By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Tyler Preston, USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) Public Affairs
MEDITERRANEAN SEA (NNS) — The Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group departed the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operation, April 5, after successfully completing theater security cooperation and maritime security operations in the region.
While in the U.S. 5th Fleet, the Kearsarge ARG provided a forward naval presence supporting Operation Inherent Resolve and theater security cooperation efforts.
Additionally, they participated in bilateral amphibious and ground exercises designed to enhance operational readiness and improve relations between U.S. and regional forces.
The Kearsarge ARG is comprised of Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 4, amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington (LPD 24), amphibious dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51), the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, as well as supporting elements from Assault Craft Unit 4, Beach Master Unit 2, Fleet Surgical Team 4, Helicopter Sea Squadron (HSC) 28 and Tactical Air Squadron 21.
The ARG’s aviation team joined the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Nov. 19, when AV-8B Harrier aircraft from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 162 (Reinforced) launched airstrikes from Kearsarge to conduct their first missions over Iraq and Syria in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. They concluded their OIR mission on March 10 with a total of 130 sorties and 60 strikes.
“During our support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the Navy and Marine Corps team worked together to conduct targeted airstrike operations in Syria and Libya as part of the comprehensive strategy to intensify and accelerate the defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL),” said PHIBRON 4 Commander, Capt. Augustus P. Bennett.
During the deployment, Kearsarge held a change-of-command ceremony aboard the ship while moored at Naval Support Activity Bahrain, Nov. 25, when Capt. Larry G. Getz relieved Capt. David L. Bossert as commanding officer.
Kearsarge also found out the crew had earned the Battle Efficiency award for 2015.
“I am extremely proud of the Kearsarge Sailors and Marines who have put so much hard work and effort into our ship and its mission during this deployment,” said Kearsarge commanding officer, Capt. Larry G. Getz. “It is because of them that we have been able to overcome the many hurdles and challenges to accomplish great successes over these past six months.”
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter visited with Sailors and Marines aboard Kearsarge during the holiday season, Dec. 19, and spoke on the vital role the ship has during deployment. Carter also shared his holiday message and appreciation to the Kearsarge ARG Sailors and Marines, presented medals during an awards ceremony and had lunch with the crew.
The ARG also took part in many other events, including Amphibious Landing Exercise 2016 (PHIBLEX-16) where they exercised their amphibious assault capabilities and enhanced interoperability with the Kuwait Armed Forces.
During PHIBLEX-16, nearly 1,000 embarked Marines from the Echo, Fox and Gulf companies of the 26th MEU aboard Kearsarge, Arlington and Oak Hill went ashore where they conducted simulated medical evacuations and embassy reinforcement drills. The Marines also trained in basic warrior skills, such as combat lifesaving, small unit leadership courses and marksmanship.
Arlington’s commanding officer, Capt. Sean R. Bailey, said he was proud of the leading role his ship played in the exercise.
“Our success in flawlessly conducting both a full offload and backload of all Marines, cargo and equipment speaks volumes for the quality of our training and the professionalism of our Sailors and Marines,” said Bailey.
In addition to OIR and PHIBLEX-16, Arlington hosted receptions in both the ports of Aqaba, Jordan, and Shuaiba, Kuwait. In attendance at the Jordanian reception were: U.S. Ambassador to Jordan Alice G. Wells; Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command Vice Adm. Kevin M. Donegan; and Commander, Royal Jordanian Navy Brig. Gen. Qasem Fadeel Nahar Tanashat.
Arlington’s Kuwait reception celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Liberation of Kuwait. Distinguished visitors for the occasion included the U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait Douglas Silliman; Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command Vice Adm. Kevin M. Donegan; Commander of Naval Forces Kuwait, Maj. Gen. Khaled Al-Kandari; and Commander of Task Force 51, U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Carl E. Mundy.
Oak Hill also participated in PHIBLEX-16, with Sailors and Marines offloading more than one million pounds of Marine amphibious assault vehicles and equipment during ship-to-shore operations.
“I am extremely proud of the hard work performed by Oak Hill’s Sailors and Marines during the ‘Nation’s Protector’s’ time in U.S. 5th Fleet waters,” said Cmdr. Orlando Bowman, commanding officer of Oak Hill, referring to his ship by its nickname. “The crew not only met the standard, they exceeded it and met every challenging situation we encountered head on.”
The Kearsarge ARG now enters U.S. 6th Fleet waters to continue supporting theater security operations before completing its deployment.
The Kearsarge ARG is relieved by the Boxer ARG, composed of PHIBRON 1 and the 13th MEU. The ARG departed San Diego Feb. 12. PHIBRON 1 is composed of amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4), amphibious transport dock USS New Orleans (LPD 18) and amphibious dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49).