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Amphibious Warfare
USS Pearl Harbor Embodies the 'Gator' Navy
Story by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher Lindahl,
Expeditionary Strike Group Three Public Affairs
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USS Pearl Harbor

SAN DIEGO – December 7, 1941: a date that resides infamously in every U.S. history textbook and changed the world forever: a day still mourned by millions of American families: a day that is now synonymous with the name “Pearl Harbor.”

Dec. 7, 1941 is the date that the Hawaiian port city of Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Imperial Japanese navy, resulting in the death of more than 2,400 Americans, more than 1150 wounded, and massive casualties to Navy vessels and aircraft.

Dec. 8, the Unites States declared war on Japan, marking the entry of U.S. forces into World War II.

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Amphibious dock landing ship USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52) now bears the name of the legendary city, creating a legacy of her own as she proudly sails for Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) Three in the Pacific Fleet.

The downside for Pearl Harbor, like many other ships of her kind, is that she suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. That is, very few people seem to know what an amphibious ship is.

On the morning of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy was without a single ship capable of disembarking tanks or heavy equipment onto a beach on its own, without having to rely on the aid of cranes or piers.

Today, 72 years later, the Navy has 35 such ships of different shapes and sizes, all designed to conduct rapid ship-to-shore movements from a short distance offshore. These comprise the fleet’s amphibious ships, or the “Gator Navy.”

“You’re looking at a ship that can get close to shore; our draft will support immediate presence,” said Lt. Cmdr. Ernest K. Jessop, Pearl Harbor’s 1st lieutenant. “You have an event like hurricane Katrina, the majority of ships that provided support were amphibious.”

USS Pearl Harbor fills a critical gap with her own 30-ton crane and capacity to carry two beach storming landing craft air cushions (LCACs), each with their own ability to transport up to 75 tons of personnel, vehicles or cargo.

If the mission doesn’t require LCACs, she can also embark either one landing craft utility (LCU) or 15 amphibious assault vehicles (AAVs), all while maintaining a flight deck with two launching pads for helicopter flight operations and a boat deck with two smaller rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs).

Aside from the operational capabilities, however, Jessop points to one of the more unusual aspects of the ship.

“One thing that really makes us stand out from other classes of ships is our vast cargo space,” he said.

Just this summer, Pearl Harbor proved her versatility and ability to serve a large humanitarian purpose, having just recently returned from Pacific Partnership 2013. The mission was a disaster-response preparedness mission, where she visited five Pacific host nations and played host to military members from nine partner nations while filling her vehicle storage area with cargo ranging from medical supplies to food and water.

“What a wonderful experience, there are so many great things that came out of that,” said Cmdr. Michael J. Harris, Pearl Harbor’s commanding officer. “Those people went out and did good things, from dental readiness, to medical readiness, to disaster preparedness.”

Throughout Pacific Partnership, Pearl Harbor transported more than 5,000 personnel via an LCU and approximately 2,700 personnel using her RHIBs to provide training and support to her host nations.

In addition to offensive, defensive, humanitarian, and disaster relief missions, Pearl Harbor’s versatility allows her to be a perfect addition to maritime interdiction operations, where she can help patrol the seas. Just recently she made news when her crew recovered a floating bale of marijuana off the Southern California coastline.

Harris said the capability of the amphibious force to be able to do maritime interdiction operations is already there and is going to grow further.

“We’re always there. I’ve been on amphibious ships when they’ve rescued lost boaters,” said Harris, who went on to say that they’re always looking for vessels in distress and are always keeping a watchful eye on the safety of the seas.

“Our capabilities are proven day in, day out, 365 days a year by great Sailors,” said Harris.

Pearl Harbor is part of Expedition Strike Group Three which consists of more than 9,400 Sailors and Marines in eight naval support elements and three amphibious squadrons with 12 ships.

USS Pearl Harbor
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