USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) is the fourth ship in the history of the U.S. Navy named for Mt. Kearsarge in Warner, New Hampshire. Previous ships named Kearsarge include a Civil War-era sloop of war famous for defeating CSS Alabama; a turn-of-the-century battleship that sailed as part of President Theodore Roosevelt's "Great White Fleet;" and an aircraft carrier, known internationally for its role in the Project Mercury space program. Kearsarge is only one of two United States ship names mandated by Congress to be used more than once.
Kearsarge is the third ship of the Wasp-class multipurpose amphibious assault ships. Her primary mission is the embarkation, deployment, landing and support of a Marine landing force.
Kearsarge and her sister ships are the first ships specifically designed to accommodate Air Cushion Landing Craft (LCAC) for fast troop movement over the beach and Harrier II (AV-8B) V/STOL (Vertical/Short Take Off and Landing) jets, which provide close-in air support for the assault force.
Launched on March 26, 1992, she was christened Kearsarge on Saturday, May 16, 1992, at Ingalls Shipbuilding by her sponsor, Mrs. Alma Powell, wife of Gen. Colin L. Powell, U.S. Army, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State. USS Kearsarge joined the fleet October 16, 1993 during a commissioning ceremony in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Kearsarge is currently berthed in the NASSCO Norfolk Shipyard for maintenance, but her home port is Norfolk Naval Station, Virginia.
Kearsarge departed for her maiden deployment on March 22, 1995. She served as the primary platform for the rescue of Air Force Captain Scott O'Grady after he was shot down over Bosnia.
After the deployment, Kearsarge served as the primary Navy unit participating in the 1995 New York City Veteran's Day activities, which marked our nation's final tribute to the 50th Anniversary of the end of World War II.
Kearsarge began her second deployment on April 15, 1997. She relieved USS Nassau (LHA 4) on station off the coast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) in support of OPERATION GUARDIAN RETRIEVAL on May 2, 1997. Kearsarge was later directed to Freetown, Sierra Leone to conduct Noncombatant Evacuation Operations in support of OPERATION NOBLE OBELISK. On May 31, she began evacuating American citizens and foreign nationals from Sierra Leone. During the four-day operation, Kearsarge evacuated more than 2,500 Americans and foreign nationals from over 40 countries.
On April 17, 1999, Kearsarge embarked on her third deployment. Performing a turnover with the Nassau Amphibious Ready Group while underway, Kearsarge made best speed to the Adriatic Sea where she performed various operations off the coast of Kosovo, including OPERATION NOBLE ANVIL/ALLIED FORCE and supported the establishment of Camp Hope in Fier, Albania. On June 7, 1999 OPERATION JOINT GUARDIAN began. The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Special Operations Capable (SOC), was offloaded June 10, 1999 across Litokhoron Beach, Greece, for movement to Skopje, Macedonia. These U.S. Marines were the first peacekeeping force to enter Kosovo. Immediately following, Kearsarge was ordered to Izmit, Turkey to provide support after the nation experienced a devastating earthquake that killed 12,000 people.
On April 25, 2001, Kearsarge began its fourth deployment, where the ship hosted the annual USO Gala in Naples, Italy, participated in several large amphibious operations (TRIDENT D'OR, ALEXANDER THE GREAT and ALBANIAN PHIBLIEX), and provided support to the President of the United States during the G8 Summit in Genoa, Italy. On September 11, 2001, Kearsarge was underway in the Mediterranean Sea as the World Trade Centers and Pentagon were attacked by terrorists. During this deployment, Kearsarge visited 12 ports in seven different countries. Kearsarge returned home on October 15, 2001.
On Jan. 8, 2002, Kearsarge entered Norfolk Naval Shipyard for a four-month Planned Maintenance Availability that ended on April 25th that year. In July 2002, Kearsarge made a port visit to Boston to participate in the annual Harborfest celebration over the 4th of July. On Oct. 10, 2002, Kearsarge participated in a unique exercise in the Gulf of Mexico to prove a new capability of the multipurpose amphibious assault ship - minesweeping.
On Jan. 12, 2003, with only 72-hours-notice, Kearsarge was deployed, in support OF OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM. It was the ship's fifth deployment. Serving as the flagship for Rear Adm. Nowakowski, Commander, Amphibious Task Force East, and Brig. Gen. Richard Natonski, Commanding General, Second Marine Expeditionary Brigade and Landing Force East, Kearsarge carried more than 1,700 Marines from the 2D MEB to the Northern Arabian Gulf. Kearsarge later became the flagship for Capt. Gregg Jackson, Commander, Amphibious Squadron EIGHT.
On Feb. 14, 2003, Kearsarge began off-loading the 2D MEB at Kuwait Naval Base. They joined up with Marines from the 1 MEB to become Task Force Tarawa. On March 20, 2003, hostilities commenced, the name of the engagement was changed to Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Task Force Tarawa crossed in Iraq and went to war. KEARSARGE remained off the coast of Iraq flying combat re-supply missions employing the CH-53E helicopters attached to the Condors of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron Four Sixty-Four (HMH 464).
On the way home from that historic combat deployment, Kearsarge also provided support to the President of the United States during his visits to Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt and Aqaba, Jordan during his summits with Arab leaders. Additionally, Kearsarge was diverted from its homecoming track to the western coast of Africa to support OPERATION SHINNING EXPRESS. Kearsarge returned home on June 30, 2003.
In June 2004, following a four-month shipyard availability, Kearsarge surge deployed to the Arabian Gulf to transport elements of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in support of OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM. Kearsarge returned home in August 2004.
