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USS Essex Hits The Million Mark for Operation Unified Assistance

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS050127-05
Release Date: 1/27/2005 1:50:00 PM

By Chief Journalist Christina Johnson, USS Essex Public Affairs

ABOARD USS ESSEX,, At Sea (NNS) -- Since arriving on station off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, USS Essex (LHD 2) has delivered more than 1 million pounds of humanitarian aid to tsunami survivors in the northern areas of the island.

This outstanding accomplishment was completed in eight days from Jan. 18 through Jan. 25.

The Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious assault ship was able to move the enormous amount of supplies with the help of various helicopters and landing craft, air-cushion (LCAC) hovercrafts.

According to Essex Commanding Officer Capt J. M. van Tol, the helos came from numerous locations.

"Essex's normally embarked 31 Marine Expeditionary Unit Air Combat Element is currently engaged in Iraq. Thus, we needed to get some helo dets in order to execute meaningful humanitarian assistance/disaster relief ops off Sumatra," said van Tol. "We embarked four Bahrain-based MH-53Es (Sea Dragon), six CH-46s (Sea Knight) from Okinawa, and two more MH-60Ss (Knighthawk) from Niagara Falls [USNS Niagara Falls (T-AFS 3)], in addition to our own Helicopter Combat Squadron (HC) 5 det."

"These helos gave us a very substantial and versatile lift capacity, allowing us to pickup large quantities of supplies from Sabang Island and Banda Aceh, and deliver them to various locations where they were needed," added van Tol.

Additionally, supplies were carried to the shore by
LCACs currently operating off USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43), another forward deployed ship out of Sasebo, Japan, and a part of the Essex Expeditionary Strike Group.

Daily working parties have been the norm for the Essex's crew, but no one is complaining.

"It's amazing," said Chief Information Systems Technician Joel Dean. "I've been on many working parties in my Navy career, but I've never seen so many people volunteer for this specific working party. We had a group show up for the working party and had to tell them only a certain number would be able to go to assist."

Once ashore, Essex crew members worked side by side with military personnel from other countries.

"Those parties, working with Marines and foreigners, did a great job in moving large quantities of material to those in need," said van Tol.

"I believe that everyone involved was very pleased to have a chance to do something up close and personal to help the many victims of the tsunami catastrophe," stated van Tol. "This truly was the U.S. Navy at its best!"

Essex is the flagship for the Essex Expeditionary Strike Group, currently deployed in the Indian Ocean in support of Operation Unified Assistance. Prior to arriving off the coast of Sumatra, Essex was operating in the Persian Gulf for four months with multinational coalition forces, protecting the Iraqi oil platforms and keeping the areas' sea lanes open in support of the sovereign government of Iraq.

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