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BHR, 15th MEU Deliver More Than 1 Million Pounds of Aid During Operation Unified Assistance

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS050121-09
Release Date: 1/21/2005 2:42:00 PM

By Chief Journalist Walter T. Ham IV, USS Bonhomme Richard Public Affairs

ABOARD USS BONHOMME RICHARD, At Sea (NNS) -- During their nine days of humanitarian assistance operations in support of Operation Unified Assistance, the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (BHR) (LHD 6) and the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) delivered more than a million pounds of humanitarian aid to tsunami survivors on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Bonhomme Richard concluded operations in the area, turned over with USS Essex (LHD 2) and steamed toward the U.S. Central Command area of operations Jan. 18.

During BHR's time on station, the San Diego-based ship's embarked helicopters and landing craft, air cushion (LCAC) hovercraft delivered food, medicine and thousands of gallons of fresh water ashore, helping to save lives, mitigate suffering and prevent the onset of tsunami-related epidemics.

BHR's helicopters also transported experienced relief workers to inaccessible areas of the island, and the ship set up dental services in the town of Meulaboh.

Bonhomme Richard was dispatched to the region after a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami caused one of the worst natural disasters in recorded history. The ship cut short a port visit to Guam and skipped a planned port call to Singapore to deliver desperately needed aid ashore in Sumatra.

According to BHR Commanding Officer Capt. J. Scott Jones, BHR and her embarked Sailors and Marines showed that their compassion is equal to their might. Jones added that BHR's versality "as multidimensional assault platform" gave the ship the unique ability to target aid to where it was needed the most, no matter how inaccessible that place might be.

"What was amazing was the ability of our Sailors and Marines to easily convert what they did in training for a strike mission to a humanitarian mission," Jones said. "Our intelligence gathering and interpretation skills were translated into life-saving information that got aid where it needed to go."

Jones said Bonhomme Richard's Sailors and Marines quickly adapted to their new mission, and thought of many creative ways to provide extra hope and comfort to the people of Sumatra.

BHR's Bake Shop made cookies, brownies and cornbread for distribution on the island, and the ship's Sailors and Marines raised more than $10,000 to donate to the American Red Cross for their tsunami relief efforts.

"It's amazing how the human desire to help was transformed into this mammoth all-hands effort," Jones said. "They were literally working around the clock to get the aid where it needed to go, and we got it there."

Jones said he was particularly impressed with the ship's response to a medical emergency during the final days of the operation, when an American reporter sustained a life-threatening injury to her leg.

"Within two hours of meeting a Marine landing zone officer ashore, she was in BHR's surgical room receiving the best care from some of the best doctors our nation has to offer - Navy surgeons," Jones said. "Now she is recovering."

The ship's Executive Officer, Capt. Steve Greene, said he was also impressed with the magnitude of the effort.

"Our Sailors and Marines saw the opportunity to contribute to a truly noble cause and they seized the day," Greene said. "They worked day and night, planning missions, staging relief supplies, and preparing aircraft and LCACs to deliver humanitarian aid to the people of Meulaboh and Calang. Their efforts were inspirational."

BHR's Command Master Chief CMDCM (SW/AW) Dan Dyar said he saw a renewed sense of determination on the faces of the crew every day the ship operated off the tsunami-stricken coastline of Sumatra.

"This is a great team of Sailors and Marines," Dyar said. "They can do anything, and what they did here was truly incredible."

Jones said the Navy and Marine Corps team came together on Bonhomme Richard to save lives, mitigate pain and provide hope.

"They put their hearts into this mission," said Jones, "and the results speak for themselves."

Bonhomme Richard, the flagship of Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 5, is currently en route to the U.S. Central Command area of operations.

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