The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) returned to Sasebo, Dec. 11 after completing a successful two-month fall patrol.
During Essex's fall patrol, the ship's Sailors and Marines conducted combined training with several Southeast Asian countries, participated in community relations projects and cultural exchanges as well as performed various medical and dental civil action projects ashore.
After departing Sasebo, Essex's first task was to on-load the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) in the Republic of the Philippines, which came at the conclusion of Talon Vision and Amphibious Landing Exercises.
While in Subic Bay, Republic of the Philippines, Sailors and Marines took part in two community relations projects, working with local elementary schools.
"It was an honor for us to make our first port call of the fall patrol Subic Bay, a city rich in history, culture and tradition," said Capt. Brian Donegan, Essex commanding officer. "Our Sailors and Marines had the opportunity to participate in some community relations projects that allowed them to give something back to the local residents in exchange for their hospitality and friendliness."
Essex then transited to Hong Kong for a scheduled port call, where the ship's 2,500 Sailors and Marines had a chance to enjoy the city's culture as well as host members of the local community for tours and a formal reception.
"We want to continue to foster good relations," said Essex Supply Officer, Cmdr. Kenneth Dixon. "Hosting a reception aboard the ship lets us do that. The reception was a success; I received nothing but positive feedback."
While in port, the ship's Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) division also provided a variety of tours and trips enjoyed by several hundred crew members. The various trips included tours of Disneyland Hong Kong, Lantau Island Monastery, home of the world's largest Buddha statue, and a trip showcasing the city of Hong Kong itself.
"MWR gave the Sailors and Marines a chance to see and do things that many do not experience during a port visit," said Essex Afloat Recreation Specialist Mick Hultz. "Many of the Sailors who attended the tours were new to MWR events."
Following a successful visit to Hong Kong, Essex traveled to the Republic of Korea to take part in the Korean Interoperability Training Program (KITP).
KITP was designed to enhance bilateral operations between the United States and the Republic of Korea, demonstrating U.S. commitment to peace and stability in the region. Bilateral exercises are designed to provide training for forces across a wide spectrum of combined/joint amphibious training, focusing on amphibious landing and assault.
The final stop for Essex was an historic visit to the Kingdom of Cambodia.
While in port, Sailors and Marines participated in community relations projects, medical and dental assistance events and professional military exchanges. The ship's crew and embarked Marines also participated in cultural exchanges and friendship-building activities.
Essex's visit to Cambodia marked the first visit by an amphibious assault ship, and was the second port call by a U.S. Navy ship visit this year. USS Gary's (FFG 51) visit in February was the first U.S. ship to visit the Kingdom of Cambodia in more than 30 years.
While in Cambodia, Essex and the 31st MEU conducted Medical and Dental Civic Action Programs with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces in Kampong Cham and the remote village of Kulen. Marines from the 31st MEU also constructed two bridges and a culvert in Kampong Chhnang.
"Essex medical department and Fleet Surgical Team 7 were excited about working with the Marines to provide medical care for the people of Cambodia," said Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman (SW/AW) Mark Davison. "The Blue-Green team recognized the historical significance of these events and had the opportunity to provide care to those who would otherwise have limited or no access to health care in some rural areas."
While in the Sihanoukville area, Sailors and Marines visited the Hun Sen Krong Primary School, Hun Sen Mittapheap Primary School, Chamka Kaosu Primary School, and the orphanage Village D'Enfantes to take part in friendship building activities, pass out gifts and play games with the children. They also helped clean and paint the schoolhouses.
The ship's crew also distributed several pallets of Project Handclasp material to the schools and the orphanage. Project Handclasp is a U.S. Navy program that provides donated items to agencies and organizations in countries that could benefit from those materials.
"At each engagement opportunity, Sailors and Marines made a significant difference in the lives of thousands of people in need," said Donegan. "This port visit has been absolutely historic and is one of the most significant engagement activities in the Pacific this year."
Operating in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean, the U.S. 7th Fleet is the largest of the forward-deployed U.S. fleets, with approximately 50 ships, 120 aircraft and 20,000 Sailors and Marines assigned at any given time.
Essex is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed U.S. Expeditionary Strike 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.
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