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Essex ARG Returns From Fall Patrol

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS061208-27
Release Date: 12/8/2006 11:38:00 AM

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Adam R. Cole, Task Force 76 Public Affairs

SASEBO, Japan (NNS) -- USS Essex (LHD 2), flagship of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ESXARG), returned to its forward-deployed home of Sasebo, Japan, Dec. 1, capping more than two months at sea during its fall patrol.

Two other ships of the ESXARG already had returned home; USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) returned to Sasebo on Thanksgiving, and USS Juneau (LPD 10) returned shortly after the holiday.

The main focus of the patrol was participation in the Republic of Philippines Talon Vision and Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX) FY 07, as well as shipboard training in a number of mission areas.

Juneau made a port visit to Maxie Naval Facility in Zhanjiang, People’s Republic of China, at the conclusion of the Philippine exercises, the first time a U.S. ship has visited the military base there. The ship conducted a search and rescue exercise (SAREX) with China’s People’s Liberation Army (Navy)(PLA(N)).

“The fall patrol symbolized once again the Navy’s commitment to peace and stability in this region, as we both solidified and built new relations with our partners in Southeast Asia,” said Capt. Anthony J. Pachuta, commodore, Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 11, the task group commander of the ESXARG. “I am impressed with the amount of work that was done, both ship and shore, both training and community building. The bilateral ties created from our engagement in the joint mission will carry on past this patrol.”

Ships and units of the ESXARG left Sasebo Sept. 23 after a summer maintenance and training period. Okinawa was the first stop to onload Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), which makes up the Battalion Landing Team (BLT) and other service support elements.

The Navy-Marine Corps team would work to create interoperability post onload with Blue-Green workups, which culminated in a three-day evaluation exercise (EVALEX), testing Marines and Sailors to work together to perform a simulated humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR) operation, non-combatant evacuation (NEO) and casualty response. Senior leaders said that the ESXARG passed the initial training challenge with flying colors and was given a full stamp of approval to embark on its fall patrol.

Ships of the ESXARG arrived on station in the Republic of Philippines for the concurrent exercises Oct. 16. The group conducted initial helicopter raids and boat launches, followed by an expeditious off-load of Marines and equipment in Subic Bay.

Essex crew members participated in a community service project, one of two completed by the ship, while in port in Subic Bay at Olongapo City’s Gordon Heights II Elementary, delivering school supplies, clothes and other necessities. Such service was repeated by other ships' crews during Talon Vision and PHIBLEX.

The highlight of the community service effort was delivery of five ambulances donated by an American non-profit group to Zamboanga. Officials of Zamboanga showed great appreciation for the medical gifts and said that they will be distributed to poor areas throughout the region and significantly help emergency response capabilities.

“Our nation and our Navy have a long and wonderful history with the people of the Philippines, and we are genuinely grateful to be here and to be able to be a part of this effort," said Harpers Ferry Commanding Officer Cmdr. Marlin C. Anthony in remarks during the donation ceremony. "We know that these ambulances will be put to good use and will hopefully aid countless lives in the region."

Both Harpers Ferry and Juneau completed service projects in the Zamboanga region, as well.

With the completion of Talon Vision and PHIBLEX, ships of the ARG went separate ways for training and other missions.

Some of the Navy's top leaders believed Juneau's port visit and ensuing SAREX in China held great importance, as Sailors and Marines participated side by side with their Chinese counterparts in sports activities, reciprocal receptions, ship tours and a special "Marine Day" from Nov. 15-19 before the SAREX Nov. 20.

Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Gary Roughead's visit to China coincided with Juneau's arrival in China, and with the side-by-side moored position of the U.S. and PLA(N) ships, symbolized cooperation between the two nations.

"What you all did for bilateral relations with the nation of China was incredible," said Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 7 Rear Adm. Carol M. Pottenger to the crew at a subsequent admiral's call in Okinawa. "For all of you and your shipmates on Essex and Harpers Ferry, I commend you, for your service and your willingness to go the extra mile. You should be proud of the job you have accomplished," said Pottenger.

Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 7/Task Force (CTF) 76. Task Force 76 is the Navy’s only forward-deployed amphibious force and is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with an operating detachment in Sasebo, Japan.

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