Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Blue-Green Team Approaches Final Stages of Seven-Month Deployment

Foreign Navy ships participate in a photo exercise with ships from the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) during a bilateral exercise in the Persian Gulf. The Iwo Jima ESG is supporting maritime security operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Chad R. Erdmann/Released)

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW/AW) Michael Starkey, Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group Public Affairs

USS IWO JIMA, At Sea (NNS) -- Sailors aboard the multi-purpose amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) and embarked Marines of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (26 MEU) make the final preparations to return to homeport as their seven-month deployment to the Navy's 5th and 6th Fleet Areas of Operation comes to a close.

Iwo Jima began its deployment Aug. 26, 2008 as the flagship of the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) and had several achievements that made the deployment a success.

"Two words sum up every successful deployment – 'team work'," said Iwo Jima's Command Master Chief (SW/AW) Don Stoddard. "The Sailors of Iwo Jima, including her embarked Navy elements and the Marines of 26 MEU, integrated into a cohesive unit very early in the training cycle. That early integration was critical to the many successes of the Iwo Jima [ESG] while deployed to 5th and 6th Fleet."

"It is simply amazing to watch the blue and green team work side-by-side in virtually every mission area aboard this great ship, and I thank them for their many sacrifices and dedication," continued Stoddard. "Our goal when we sailed out of Norfolk on 26 August, 2008 was to bring every Sailor and Marine back home safely. We accomplished that goal."

As with any amphibious operation, ship-to-shore movement of troops and equipment is key to the success and accomplishment of the mission. Assault Craft Unit (ACU) 4 and its three landing craft air cushion (LCAC) played a major role in the embarkation and debarkation of more than 2,000 Marines and their vehicles, equipment and supplies.

"Our detachment supported the Iwo Jima [ESG] by moving 6,298 tons of vehicles and equipment, while also transporting 5,123 passengers in support of the 26 MEU during exercises in cooperation with multi-national forces from four countries," said Quartermaster Chief (SW) Jerrod Morgan, senior navigator for ACU 4.

"The success of our detachment is a direct reflection of our personnel and leadership who have always ensured that we are a team first and foremost. We also accomplished more with less and supported each other to the fullest. We couldn't have accomplished all of our work without the full support of Iwo Jima and its crew."

Air operations also played a major role with ship-to-shore movement and 26 MEU support.

"Air department executed 15,565 flight deck evolutions and 3,850 flight deck moves during 1,419.11 hours of mishap-free flight operations supporting exercises with foreign navies and other operations," said Cmdr. Frank Dowd, Iwo Jima's air boss. "Also, air department issued 1,580,283 gallons of JP-5 during 3,789 aircraft and 81 LCAC refueling evolutions. Air department's V-4 division conducted and coordinated the mishap-free receipt of 1,391,116 gallons of JP-5 during 12 mishap-free replenishment at sea (RAS) evolutions."

During deployment, the ship broke up the underway working routine with port visits to Haifa, Israel; Manama, Bahrain; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Sicily, Italy; and Rota, Spain. Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) offered tours at each port to give Sailors and Marines a unique opportunity to get off the ship and explore the sights at a greatly-reduced cost.

"Approximately 700 Sailors and Marines took advantage of the tours offered during liberty ports," said Elaine-Jane Mitchell, Iwo Jima's fun Boss/MWR representative. "MWR subsidized approximately $90,000 of the cost of tours. We only have one lifetime to see the world in all its greatness, so this was our chance to live our dreams."

Capt. Jeffery Amick, Iwo Jima's commanding officer, attributes the success of the deployment to each and every Sailor and Marine aboard the ship.

"I would say that the greatest factor that contributed to our successful deployment was our Sailors and Marines; they did it all," said Amick. "The equipment is important, but they kept the equipment running; they performed the missions, and their pride and enthusiasm made it a success.

"I've enjoyed working with all the Sailors and Marines, and I'm really proud of each and every one of them. It's a great crew, and I hope they all leave with a tremendous sense of pride in what they've accomplished for themselves and for their country."

Iwo Jima is deployed as part of the Iwo Jima ESG supporting maritime security operations (MSO). MSO help develop security in the maritime environment. From security arises stability that results in global economic prosperity. MSO complements the counterterrorism and security efforts of regional nations and seek to disrupt violent extremists' use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons or other material.