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Essex Conducts Amphibious Assault

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS090717-11
Release Date: 7/17/2009 12:54:00 PM

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Greg Johnson, USS Essex Public Affairs

USS ESSEX, At Sea (NNS) -- The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conducted a full-scale amphibious assault off the coast of Australia as part of exercise Talisman Saber 2009 (TS09) July 15.

The exercise utilized all of Essex' amphibious warfare capabilities and demonstrated acute teamwork and communication shipwide.

"Effective cooperation and communication are critical to the success of an amphibious assault," said Capt. Brent Canady, Essex' commanding officer. "Today's exercise was an enormous challenge for everyone, but we hit every milestone and met that challenge together."

Throughout the day, Essex Sailors continually pushed the ship to her limits, offloading hundreds of battle-dressed Marines through waves of landing craft, air-cushioned (LCAC) vehicles and an ensemble of aircraft supplied by the 31st MEU's Aviation Combat Element (ACE).

The pieces were set in motion hours before dawn, as the first series of LCACs launched from the well deck. Sailors worked in Essex' well deck, coordinated the launch and recovery of numerous LCACs and maintained constant communications with the ship's debark control, combat cargo and engineering department.

"We never stop talking to each other," said Chief Damage Controlman (SW) Mark Magee, Essex' ballast control officer. "Every detail matters - where the vehicles are parked, how many troops are boarding, how much fuel is on the LCACs and the course and speed of the ship. All of these things come into play, and communication is 100 percent essential."

Superior communication also translated into success for the Sailors responsible for guiding the LCACs in and out of the well deck, said Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class (SW) Jeremiah Skriba, well deck ramp marshal.

"There's a lot to worry about out here if communications are poor," said Skriba. "When the craft isn't lining up with the stern, you have to make adjustments, and you need to be able to communicate that."

After cycling in and out of Essex' well deck to take on more Marines, vehicles and cargo, the LCACs stormed the beach in unison with support from 31st MEU Air Combat Elements (ACE) air power, as CH-46E Sea Knight, CH-53E Sea Stallion and UH-1N Huey helicopters, as well as AV-8B Harriers soared overhead. Standing on the beach, at the heart of the activity, were the ramp marshals of Beachmaster Unit (BMU) 1, Detachment Western Pacific, who were charged with organizing ground movements.

"It's our job to make sure the Marines and their cargo get on the beach safely," said Seaman Dominique Hagans, a ramp marshall with BMU-1. "Sometimes a craftmaster can lose control of a craft, and someone could get run over, so communication is important in preventing that kind of accident."

Aside from clear communications with the craftmasters, beachmasters must stay in contact with well deck control and a BMU-1 representative on the ship, said Hagans.

"It takes everyone working together to be successful," he said. "That's exactly what happened today."

Of course, a full-scale amphibious assault projecting simultaneous air and sea power wouldn't be possible without a cohesive effort from the Sailors in Essex' primary flight control tower and the amphibious air traffic control center (AATCC). It was their concerted effort that ensured flight operations went smoothly, as swarms of ACE helicopters and jets lifted off from the flight deck and touched down on the beach.

Essex' AATCC normally maintains radio communication with all military aircraft outside a five-mile radius of the ship. Once an aircraft comes within five miles, communications are transferred over to primary flight control. In addition, AATCC is also in constant contact with the bridge and debark control.

"We have to work very closely with primary flight control to make sure that we have a smooth handoff when an aircraft crosses that five mile marker," said Air Traffic Controlman 3rd Class Max Bridge, AATCC supervisor. "A loss of communications would mean stopping everything."

While Essex' air traffic controlmen tracked aircraft on radar screens from the AATCC, primary flight control Sailors kept an eye out for the safety of flight deck personnel and the success of the mission.

"We depend on AATCC to notify us of what's coming in," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class Travis Trotter, primary flight control status board operator.
"We have to be on the same page. Say we have an aircraft due at a certain time but no communications. We might try to spot an aircraft for takeoff on the same spot that he's coming in to land on. We can't let something like that happen."

Essex Sailors managed to avoid all the potential perils of a communication breakdown, as they finished the exercise without missing a step, said Canady.

"I'm very proud of what we accomplished together today," he said. "It was a great example of how we can push our amphibious warfare capabilities to new levels by working together as a team."

TS09 is a biennial, combined training activity designed to train Australian and U.S. forces in planning and conducting combined operations, which will help improve combat readiness and interoperability between Australian and U.S. forces.

Essex is commanded by Capt. Brent Canady and is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed U.S. Amphibious Ready Group and serves as the flagship for CTF 76, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force commander. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with a detachment in Sasebo, Japan.

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