Thursday, November 27, 2008

Amphibious Assault Ship USS Essex Departs Hong Kong

In this file photo, the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) transits the Pacific Ocean at the culmination of ANNUALEX 2008, November 19, 2008. The permanently forward deployed George Washington Carrier Strike Group concluded its bi-lateral training operations in the Pacific Ocean with Japan Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces, which increased interoperability and strengthened its partnership. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class John M. Hageman.)

Focus On Defense

HONG KONG, Nov. 27, 2008 -- The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) departed Hong Kong Nov. 26 following a scheduled four-day port visit.

During the visit, Sailors had the chance to meet local citizens, experience local customs and traditions, and enjoy the many recreational activities offered in Hong Kong.

While in port, the ship's Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) provided a variety of tours and trips enjoyed by several hundred crew members. The various trips included tours of Disneyland Hong Kong, Po Lin Monastery - home of the world's largest Buddha statue, and a trip showcasing the city of Hong Kong itself.

"Hong Kong is the coolest place I've been to since I joined the Navy," said Seaman Apprentice Justin Mitchell, of Mobile, Ala. "The nightlife here is incredible. If you like to go out and have a good time on the town, this is the place to do it."

While many Sailors enjoyed the metropolitan atmosphere in downtown Hong Kong, others, such as Hospital Corpsman 1st Class (SW/AW) Gerardo Cortado, chose to explore the city's rural locations. Cortado joined MWR for the Macau Day Tour, which featured stops at various locations throughout Macau, including the Ruins of St. Paul's, Macau Tower and the Temple of A Ma.

"Visiting Macau with MWR was a really good experience," said Cortado. "Our tour guide was very nice and knowledgeable, and I got to experience some of the culture of the area. Given the chance, I would definitely tour with MWR again."

If experiencing the local culture wasn't rewarding enough, a small group of Essex' Sailors had a very unique opportunity to bring American culture to Hong Kong in the form of music. The Deuces, a rock band comprised of Essex Sailors, played at 'The Wanch,' in downtown Hong Kong Nov. 22.

Aviation Ordnanceman 3rd Class Keith Campbell, The Deuces' bass guitarist, said the opportunity to play in a foreign country is a reward most American bands never get a chance to enjoy.

"It is a lot of fun to get out and play off the ship," said Campbell. "It's great to play in front of a mixed crowd of locals, Sailors and Marines. This is really an opportunity that I wouldn't have back in the States."

Hong Kong is only one location on a growing list of foreign ports The Deuces have played in. They have also performed in the Republic of the Philippines, Thailand, Korea, Australia and Japan.

While Essex' Sailors were experiencing Hong Kong, many Hong Kong locals were also experiencing Essex. More than 250 government officials and distinguished guests attended an onboard reception, Nov. 24. Lt. Stephen Moore explained it was an excellent opportunity for both countries to gain a better understanding of each other.

"It's really a different experience for them to come on board and see the U.S. Navy first-hand," said Moore.

Essex' Sailors conducted an underway replenishment (UNREP) within hours of pulling out of the liberty port, taking on over 100,000 gallons of fuel. The UNREP was just another day in the forward-deployed life of Essex' Sailors. Since departing for fall patrol, they have taken on 2.6 million gallons of fuel and thousands of pallets of stores.

According to Senior Chief Storekeeper (SW) Robert Clemons, constantly overcoming the challenges of keeping Essex stocked requires the efforts of every department on the ship.

"You work very hard and very long," said Clemons. "A lot of planning goes into it and it's a total team effort. No one department can say 'we did it,' because it requires the air department, engineering, deck, supply, the working parties, and so on. Being forward-deployed means we have to be able to rely on each other in order to be successful."

Essex is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed U.S. Expeditionary Strike Group and serves as the flagship for CTF 76, the Navy's forward-deployed amphibious force commander. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with a detachment in Sasebo, Japan.

(Report by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Greg Johnson, USS Essex Public Affairs.)

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