SASEBO, Japan (NNS) -- Amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) arrived to Sasebo, Japan on Jan. 14, completing a 28,400-mile journey from Norfolk, Va. that began in late August.
Wasp, which has undergone significant upgrades to be able to land and launch the U.S. Marine Corp's F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, will replace USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) as the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship in 7th Fleet.
The force structure change has been long-planned as part of a Department of Defense effort to position the most advanced and capable assets forward in support of partners and allies.
Wasp's arrival to Sasebo comes after nearly two months of humanitarian relief efforts following two major hurricanes in the Caribbean and more than two months transiting across the Atlantic and into the Pacific.
"The arrival of USS Wasp represents an increase in military capability and a commitment to our partners and allies for security and stability in the region," said Capt. Colby Howard, Wasp Commanding Officer. "Paired with the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, we remain ready to execute the full range of military operations from crisis response to disaster relief."
Wasp departed Norfolk Aug. 30 and was diverted a few days later to the Caribbean to assist the U.S. Virgin Islands and Dominica in the wake of Hurricane Irma. The amphibious assault ship then provided assistance to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm regarded as the worst natural disaster in the history of the American commonwealth island.
In support of relief efforts, Wasp aircraft flew 108 missions on the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico totaling 385 hours of flight time moving 1,129 total passengers along with 26,720 pounds of equipment and 1,718,200 pounds of various logistical support items, including 328,100 pounds of food and water.
"It's an exciting time to be in the Navy, and an exciting time for Wasp and her crew, given the wide variety of missions we have the opportunity to support," said Wasp Command Master Chief Gregory Carlson. "Over the last 18 months, this crew has not only performing their daily duties in an exemplary manner, but grown as individuals and well-represented the U.S. as ambassadors as we have served across the globe. While I'm proud of what they have accomplished, I'm also very proud of who they've become as a crew."
Wasp and other amphibious ships assigned under Expeditionary Strike Group 7, the Navy's only forward-deployed expeditionary strike group, directly partner with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit as the Pacific's on-call crisis response force. The F-35B is scheduled to embark on Wasp when the amphibious assault ship and MEU deploy in 2018 for regularly scheduled regional patrol.
Bonhomme Richard has been forward-deployed to Sasebo, Japan since April 2012 and will relocate to San Diego following a regularly scheduled patrol.
Commissioned in July 1989, Wasp has served on numerous deployments throughout the world, including a 6-month deployment to the Middle East in 2016.
Seventh Fleet, which celebrates its 75th year in 2018, spans more than 124 million square kilometers, stretching from the International Date Line to the India/Pakistan border and from the Kuril Islands in the North to the Antarctic in the South. Seventh Fleet's area of operation encompasses 36 maritime countries and 50 percent of the world's population with between 5070 U.S. ships and submarines, 140 aircraft and approximately 20,000 Sailors in the 7th Fleet.
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