NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) -- More than 4,000 Sailors and Marines from the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) completed an eight-and-a-half-month deployment when the ships arrived at Norfolk Naval Station and Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Va., Dec 18-20.
While deployed, the Iwo Jima ARG/24th MEU served in the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility (AOR), conducting Maritime Security Operations, crisis response capability, theater security cooperation and forward naval presence.
The Iwo Jima ARG is comprised of amphibious dock-landing ship USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44), multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), amphibious transport dock ship USS New York (LPD 21), Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 8, Tactical Air Control Squadron 21, Fleet Surgical Team 4, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 22, and Naval Beach Group, which includes Assault Craft Unit (ACU) 2, ACU 4 and Beachmaster Unit 2.
The 24th MEU is comprised of Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment; Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261 (Reinforced) and Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion 24.
"It is truly an honor and privilege to be a part of the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group," said Capt. Arturo Garcia, commodore, PHIBRON 8. "The Sailors and Marines performed superbly and responded immediately to whatever our nation required of them."
The Iwo Jima ARG and 24th MEU participated in bilateral exercises and operations in the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet AORs to include African Lion 2012 with the Moroccan military, Eager Lion 2012 with the Jordanian navy and the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2012 with more than 30 international partners.
"The 24th MEU-Iwo Jima ARG team provided a flexible, expeditionary force that was called upon multiple times in the 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility. Our ability to quickly respond to a variety of missions gave decision makers at all levels time and options to develop their plans and assurance that there was a force ready to be called on if needed," said Col. Frank Donovan, 24th MEU's commanding officer. "Our Marines and Sailors went above and beyond during an extremely demanding deployment and I'm extremely proud of the entire Blue-Green team."
The Iwo Jima ARG/24th MEU team steamed more than 55,000 nautical miles, conducted more than 2,800 flight sorties, logged more than 4,800 flight hours and performed more than 300 small boat operations.
"I hope the families and loved ones of Iwo Jima are as proud of their Sailors as I am," said Capt. Grady Banister, Iwo Jima's commanding officer. "They have gone the distance, steaming day after day in a turbulent part of the world, never backing down, never slowing down. For me, nothing, absolutely nothing, comes close to the honor of being part of this crew."
This deployment also marked the New York's maiden deployment, made of seven and a half tons of steel salvaged from the World Trade Center in her keel.
Shortly after entering the Commander, Task Force 80 AOR on their return home, the ships pulled in to North Carolina to disembark equipment and Marines of the 24th MEU.
Landing craft utilities, assigned to ACU 2, landing craft air cushion and aircraft assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261 (Reinforced), transported equipment, vehicles and Marines ashore, concluding the 24th MEU's segment of the deployment.
"Whether supporting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts or bilateral exercises with allies and regional partners in the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet area of responsibility, this Navy-Marine Corps team came together and successfully accomplished the mission," said Garcia.
"I could not be more proud of them. We also need to recognize that we couldn't have made it through this challenging deployment if not for the network of support and constant encouragement from our family and friends."
The Iwo Jima ARG and 24th MEU were relieved by the Peleliu ARG and 15th MEU in the U.S. 5th Fleet AOR in November.
For more news from USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), visit www.navy.mil/local/lhd7/.