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Amphibious Squadron ELEVEN

Amphibious Squadron ELEVEN is the U.S. Navy's newest and only permanently forward deployed Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON). The squadron consists of four ships and its mission is to perform as Tactical Commander and Warfare Commander of forces assigned; function as Commander Amphibious Task Force (CATF) as designated through initiating directives; function as Commander of the Amphibious Ready Group (ARG); conduct Amphibious Ready Group-Marine Expeditionary Unit/Special Operations Capable (MEU/SOC) operations as directed.

PHIBRON ELEVEN was initially activated in July 1966 and was comprised of seven ships homeported in Long Beach, CA, with USS VALLEY FORGE (LPH 8) as flagship. During its short, but illustrious period of service from 1966 to 1970, COMPHIBRON ELEVEN made two extended deployments to the Western Pacific. Each of these deployments was highlighted by combat action tours of duty off the hostile shores of Vietnam. Of particular note were numerous bold amphibious missions in the vicinity of the DMZ in support of combat operations. COMPHIBRON ELEVEN also participated in humanitarian efforts in Vietnam, the Philippines and Okinawa, Japan. The Squadron was reactivated on September 30th, 1992 to give forward-deployment amphibious striking power in the Far East.

Since its reactivation, Amphibious Squadron ELEVEN, with its embarked MEU, has operated at sea, providing credible deterrence against any potential aggressor in the Pacific region. With the "FORWARD FROM THE SEA" concept at the forefront of Naval operations, Amphibious Squadron ELEVEN and THIRTY-FIRST MEU maintain their readiness and flexibility at the tip of the operational spear.

Amphibious Squadron ELEVEN embarks the Thirty-First Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) which is forward deployed to Okinawa. This Navy-Marine Corps team has landed Marines by sea and by air in Korea, Okinawa, Guam, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, Russia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Australia in the thick of night and in broad daylight, regardless of weather.

The PHIBRON ships include the flagship USS ESSEX (LHD 2), the alternate flagship, USS JUNEAU (LPD 10), USS GERMANTOWN (LSD 42) and USS FORT MCHENRY (LSD 43).

In October 2000 Belleau Wood (LHA 3) completed the Navy's largest ever crew exchange and hull swap in Sasebo, Japan. The deployment began for the San Diego crew aboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2) in early June 2000. Port visits to Hawaii, Guam and Hong Kong preceded their arrival in Sasebo. After arriving in Japan, the two large-deck amphibious ships moored in India Basin at Fleet Activities Sasebo and began an aggressive training schedule allowing both crews to learn their new ship. Everything from basic ship familiarization and fire fighting procedures, to engineering plant layout and hull-specific differences had to be learned before the 27 July 2000 exchange of command. The San Diego crew delivered (USS Essex) the Third Fleet Battle "E" winning Big Deck Amphib to the FDNF (Forward Deployed Naval Forces), and returned to San Diego as the new owners of USS Belleau Wood. The hull swap benefited the Navy, saving money on personnel transfer costs. Nearly 2000 crewmembers (1000 from each ship) and their families were able to remain stable in both Sasebo and San Diego.

The flexibility of the Belleau Wood ARG was demonstrated with the November 1998 crisis with Iraq. All four ARG ships had just completed Exercise Foal Eagle off the coast of Korea, and were heading to various port visits for some liberty, when each ship received the call on 06 November 1998 to sail immediately to Okinawa to offload Marine Air Ground Task Force 4 personnel, and onload the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).

Both USS Belleau Wood (LHA 3) and USS Dubuque (LPD 8) were scheduled for foreign port visits; Belleau Wood for a five-day port visit to Hong Kong, and Dubuque a brief visit to Kagoshima, Japan. USS Germantown (LSD 42) and USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43) were scheduled to return to Okinawa, unload the Marines, and return to Sasebo. The Belleau Wood and Dubuque were to return to Sasebo later in the month, and all four ships were supposed to be in port during the entire holiday season.

The schedule changes for the Fort McHenry and Germantown were fairly simple - they were just moved forward by about a week. Conversely, the schedules for Belleau Wood and Dubuque had to be completely changed, as they needed their supplies in Okinawa instead of Hong Kong and Kagoshima. Fuel, groceries, spare parts, and supplies were redirected to Okinawa at the last minute, and further plans were made to restock the ships through frequent underway and vertical replenishments during their transit to the Arabian Gulf.

The ships arrived at White Beach on the morning of the 07 November 1998. As each ship secured its last line, the offload of MAGTF 4 equipment, gear, and personnel commenced. The entire offload was completed in approximately 15 hours. Usually it takes anywhere from 36 to 48 hours.

The BELLEAU WOOD Marine Amphibious Ready Group left the Persian Gulf on 27 January 1999, and was replaced by the USS BOXER, which arrived on 24 January 1999.

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