Thursday, January 27, 2011

USS Essex Departs for Western Pacific Patrol

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Greg Johnson

USS ESSEX, At sea (NNS) -- The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) departed Sasebo, Japan Jan. 25 to begin a series of partnership-building exercises throughout the Western Pacific.

The deployment will feature several bilateral maritime training exercises designed to build relationships and enhance operational readiness between U.S. and Asian-Pacific partner nations throughout the region.

"Because Essex is permanently forward-deployed, she has the unique ability to continuously engage and exercise with partners and allies in the Western Pacific, as well as forge new relationships with nations with whom we have operated less frequently," said Capt. David Fluker, Essex' commanding officer. "She remains always ready to respond to crises in the region, whether it be by providing assisting during relief efforts following a natural disaster, offering routine humanitarian assistance or by reassuring our friends in support of treaties or national objectives."

During the deployment, Essex and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit will participate in exercise Cobra Gold 2011, an annual U.S.-Thailand co-sponsored joint coalition exercise designed to ensure regional peace and stability.

The deployment will also serve as a first for many of Essex' newest Sailors, many of which will enjoy their first taste of life underway.

"I'm really looking forward to a couple of things, like the opportunity to learn my job and having a chance to visit all of the ports that I hear we're going to," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) Airman Rachel Walker, of Miami. "It sounds really exciting."

Fluker assumed command of Essex Jan. 20 following an 18-month as the ship's executive officer.

"I look forward to continuing to work with this remarkable team, he said. "I am constantly inspired with the dedication and unmatched flexibility that the Sailors and Marines of Essex demonstrate."

Essex is part of the forward-deployed Essex Amphibious Ready Group and is underway in the Western Pacific region.