Kearsarge embarked on its seventh deployment on March 25, 2005 as the flagship for the Kearsarge Expeditionary Strike Group, consisting of Kearsarge, the guided missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60), the amphibious transport ship USS Ponce (LPD 15), the guided missile destroyer USS Gonzalez (DDG 66), the guided missile frigate USS Kauffman (FFG 59), the attack submarine USS Scranton (SSN 756) and the dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48), and the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Following a four-month shipyard availability, Kearsarge participated in New York City’s Fleet Week, Boston Harborfest, and PANAMAX 2006.
On July 30, 2007, Kearsarge embarked on its eighth deployment as the flagship for the Kearsarge Strike Group with the Marines and Sailors of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable). Kearsarge enjoyed a successful sea-based operation in support of OPERATION SEA ANGEL II in Bangladesh. Kearsarge and the embarked 22nd MEU arrived on station in the Bay of Bengal for Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief efforts Thanksgiving Day after steaming over 3,000 miles in just under six days from off the coast of Africa. The ship and her crew returned from deployment Feb. 1, 2008. Kearsarge later participated in New York City’s Fleet Week in May of 2008.
On Aug. 6, 2008, Kearsarge deployed in support of OPERATION CONTINUING PROMISE. The ship's crew, along with augments from The U. S. Marine Corps, U. S. Air Force, U. S. Army, U. S. Coast Guard, U. S. Public Health Service, Canadian Forces, and other multi-national forces and NGO's provided medical, construction, and humanitarian services to seven Central, South, and Caribbean American countries (Panama, Columbia, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Trinidad). The ship also provided HA/DR operations in Haiti following four Atlantic hurricanes that year.
In January 2009, Kearsarge entered Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) for its first dry dock planned maintenance availability (DPMA) since the ship’s commissioning in 1993.
On Aug. 27, 2010, Kearsarge deployed from Norfolk with the other vessels of the Kearsarge ARG, dock landing ship USS Carter Hall (LSD-50) and Ponce, with the embarked marines of the 26th MEU. The deployment was moved up approximately one month as the ARG was deployed to provide HA/DR to flood-stricken regions in Pakistan.
With the outbreak of civil war in Libya, Kearsarge and Ponce were deployed to the waters off Libya as part of Joint Task Force (JTF) Odyssey Dawn, the U.S. Africa Command task force established to provide operational and tactical command and control of U.S. military forces supporting the international response to the unrest in Libya and enforcement of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. U.S. forces began attacks against Libyan government forces on March 19, 2011. On March 20, U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harriers from the 26th MEU on board Kearsarge launched in support of ODYSSEY DAWN conducting strikes against Muammar Gaddafi’s ground forces and air defenses. Upon completion of the ODYSSEY DAWN deployment, Kearsarge and Ponce reunited with Carter Hall during a port call at Rota, Spain to re-constitute the Kearsarge ARG. Upon departing Rota, the Kearsarge ARG returned to Norfolk on May 16, 2011.
The fierce winds and heavy rain of Hurricane Harvey made landfall early on Aug. 26 2017 as a Category 4 storm near Rockport, Texas. In the wake of Harvey’s battering the region, and as large-scale relief efforts got underway, Adm. Phil Davidson, Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, on Aug. 30, 2017 ordered Kearsarge and the dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51) to get underway from their Tidewater home ports to support federal, state, and local authority relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Kearsarge cleared Naval Station Norfolk for the Gulf Coast region on Aug. 31, 2017, to support the efforts of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as those of the local and state authorities to provide HA/DR for the areas affected by Harvey. Oak Hill got underway the same day from Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story.
Kearsarge and her complement had recently been underway conducting shipboard drills, and the ship returned to her home port of Naval Station Norfolk for 30 hours on Aug. 30, 2017, to take on supplies and embark various units, including Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 2, Commander, Amphibious Squadron SIX, the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Tactical Air Control Squadron 22, and Fleet Surgical Team 4. The fleet replenishment oiler USNS John Lenthall (T-AO-189), and the dry cargo ship USNS William McLean (T-AKE-12) accompanied Kearsarge and Oak Hill on the disaster relief mission.
“Besides delivering combat power from the sea, amphibious assault ships are ideally suited to deliver assistance and aid,” Capt. David K. Guluzian, Kearsarge’s commanding officer, stated, “We can transport large amounts of manpower and supplies to areas in need using our small boats, landing craft, and helicopters. We also have a robust medical suite, including operating rooms, an intensive care unit, X-ray, blood bank, and even counseling services. If required, we could care for injured persons or evacuees on board the ship.”
In an all-hands effort, Kearsarge took on board more than 200 pallets containing items such as baby food and formula, diapers, bedding, water bottles, coolers, batteries, towels, canned and dry food items and food service supplies.
Kearsarge has been awarded the Golden Anchor for Retention Excellence, The 2008 Battenberg Cup Award, The Marjorie Sterrett Battleship Fund Award, Ronald Reagan Distinguished Service Award, the CNO Environmental Safety Award, the Admiral Flatley Memorial Award, Department of Energy / Department of the Navy Energy Efficient Awards, the Chief of Naval Operations Safety Award, Commander, the Navy Region Mid-Atlantic (CNRMA) Community Service Award for Personal Excellence Partnrship (PEP), and the Commander Naval Surface Force Atlantic Safety Award.
Additionally, Kearsarge has qualified for the following medals and unit awards: National Defense Service Medal, Kosovo campaign Medal (with bronze star), Armed Forces Service Medal, the NATO Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Navy Unit Commendation, Meritorious Unit Commendation (three awards), Battle Efficiency "E" Award (nine awards), Sea Service Deployment Ribbon (seven awards), and the Combat Action Ribbon.