SASEBO, Japan (NNS) -- The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) returned to Sasebo, Japan, Aug. 18 after a successful exercise known as Talisman Saber 2009 (TS09).
Essex departed Sasebo June 12 to participate in TS09, a biannual exercise designed to enhance interoperability between U.S. and Australian forces. Essex Sailors combined efforts with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and the Australian Defense Force (ADF) during three weeks of training scenarios and community projects.
"Our Sailors should be very proud of everything they've accomplished during this deployment," said Capt. Troy Hart, Essex' commanding officer. "Our military partnership with Australia is vital to the stability in the Pacific region, and the hard work of Essex Sailors and Marines made this partnership stronger."
Essex arrived in Cairns, Australia, June 28 to a warm greeting from hundreds of Australian citizens. During a 10-day port visit, Sailors and Marines participated in two community projects and opened the ship's doors to Cairns residents, conducting ship tours each day.
More than 40 Essex Sailors and Marines visited the Cairns Legacy Club, a home for widows of Australian war veterans, to lend a helping hand with gardening and general upkeep of the grounds. According to Information Systems Technician 2nd Class (SW) Charles Williams, one of the project's participants, the experience was more rewarding than he expected.
Many of the residents of the club were elderly women who could not perform the work themselves, said Paula Buckman, Cairns Legacy Club office administrator.
"The ladies will be forever grateful to the Sailors and Marines who came out here to help," said Buckman. "They could have done anything else, but instead they donated their time and sweat to help us out over here."
Other Cairns residents were equally as appreciative for the opportunity to see the ship up close during guided tours. Hundreds toured Essex on each day of the port visit.
"The crew was awesome and very generous with their time," said John Bishop, a Cairns resident. "We're very glad they were all able to come down from Japan, and we hope they enjoyed their time in Cairns."
While in Cairns, Essex' First Class Petty Officers Association (FCPOA) also found time to raise money for cribs for special-needs infants at the Far North Queensland Hospital, a project spearheaded by Yeoman 1st Class (SW/AW) Tyrone Pierce, Essex' FCPOA president. FCPOA members collected money from Sailors and Marines as they crossed the ship's quarterdeck, coming up with more than $400 in cash.
"We were contacted about raising the money, and we really felt it was for a worthy cause," said Pierce.
"We decided to take contributions in different currencies from the different places we've been around the world and converted it to Australian dollars. This was sort of a last-minute, short-term deal, and we really wish we had more time to do it."
After the port visit to Cairns, Essex departed to participate in a three-week training phase of TS09, which included numerous training scenarios integrating U.S. and Australian forces, featuring a full-scale amphibious assault.
The exercise utilized all of Essex' amphibious warfare capabilities and demonstrated acute teamwork and communication shipwide, as Sailors from every corner of the ship worked together to accomplish the mission. Essex Sailors offloaded hundreds of Marines through waves of landing craft, air-cushioned vehicles and aircraft.
"It was a fantastic opportunity to plan and execute amphibious operations with the U.S. Navy and Marines," said Royal Australian Navy Capt. Stephen Woodall, commander, Australian Amphibious Task Group. "The exercise allowed us to better understand how we both operate and the capabilities each of us brings to amphibious operations."
After a challenging three weeks of training, Essex pulled in to Brisbane for a second and final Australian port visit. Again, Sailors and Marines participated in two community projects and experienced Australia through numerous tours offered by the ship's Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) department.
One of those projects, a track and field carnival at Brisbane Grammar Middle School, gave Essex Sailors a chance to unwind after the long exercise. Throughout the day, Sailors helped organize numerous track and field events, including the long jump and 100-meter dash.
"I think it's great that we do these," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) Airman Cody Perkins, from San Diego. "Even though we're out there to try and bring smiles to these kids' faces, they put an even bigger smile on our faces."
Recreational opportunities were also available to Essex Sailors through 23 different tours offered by MWR. According to Mick Hultz, Essex' afloat recreation specialist, the tours were designed to highlight some of the best recreational opportunities in the area, including local attractions, beaches, rainforests and more.
"We really tried to offer a range of different experiences," said Hultz "Australia is truly a unique place and hopefully our tours gave Essex Sailors and Marines a chance to take advantage of that."
Essex departed Brisbane Aug.1 to off load Marines of the 31st MEU in Okinawa, Japan, where the crew said farewell to former commanding officer, Capt. Brent Canady. Capt. Troy Hart, who served as the ship's executive officer, assumed command of Essex during a change of command ceremony Aug. 13.
"It's a real honor to be able to continue to be a part of the Essex team. The cooperation, coordination and teamwork this crew exhibits on a daily basis are truly amazing," said Hart. "Essex is a great ship with a proud crew and rich history of success, and I look forward to us building on that as we strive together to meet the challenges that lie ahead."
Before departing Essex, Canady expressed his appreciation to the crew.
"The Sailors and Marines assigned to Essex have set the standard for sustained superior operations, not only in the FDNF, but also in the United States Navy," said Canady. "Having had the opportunity to command this great ship is truly a dream come true."
Before returning to Sasebo, Essex Sailors said one more goodbye - this time, to the Marines of the 31st MEU. The offload was especially significant for Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines (BLT 3/5) and Marine Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211) which each debarked Essex for the last time. BLT 3/1 and VMA-211 returned to their home bases at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Marines Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., respectively.
"It's been a great experience," said Capt. Matthew Esposito, company commander, Headquarters and Service Co., BLT 3/5. "In the time we've been here, we've learned a lot about moving an entire element from the ship to the beach."
With exercise TS09 complete, Essex is scheduled to enter a selected restricted availability Aug. 26.
Essex 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.
For more news from USS Essex (LHD 2), visit www.navy.mil/local/lhd2/.