Sunday, November 01, 2009

Essex Departs for Annual Exercise 21G

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

SASEBO, Japan (NNS) -- The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) departed Sasebo, Japan, Nov. 1 for a scheduled deployment.

Essex's deployment comes at the end of a successful two-month ship's restricted availability (SRA) and will feature Annual Exercise (ANNUALEX) 21G, conducted annually with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) to enhance interoperability between the U.S. and Japanese navies.

"The crew and contractors did an outstanding job getting the ship ready to get back underway," said Capt. Troy Hart, Essex's commanding officer. "We're at peak readiness and are looking forward to another great opportunity to work with our Japanese counterparts and further enhance our ability to work together."

For many Essex Sailors, the 21st annual exercise will serve as a first opportunity to participate in one of the longest-standing military traditions in the Pacific region.

"This will be the first ANNUALEX that I've had an opportunity to participate in," said Capt. David Fluker, Essex's executive officer. "I'm looking forward to working with the JMSDF. Their professionalism and tactical expertise is widely known and will certainly contribute to the realism and professionalism of the exercise."

Before commencing ANNUALEX, Essex will conduct sea trials, where engineers will test the equipment that was overhauled and replaced during the SRA, including four revamped ship's service turbine engines, a new main condenser and a new digital shaft speed indicator.

"Sea trials are important because it provides us with a method of ensuring the Navy gets its money's worth out of contractor repairs," said Chief Machinist's Mate (SW/AW) Jeremy Osgatharp, supervisor of Essex's aft main machinery room.

According to Osgatharp, Essex is fully prepared for sea trials due to the hard work of the crew during SRA.

"Usually steam trials go pretty well and I'm sure this will be no exception," said Osgatharp. "We already identified and resolved most of our issues during steam testing."

Essex Sailors used the SRA period to get the ship in peak condition, but many will use the underway period to get themselves in peak condition.

"We have some new people to train and that's something we can't really do in port," said Chief Boatswain's Mate Johan Zorilla, Second Division leading chief petty officer. "Our training happens in real time and is hands on, so once we get underway we can really focus on getting everyone where they need to be."

The responsibility to train Deck Department's young seamen will fall on the shoulders of those who have been there before, said Seaman Travis Clintonearl.

"It can be a pretty tough time when you first get underway," said Clintonearl. "You really have to learn to adjust to long hours and hard work, but if these guys listen to what we have to say, they'll have no problems."

In preparation for ANNUALEX 21G, Essex will embark the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), who will also be bringing aboard some new faces, as Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 2/5 will replace BLT 3/5.

"We're looking forward to working with the 31st MEU as always," said Gunnery Sgt. Steven Jones, Essex's combat cargo assistant. "There are always new challenges when a new BLT comes aboard, and it always makes for a very exciting underway period, but this is what we train to do and what we're here for."

Essex is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed U.S. Amphibious Ready Group and serves as the flagship for Combined Task Force (CTF) 76, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force commander. CTF 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with a detachment in Sasebo, Japan.