ABOARD USS ESSEX, At Sea (NNS) -- Commander, Combined Support Force 536, U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Rusty Blackman, presented USS Essex (LHD 2) Commanding Officer, Capt. J. M. van Tol, a plaque Feb. 9 in appreciation of the ship's significant contributions and support to the victims of the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami.
Essex' assets moved 5,971,000 million pounds of relief supplies to devastated areas of Indonesia from Jan. 18 until Feb. 8.
Blackman is in charge of the combined support force of more than 13,000 U.S. Navy, Marine, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard service members involved in providing the continuing relief support for Operation Unified Assistance (OUA).
Following four months in the Persian Gulf, Essex arrived on station off the coast of Sumatra Jan. 18 to continue the OUA mission of moving water, food and other relief supplies to areas in the northern parts of Sumatra. Essex utilized four Bahrain-based MH-53Es Sea Dragons, six CH-46s Sea Knights from Okinawa, and two more MH-60Ss Knighthawks from USNS Niagara Falls (T-AFS 3), Helicopter Combat Squadron (HC) 5 and three landing craft air cushions (LCACs) from another member of the Essex Expeditionary Strike Group, USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43), to move whatever was needed to the various areas of northern Sumatra in support of OUA.
The three-star general stated the ship had done a phenomenal job, and he was impressed with the overall work ethic and quality of the ship.
"Essex has become the 'poster child' for Sea-Basing and the flexibility of naval forces," Blackman said.
"Essex' efforts and successes are being recognized at the highest levels," said Blackman. "Essex' ability to conduct a short-fuse deployment to the Gulf, transition quickly to HA/DR (humanitarian assistance/disaster relief) efforts, and then go back to the Gulf to pick up our Marines is impressive," he added.
Essex will be backloading 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Marines and their gear at the end of the month as the Marines finish a tour of duty in Iraq. Essex is the flagship for Essex Expeditionary Strike Group, and both Essex and Fort McHenry (LSD 43) are forward deployed from Sasebo, Japan.
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