Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Essex Departs Sasebo for Spring Patrol

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Greg Johnson, USS Essex Public Affairs

An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to the "Island Knights" of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 25 lands on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2). Essex, the lead ship of the Essex Expeditionary Strike Group and the flagship for Combined Task Force 76, is preparing for a spring patrol. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Mark R. Alvarez/Released)

USS ESSEX, At Sea (NNS) -- The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) departed Sasebo, Japan Jan. 26, for her annual spring patrol throughout the Western Pacific region.

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

The ship's first stop will be in Okinawa, Japan, to embark more than 1,400 Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and Sailors assigned to Fleet Surgical Team 7. Once aboard, Essex will be fully operational, with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 and Marine Attack Squadron 211 of the MEU's Aviation Combat Element (ACE) in place. The Sailors and Marines will work together over the course of the deployment to enhance their collective amphibious warfare capabilities with Western Pacific allies.

"Essex has a very busy spring patrol schedule ahead working with our allies and supporting the 31st MEU," said Capt. Brent Canady, Essex' commanding officer. "We spent the last two months conducting engineering repairs as well as training our Sailors for this deployment. Once again, we are ready to work closely with our regional partners during spring patrol.

"Perfecting our craft and enhancing the cohesion between Sailors and Marines is vital to the success of everyone involved in Essex' flight operations," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) 1st Class (AW/SW) Giancarlo Treano.

"Our patrols are important because it allows us to support any missions during operations and do what we have to do to accomplish them," said Treano.

Throughout the deployment, pilots and flight-deck personnel will orchestrate extensive flight operations, drawing from the ACE's full arsenal, including CH-53E Sea Stallion, CH-46E Sea Knight, AH-1Z Super Cobra and UH-1N Huey helicopters, as well as AV-8B Harrier jet aircraft.

While Sailors and Marines will certainly keep busy on the flight deck and in the air, those responsible for Essex' well-deck operations will be busy in their own right. Operating landing craft air cushion vehicles assigned to Assault Craft Unit 5, Detachment Western Pacific, Essex will transport Marines and their equipment to the beach during the various exercises scheduled for the deployment.

"We always look to use these patrols as a way to create better teamwork between our Sailors and the Marines in the well deck," said Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class (SW) Matthew Nelson. "It doesn't matter what patrol or ship you're on, teamwork is always going to be an important factor."

As always, Essex' spring patrol will serve as an opportunity for some of the newest Sailors to experience life underway for the first time.

"I'm really looking forward to learning my job from the experience of being underway," said Boatswain's Mate Seaman Jeremiah Maldonado of San Antonio. "This should be a great opportunity to get my qualifications."

Once the Marines are embarked, Essex will assume the role of flagship for the Essex Expeditionary Strike Group while joined by the dock landing ships USS Tortuga (LSD 46) and USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49).

The 31st MEU is the only permanently forward-deployed MEU, maintaining a presence in the Pacific Ocean at all times as part of III Marine Expeditionary Force, and is based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler, Okinawa, Japan.

Essex is commanded by Capt. Brent Canady and the lead ship of the only forward-deployed U.S. expeditionary strike group and serves as the flagship for CTF 76, the Navy's forward-deployed amphibious force commander. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with a detachment in Sasebo, Japan.