Friday, December 09, 2011

Essex Completes Patrol of Western Pacific

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class William T. Jenkins, USS Essex (LHD 2) Public Affairs

SASEBO, Japan (NNS) -- The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) returned to Sasebo, Japan Dec. 8 after completing a two-and-a-half month patrol of the Western Pacific.

Throughout the patrol, Essex Sailors along with the embarked Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) participated in two exercises and steamed more than 13,000 nautical miles.

One of the exercises was a certification exercise (CERTEX) for the 31st MEU, which tested the Marines ability to project power ashore from Essex. This exercise, which concluded Oct. 16, validated the MEU's capability to perform a variety of tasks and to integrate with the Navy to conduct amphibious operations.

Essex also completed an Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX) with the 31st MEU and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). PHIBLEX is a bilateral training exercise conducted at sea and ashore in the Republic of the Philippines, which is designed to improve interoperability, increase readiness and build professional and personal relationships between U.S. forces and the AFP.

"The Essex team performed very well during our deployment," said Capt. David Fluker, Essex commanding officer. "We were able to accomplish all of our assigned missions, which included working with the 31st MEU to earn their certification and taking part in the bilateral exercise PHIBLEX with the Republic of the Philippines. I am very proud of the crew's performance in accomplishing both exercises."

After PHIBLEX concluded Oct. 30, Sailors, Marines and their equipment and vehicles were back loaded aboard Essex.

The ship and its crew then steamed to the coast of Bali, Indonesia in support of a presidential visit and to conduct training with the Indonesian military. While anchored off the coast of Bali, the Amphibious Squadron 11 Commodore, Capt. Bradley Lee and the Essex commanding officer hosted an evening reception on the flight deck for Indonesian and U.S. dignitaries. Additionally, Essex Sailors and Marines had the chance to experience liberty in Bali during a four-day port visit.

After Essex departed Bali, the ship steamed to Manila, Republic of the Philippines for a three-day liberty port visit. For some of the crew, this was an opportunity for them to visit family who live in the Philippines. Also during the port visit, Essex Sailors finished the final series of graded damage control drills to complete its unit level training assessment certification.

The deployment also marked the first time many Essex Sailors were underway with the ship. Many took advantage of their time at sea by earning qualifications.

"This was my first time underway," said Operations Specialist Seaman Recruit Brinton Irons. "I was able to get all my basic shipboard qualifications."
More than 280 Sailors earned either their enlisted surface warfare or enlisted aviation warfare qualification during the deployment.

Fluker said the hard work of the crew and the integration of many units led to a successful deployment.

"The crew came together in true Essex fashion to perform the mission, whether it was supporting the MEU, executing complex shipboard evolutions, or supporting theater security cooperation efforts," said Fluker. "I could not be prouder of the professionalism and dedication of our Sailors and Marines."