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NORFOLK, Va. - Sailors and Marines assigned to the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) returned home to Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Virginia after completing a seven-month deployment in the Sixth Fleet area of operations, Oct. 13.
More than 4,000 Sailors and Marines assigned to the Kearsarge ARG, and embarked 22nd MEU, supported a wide range of interoperability opportunities and exercises across the U.S. Sixth Fleet area of operations covering the High North, North Atlantic, Central Mediterranean, and Baltic region increasing combat readiness and crisis response capabilities while strengthening relationships with both NATO Allies and partners.
“Today is a celebration of the Kearsarge ARG-MEU homecoming following a successful deployment to the High North, the Central Mediterranean and the Baltic Sea for seven months which demonstrated our dynamic ability to operate in any environment with resilience and mission success,” said Capt. Aaron Kelley, commander of the Kearsarge ARG and Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) Six. “From March to September of this year, we safely executed more than 12 major exercises and bilateral training opportunities. Together, the Kearsarge ARG-MEU operated alongside NATO Allies and partners in port and underway demonstrating solidarity, maintaining a high level of readiness, and preserving security and stability in our operating regions. I am humbled by the skill and professionalism of this ARG-MEU team and extremely proud of what they accomplished."
Exercises in the High North and North Atlantic regions included Northern Viking 2022, a multinational amphibious and maritime exercise alongside Allied nations from France, Germany, Iceland, Norway and the United Kingdom; and a bilateral training event in northern Norway and the Norwegian Sea, exercising integrated cold weather and live fire training with Norwegian Armed Forces.
“I am immensely proud of the high performance and outstanding professionalism displayed by our Sailors during this unique deployment,” said Capt. Tom Foster, commanding officer of USS Kearsarge (LHD 3). “We operated for over 30 days, well north of the Arctic Circle, in the most unpredictable weather environment we have ever experienced. We also spent months operating in the Baltic Sea engaging in training and exercises with our NATO Allies and serving as a counter to Russian aggression in Eastern Europe.”
In the Central Mediterranean, Sailors and Marines assigned to the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington (LPD 24) participated in training opportunities and exercises such as Alexander the Great 22, a bilateral U.S.-Greece (Hellenic) amphibious training event; EFES 22, a biennial, multinational, combined joint and live firing exercise with Turkish Armed Forces and U.S. Army’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) and medical teams; as well as African Lion (AL) 22, an exercise enhancing the U.S. African Command’s partnership and security cooperation with the Tunisian Ministry of Defense.
“Arlington participated in seven multinational exercises allowing the U.S. to strengthen NATO Allies and partnerships, to include two separate bilateral exercises with Finland and Sweden as a reformed ARG-MEU.” said Capt. Eric Kellum, commanding officer of Arlington. “I think that once again we were able to demonstrate the flexibility and versatility that an ARG-MEU brings to the fight.”
While operating in the Baltic region, Kearsarge and the Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44) participated in an Estonian-led exercise, Hedgehog (Siil) 22 with Estonian Defense Forces and forces from Task Group 61/2.4 and the NATO-led exercise, Neptune Shield which incorporate 18 NATO Allies and partners working together through multiple domains throughout the European continent and waters.
“We are glad to have been given the opportunity to support and work with our Allies and Partners,” said Cmdr. Beth Nelson, commanding officer of Gunston Hall. “I am extremely proud of the hard work, resilience and dedication of every member of the Gunston Hall team.”
In June, Kearsarge and Gunston Hall participated in the joint, annual multinational exercise, Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 22 designed to enhance interoperability, capability, and demonstrate cohesion among Allied and Partner forces in defending the Baltic Sea region.
Following BALTOPS 22 and AL 22, the Kearsarge ARG-MEU conducted scheduled maintenance availability periods in Brest, France; Rijeka, Croatia; and Copenhagen, Denmark throughout July 2022. The maintenance availability periods, which included mid-deployment voyage repair (MDVR) evolutions, allow U.S. Navy ships to accomplish necessary and preventative repairs to continue their missions in the region while simultaneously strengthening relationships with host nations.
The Kearsarge ARG-MEU team returned to the Baltic region as a combined force to continue strengthening relationships and partnerships. Through rapid planning, coordination, and execution, the ARG-MEU team successfully completed bilateral training events with Finland, Sweden, and Standing NATO Maritime Group (SNMG) 1 during the months of August and September.
Upon conclusion of operations in the Baltic region, the ARG-MEU successfully completed a cumulative of 29 port visits across the ARG visiting 14 NATO Allied and partner countries including Reykjavik, Iceland; Narvik and Tromsø, Norway; Volos and Alexandropoulos, Greece; Tallinn, Estonia; Helsinki, Finland; Stockholm and Visby, Sweden; Gabés, Tunisia; Kiel, Germany; Brest, France; Rijeka, Croatia; Copenhagen and Kalundborg, Denmark; Riga, Latvia; Klaipeda, Lithuania; and Gdańsk and Gdynia, Poland. During each visit, the ARG-MEU engaged with representatives from embassies, ministries of defense, and local government, military, and civilian officials to strengthen relationships with NATO Allies and partners through in-person key leader engagements and exchanges including media availabilities, ship tours, office calls, ceremonies and receptions, and community service projects.
“Our families and friends should be proud of the service their Marines rendered and I believe the 22d MEU has represented II MEF and the Marine Corps accordingly,” said Col. Paul Merida, commanding officer of the 22nd MEU. “All of this was done within the back drop of the Russia-Ukraine War, which added an additional sense of importance to our work, much of which was done alongside our NATO allies and other key regional partners.”
The Kearsarge ARG consists of Kearsarge, Arlington and Gunston Hall, stationed in Norfolk, Va. Embarked commands include Amphibious Squadron Six Fleet Surgical Team 2, Fleet Surgical Team 4, Tactical Air Control Squadron 22, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28 stationed in Norfolk, Va., and Naval Beach Group 2, Assault Craft Unit 2, Assault Craft Unit 4 stationed in Norfolk, Va., and Beach Master Unit 2 stationed in Virginia Beach, Va.
The 22nd MEU’s mission is to provide the United States with a forward-deployed, amphibious force-in-readiness capable of executing missions across the full spectrum of combat and military operations other than war and consists of four basic elements – a command element, a ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 2/6, a logistics combat element, Combat Logistics Battalion (CLB) 26, and an aviation combat element, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 263 Reinforced.
The ARG-MEU’s presence overseas supported strategic interests and contributed to regional security and stability and reassuring U.S. commitment to multiple regions. The blue-green team provided operational flexibility to combatant commanders by providing a versatile contingency response force using sea, air, land and logistical assets. The versatility inherent to the amphibious force allowed for flexible and mission-tailored forces, while representing our nation’s strength, capability, and resolve to partners and allies and deterring potential adversaries.
U.S. 2nd Fleet, reestablished in 2018 in response to the changing global security environment, develops and employs maritime forces ready to fight across multiple domains in the Atlantic and Arctic in order to ensure access, deter aggression and defend U.S., allied, and partner interests.
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