SASEBO, Japan -- The Navy announced, Aug. 19 that USS Essex (LHD 2) will be relieved in the spring by USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) as the Navy's only permanently forward deployed amphibious assault ship in Sasebo, Japan.
Essex, which has been forward deployed to Japan since 2000, will be reassigned to the U.S. 3rd Fleet and homeported in San Diego, Calif. The crews of both ships will remain in their current geographic locations and simultaneously execute a hull swap and exchange commands.
"The hull swap marks a new chapter in the distinguished history of USS Essex," said Capt. David Fluker, Essex commanding officer. "For the past 11 years, Essex has served as the flag ship of the Navy's only forward deployed amphibious ready group in support of the allies and partners providing maritime security in the Asia-Pacific region."
Since arriving in Sasebo in 2000, Essex has participated in numerous humanitarian assistance operations and naval exercises with U.S. allies in the Pacific region. In July 2000, Essex departed its homeport of San Diego and arrived in Sasebo to replace USS Belleau Wood (LHA 3). The two crews successfully completed the largest hull swap in Navy history.
Fluker said Essex' successful deployment to the Pacific region for the last 11 years is a credit to the numerous Sailors and Marines that have served as part of the crew or were embarked with the ship.
"Whether they were part of the Essex crew or embarked as part of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), the Sailors and Marines who have operated at-sea aboard Essex during the course of the last 11 years have always answered the call," said Fluker.
During the ship's 11-year assignment to the 7th Fleet, Essex provided humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to several countries in the region and has maintained strong relationships with partner navies in the Pacific.
"Essex has a proud history of leading maritime operations in the Pacific region," said Fluker. "The Essex crew is already working closely with the crew of USS Bonhomme Richard to ensure a successful hull swap, which will allow us to continue to meet our commitments to our host nation and regional partners."
Upon completion of a maintenance availability and modernization effort, Bonhomme Richard will be the most capable ship of the amphibious assault ship class.
"Increasing the capabilities of the forward deployed naval forces supports the U.S. commitment to the defense of Japan and theater security cooperation plans," said Fluker. "Our crew is working closely with the crew of Bonhomme Richard to ensure a smooth hull swap."