Thursday, December 16, 2010

Essex Returns to Sasebo Following Patrol of Western Pa

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW/AW) Mark R. Alvarez, USS Essex (LHD 2) Public Affairs

SASEBO, Japan (NNS) -- The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) arrived in Sasebo, Japan, Dec. 14 after completing a three-and-a-half month patrol of the Western Pacific Ocean.

The Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) departed Sasebo Sept. 1 for the patrol.

Throughout the patrol, Essex Sailors, along with Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), conducted numerous bilateral training exercises with countries throughout the region in an effort to enhance amphibious interoperability.

"This patrol was extremely successful and it included our participation in exercises Valiant Shield (VS), amphibious landing exercise (PHIBLEX) and Keen Sword as well as providing support for the president's visit to Indonesia," said Capt. Troy Hart, Essex's commanding officer. "The enthusiasm and can-do attitude from Essex Sailors during this patrol was a great example of their professionalism and pride."

Major exercises included VS 2010, Habu Nag 2010, the PHIBLEX and Keen Sword 2011.

Essex kicked off its patrol with VS 10, Sept. 12-21. Throughout the exercise, nearly 1,500 ARG Sailors and more than 2,000 31st MEU Marines participated in joint-service training. VS 10 brought forces together from multiple service branches to enhance U.S. joint readiness, joint operations proficiency, improve the ability to respond to contingencies and to help ensure regional stability and security throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

"We don't often practice coordination and de-confliction of amphibious operations from other warfare responsibilities like [anti-submarine warfare,]" said Col. Andrew MacMannis, commanding officer of the 31st MEU. "The integration of the MEU and Navy went extremely well."

From Sept. 29 to Oct. 5, Essex participated in exercise Habu Nag 2010, an annual, bilateral amphibious training exercise between the United States and India. The exercise enhanced U.S.-Indian bilateral interoperability during amphibious operations, including humanitarian assistance and disaster response. Several officers of the Indian Armed Forces embarked Essex to observe Navy and Marine amphibious training and to participate in a tabletop exercise.

"This operation gave us a birds-eye view of how amphibious operations are organized," said Cmdr. Gagan Kaushal, of the Indian navy. "It also gave us the chance to get a ground view of how everything is executed."

The exercise tested the perseverance of Sailors and Marines on the flight deck, with flight operations often lasting up to 12 hours daily, incorporating AV-8B Harrier jet aircraft, CH-53E Sea Stallion, CH-46E Sea Knight, AH-1W Super Cobra and UH-1N Huey helicopters.

Essex finished Habu Nag and continued on to the PHIBLEX. The exercise, which involved a week of ground, air and naval integration training with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, lasted Oct. 14-21. Training scenarios included live-arms fire, small-unit tactics and boat-raid training exercises intended to improve both countries' collective war-fighting capabilities.

After the PHIBLEX, Essex and the 31st MEU were called upon to support President Barack Obama's visit to Indonesia.

The Sailors and Marines of the Essex ARG arrived in Singapore Oct. 30 for a five-day liberty call where they took advantage of cultural exchanges including a sports day. The sports day event featured more than 300 participants from Essex, the amphibious transport dock USS Denver (LPD 9), the dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49), the 31st MEU and U.S. Navy Sailors based in Singapore.

"We really wanted to do something to get everyone out and have some fun playing sports with Sailors and Marines from the ships with which we operate," said Ensign Tiffany Gaston, event coordinator. "Events like these encourage good sportsmanship and pride in one's ship. Sporting events are a fun, healthy way to get to know Sailors from other ships and other countries, such as the Singapore team that attended the event."

Essex's next stop was a port visit in Hong Kong Nov. 16-19. The crew took advantage of the opportunity to enjoy the city's culture, as well as host members of the local community for tours and a reception aboard the ship. During the four-day visit, Essex hosted more than 250 visitors.

While in port, the ship's Morale, Welfare and Recreation Division provided a variety of tours and trips for several hundred crew members. The various trips included tours of Disneyland Hong Kong, Lantau Island Monastery, home of the world's largest Buddha statue and a trip showcasing the culture and history of the city of Hong Kong itself.

Following the visits to Hong Kong and Singapore, the Essex crew began exercise Keen Sword 2011 Dec. 3. The eight-day exercise was conducted in accordance with agreements between the United States and Japan and was designed to improve interoperability, increase readiness and continue the development of the 50-year alliance between the two nations.

"Japan is a lynchpin to stability and security in the Western Pacific and is one of our most important allies," said Rear Adm. Richard Landolt, commander, Amphibious Force 7th Fleet. "By sharing each other's best practices, we have heightened the level of seamanship and professionalism between us."

With Keen Sword behind them, Essex Sailors returned to their forward-deployed port of Sasebo, Japan, in time for the holidays. According to Hart, the hard work exhibited by Essex Sailors throughout the deployment has not gone unnoticed.

"I am proud to command and serve on board Essex. The Sailors here are the most professional and hard working in the Navy," said Hart. "It's great to finish our patrol and come home to spend some much deserved time off with our families during the holidays."