USS ESSEX, At Sea (Jan. 31, 2009) – --
The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) embarked the Air Combat Element (ACE) of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU) Jan. 27, in preparation for the MEU’s and ship’s annual Spring Patrol of the Asia Pacific region.
The ACE includes Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (Reinforced) and Marine Attack Squadron 211 and will provide air assault, personnel transport and aerial reconnaissance while working with sea, ground and air forces of partnership countries during upcoming exercises.
“I’m always excited to work with the 31st MEU,” said Lt. Cmdr. Ben Sigurdson, Essex’s aircraft handling officer. “We’re one team, one fight. We’re all working toward a common goal and that is to complete the mission, and as long as everyone keeps the same mindset we’ll succeed.”
The ACE boasts an extensive arsenal of CH-53E Sea Stallion, CH-46E Sea Knight, AH-1Z Super Cobra and UH-1N Huey helicopters, as well as AV-8B Harrier jet aircraft.
“Our aircraft definitely have a major impact when it comes to the mission,” said 1st Lt. John Park, VMA-211 assistant aviation officer. “Our Harriers give us an extensive reach in terms of reconnaissance.”
While Harriers and attack helicopters may be the most obvious symbols of the ACE’s air power, they would all be grounded if it weren’t for the sailors and Marines of Essex Air, Combat Cargo and Aviation Intermediate Maintenance departments.
“It’s one of the hardest jobs out there,” said Park. “It’s an ever-changing environment and if you look away for one second somebody can get hurt. The sailors and Marines on the flight deck are crucial to the success and safety of our missions.”
According to Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Third Class Mario Teasley, who works day in and day out on Essex’ flight deck, cooperation is essential to the successful launch and recovery of every aircraft.
“It’s extremely important,” said Teasley. “We have to work together to achieve the goals of our mission. It makes it so much harder if you don’t get along because then you don’t communicate. We have to remember that we all have just one goal and that’s to support the Marines.”
Gunnery Sgt. Jorge Jerez, Essex flight deck combat cargo assistant, knows exactly how crucial teamwork is on the flight deck.
“Combat Cargo acts as a liaison between Marines and sailors. You need the man in the middle,” he said. “When someone from either side needs to talk to someone about the other, they come to us. Sometimes it can be challenging because we both do things a little different, but it’s all a matter of getting familiar with one another.”
Despite the inherent challenges of daily joint-service operations, Jerez said Marines and sailors always develop more cohesion throughout the course of a deployment.
“As time passes, we’ll develop better teamwork,” said Jerez. “The quality of work will get better because we’ll learn what they like and don’t like, and vice versa. I’m confident this deployment will serve as an opportunity for us to get even better as a team.”
The 31st MEU is the only permanently forward-deployed MEU, maintaining a presence in the Pacific Ocean at all times as part of III Marine Expeditionary Force, and is based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan.
Essex is commanded by Capt. Brent Canady and is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed U.S. Expeditionary Strike Group and serves as the flagship for CTF 76, the Navy’s forward-deployed amphibious force commander. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with a detachment in Sasebo, Japan.