Thursday, June 18, 2009

Essex Embarks 31st MEU, Prepares for Talisman Saber

USS Essex (LHD 2), USS Denver (LPD 9) and USS Tortuga (LSD 46) wait pierside at White Beach Naval Facility in Okinawa, Japan while the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit loads gear and personnel before deploying for Talisman Sabre 2009. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Denver Applehans/Released)

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Matthew Ebarb

OKINAWA, Japan (NNS) -- The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) completed on loading more than 1,400 Marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) June 15 in preparation for exercise Talisman Saber 2009 (TS09).

TS09 is a bilateral command post and field training exercise designed to maintain a high level of interoperability between U.S. and Australian forces. The exercise also supports increased flexibility and readiness for maintaining regional security.

"As always, we're looking forward to having the 31st MEU on board again," said Capt. Brent Canady, Essex' commanding officer. "We've had an excellent operational record with them in the past, and we look forward to continuing that success."

The 31st MEU consists of ground, command, air and combat support elements that allow the Essex Amphibious Ready Group to conduct amphibious operations from the sea and project power ashore.

Essex' combat cargo department moved approximately 90 vehicles and 250 pieces of MEU cargo. Additionally, they helped move elements of the battalion landing team, the ground combat element, aviation combat element and combat logistics battalion. The arsenal includes CH-53E Sea Stallion, CH-46E Sea Hawk, AH-1W Super Cobra and UH-1N Huey helicopters, as well as AV-8B Harrier jet aircrafts.

"We're looking forward to the experience of working with the Australian military," said Gunnery Sgt. Jorge Jerez, well deck combat cargo assistant. "We have put a lot of work into getting the equipment on board and making sure that it's ready for the upcoming Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) evaluation."

AQIS is the Australian government agency responsible for enforcing Australian quarantine laws. Essex will coordinate with AQIS to ensure the safety of Essex' crew, Australian exercise participants and Australian citizens.

"Working with the Australian's offers something new for us," said Pfc. Marcus Clark, from Spokane, Wash. "This isn't something we get to do every day, and I think the experience will allow us to learn from one another and grow."

Essex 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.