and to exercise our capacity to respond quickly to emerging events."
Papahnaumokukea Marine National Monument is the single largest conservation area under the U.S. flag and one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world. It encompasses 139,797 square miles of the Pacific Ocean.
Makin Island ARG is on a scheduled deployment to promote peace and freedom of the seas by providing deterrence, humanitarian aid, and disaster response while supporting the Navy's maritime strategy in the U.S. 7th and 5th fleet areas of responsibility.