Friday, November 13, 2009

Essex Embarks 31st MEU

By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Taurean Alexander, USS Essex Public Affairs

OKINAWA, Japan (NNS) -- The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) onloaded more than 1,100 Marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Nov. 12 in preparation for Annual Exercise (ANNUALEX) 21G with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF).

The exercise is designed to improve both naval forces' capabilities for coordinated, bilateral operations in the defense of Japan. In particular, ANNUALEX 21G will focus on enhancing military-to-military relationships, improving command and control, air, undersea, and surface warfare.

"We always look forward to embarking the 31st MEU," said Capt. Troy Hart, Essex' commanding officer. "Their professionalism has always been a major factor to our success working together and this is another chance for us to build on that success."

The 31st MEU consists of ground, command, air and combat support elements that allow the Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ESXARG) to conduct amphibious operations from the sea and project power ashore.

During the onload, Essex' Combat Cargo Department moved approximately 90 vehicles and 250 pieces of MEU cargo. Additionally, they helped move elements of the Battalion Landing Team (BLT), Ground Combat Element, Aviation Combat Element (ACE) and Combat Logistics Battalion. The arsenal includes CH-53E Sea Stallion, CH-46E Sea Knight, AH-1W Super Cobra and UH-1N Huey helicopters, as well as AV-8B Harrier jet aircraft.

"This deployment is a great opportunity for our Marines to play a part in ANNUALEX," said Gunnery Sgt. Jorge Jerez, Combat Cargo assistant. "I'm sure everyone is excited to be a part of the great relationship we have with the JMSDF."

For many of the Marines, this will be their first opportunity to participate in the Exercise.

"I'm not really sure what to expect," said Lance Cpl. Dalton Kuegn, of Tyler, Texas. "It should be a pretty cool experience just to be at sea. Being at sea during an exercise like this should also be a learning experience for a lot of the guys who are in the same situation that I'm in."

Essex is commanded by Capt. Troy Hart and is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed U.S. Amphibious Ready Group and serves as the flagship for Commander Task Force 76, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force commander. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with a detachment in Sasebo, Japan.