Thursday, May 07, 2009

Essex Debarks 31st MEU After Successful Spring Patrol

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

OKINAWA, Japan (NNS) -- The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) arrived in Okinawa, Japan, to debark the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) May 5.

The offload began early May 4 with the fly-off of the 31st MEU's Aviation Combat Element (ACE), during which 31st MEU and Essex Combat Cargo Marines offloaded all ACE aircraft, to include CH-53E Sea Stallion, CH-46E Sea Knight, AH-1Z Super Cobra and UH-1 Huey helicopters.

The offload continued as Essex' combat cargo department moved approximately 75 vehicles and 300 pieces of MEU cargo. They also coordinated the offload of personnel from elements of the battalion landing team (BLT), the ground combat element and combat logistics battalion, capping off a successful Balikatan 09 (BK09).

"I couldn't be more proud of the performance of the Essex Sailors during BK09," said Capt. Brent Canady, Essex' commanding officer.

"This exercise was different in that the ship spent more time pierside in Subic Bay than we normally have in the past. This enabled us to not only conduct our bilateral training with the Philippine Navy but to also get some maintenance and preservation work accomplished. The crew met every challenge and performed brilliantly, both on the job, whether at sea or inport, and on liberty."

Sailors and Marines worked together throughout the deployment as they participated in a series of Republic of the Philippines-U.S. bilateral military humanitarian assistance and training exercises, which took place at various locations throughout the Philippines April 16-30.

For Marines like Lance Cpl. Rony Classen, from Chicago, the experience was priceless.

"This is my second time on board Essex, and the training continues to be great," Classen said. "I'm still learning new things about the Navy side, and the friendships that we build are awesome."

According to Boatswain's Mate 1st Class (SW/AW) Samuel Vontress, the kind of integrated training Sailors and Marines took part in during BK09 is critical to mission readiness.

"This training we do is important because we need our guys to be prepared when a real scenario presents itself," said Vontress. "You never know when you'll be called upon to do this stuff for real, and maintaining a high level of readiness is paramount."

Classen, an infantryman with the 31st MEU agreed.

"It's our job to make sure communications with the Sailors and the Marines go well, and we're just doing our part to accomplish the mission," said Classen. "Training is a big part of making sure we know how to do our job and making sure they have what they need."

Sailors and Marines also enjoyed liberty together in Subic Bay. Deployments like BK09 provide an excellent opportunity to experience the unique culture of many locations, said Classen.

"The Philippines was fun this time around," he said. "Any time you get a chance to experience a different culture is a plus."

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 is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed U.S. amphibious ready group and serves as the flagship for CTF 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.