Okinawa January 24, 2010 - The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) on-loaded more than 1,100 marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Jan. 22-24 in preparation for the ship's annual spring patrol throughout the Western Pacific region.
Essex's Combat Cargo Department moved hundreds of vehicles and cargo in support of the Battalion Landing Team (BLT), Ground Combat Element (GCE), Aviation Combat Element (ACE) and Combat Logistics Battalion.
"This underway is going to provide some challenges for both the blue and green sides," said Gunnery Sgt. Steven Jones, senior combat cargo assistant. "The MEU is the same, but a lot of the subordinate elements have changed. We will have to work together to build a strong working relationship, but this is nothing new for Essex. It's a challenge we're ready to meet."
Preparing to take on the MEU began weeks before Essex departed her home port of Sasebo, Japan. Flight deck, forklift and safety qualifications were updated, and new personnel were trained to perform in the fast-paced environment.
The 31st MEU consists of ground, command, air and combat support elements that allow the Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ESX ARG) to conduct amphibious operations from the sea and project power ashore.
For one of those elements, the ACE, coming aboard for the upcoming exercise provides many opportunities.
"Embarking on Essex will allow us to improve upon our aircraft readiness," said Maj. Lee Cracknel, ACE aviation maintenance officer. "Additionally, we're looking forward to the evolutions we'll be executing. We're going to get to train in some areas that we don't normally get to operate in."
While seasoned veterans comprise much of the MEU, the exercise will provide many of its Marines with their first taste of life aboard a Navy ship.
"For me, it's going to take some time to get used to it all, especially living in such close quarters with others," said Lance Cpl. Jordan Baker, of Raleigh, N.C. "At the same time, we're going to get to see some different ports and work with other countries. I'm looking forward to that."
Essex's spring patrol throughout the Western Pacific region will feature a series of maritime training exercises designed to build relationships and enhance operational readiness between U.S. and Western Pacific partner nations. Essex sailors, along with the 31st MEU, will train with forces throughout the region.
Essex is commanded by Capt. Troy Hart and is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed U.S. Amphibious Ready Group and serves as the flagship for Combined Task Force (CTF) 76, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force commander. CTF 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with a detachment in Sasebo.