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U.S. 7th Fleet commander visits USS America

04 June 2021

From Lt. John Stevens

PHILIPPINE SEA – Vice Adm. Bill Merz, commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, visited the Navy’s only forward-deployed amphibious assault ship, USS America (LHA 6), at sea, June 2.

Merz arrived in an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to the "Golden Falcons" of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 12, currently embarked aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), to talk with America’s crew about the ship’s critical role in the 7th Fleet area of operations.

“I could not pick a better Swiss army knife-type capability than America,” Merz said. “I always ask my team two questions: ‘Where’s my next carrier coming from, and where is America?’”

Merz, along with Rear Adm. Chris Engdahl, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 7, and Marine Col. Michael Nakonieczny, commanding officer of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), met with Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 11 and the commanding officer of USS America, along with embarked operational leadership, to discuss strategy and future warfighting concepts. This leadership cadre represents four layers of America’s operational chain of command, as well as the Navy-Marine partnership between the America Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and the 31st MEU.

“America remains central to our defense strategy in this region, and it was such a fantastic opportunity to get the full spectrum of command leadership in one spot to enhance strategic focus ahead of our upcoming operations,” said Capt. Ken Ward, America’s commanding officer. “Having direct operational dialogue with our flag leadership, MEU brethren and PHIBRON team was the perfect way to kick off our upcoming theater patrol.”

Merz noted that America has completed its fourth successful transition to operations at sea during the COVID pandemic while self-sustaining in maintenance, training, and operations alongside regional allies and partners.

“You’re staying on the field. You’re getting it done. You’re that persistent partner that every one of the thirty-five maritime nations out here count on, day-in and day-out,” said Merz. “You may never visit these countries — but know they watch your every move; so understand your responsibility. You matter.”

America, lead ship of the America Amphibious Ready Group, along with the forward-deployed ships of Amphibious Squadron 11 and elements of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, are operating in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations to enhance interoperability with allies and partners, and serve as a ready response force to defend peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

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