Tuesday, July 7, 2009

USS Essex Begins Talisman Saber

CORAL SEA (June 25, 2009) Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) 3rd Class Steven Viles, from Chicago, stages an AV-8B Harrier for take off from amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Greg Johnson.)

Focus On Defense:

USS ESSEX, At Sea, July 7, 2009 -- The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) began exercise Talisman Saber 2009 (TS09) July 6 off the coast of Australia.

The exercise is designed to enhance bilateral interoperability between U.S. and Australian forces and will include participation from more than 20,000 U.S. and 10,000 Australian personnel.

"The military alliance we've shared with Australia has set a great example in the Asia-Pacific region," said Capt. Brent Canady, Essex's commanding officer. "Our efforts throughout TS09 will help to further that alliance by enhancing our interoperability, readiness and flexibility."

The exercise, concentrated in the Shoalwater Bay Training Area near Rockhampton in central Queensland, will focus on crisis action planning and execution of contingency response operations. TS09 will provide an opportunity to work in a joint environment and refine procedures and doctrine.

Essex sailors will be instrumental in accomplishing the primary goal of the exercise, which is to train Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and the Australian Deployable Joint Force Headquarters as a designated, combined task force.

With the 31st MEU Aviation Combat Element (ACE) and Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 25 embarked, Essex's aircraft include the CH-53E Sea Stallions, CH-46E Sea Knights, MH-60S Sea Hawks, AH-1Z Super Cobras and UH-1N Huey helicopters, as well as AV-8B Harrier jet aircraft, but without Essex's air department, the aircraft wouldn't be able to leave the flight deck.

"We're out there from morning to night," said Chief Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) (AW) Kevin Johnson. "This exercise is definitely going to be demanding, but being forward-deployed, we train like this all the time, and our personnel are ready for the challenge."

Essex's schedule typically includes 10-hour flight operations per day while underway, a routine that will most likely intensify during TS09. Flight deck personnel will have to rely on each other to successfully complete the demanding exercise, said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) 3rd Class (AW/SW) Lois Braxton.

"It's an amazing group of sailors here," said Braxton. "We really try to look out for each other and keep each other on our toes. As long as we're working together, we're going to be on top of anything that happens out on the flight deck."

Essex's air department isn't the only group of sailors who will play a pivotal role throughout the exercise. The ship's deck department will also be hard at work launching Marines from the well deck via landing craft air cushion (LCAC) vehicles.

"This kind of experience is vital to the progression of our younger sailors," said Chief Boatswain's Mate (SW/AW) Christopher White. "We've got a lot of sailors who don't have experience doing the kind of things we do during a full-scale exercise, and Talisman Saber provides a great opportunity for them to get that experience."

The sailors who do have the experience will look to use TS09 as an opportunity to mentor some of the deck department's more junior sailors, said Seaman Fredrick Smith, who has been aboard Essex for a little more than a year.

"I've done a lot of well deck operations, like launching LCACs and LCUs (landing craft utility), but this will be my first time participating in Talisman Saber," said Smith. "I think it should be a good learning experience for a lot of the guys here."

For TS09, Essex has been assigned three LCACs from Assault Craft Unit 5. LCACs are high-speed, over-the-beach fully amphibious landing craft, capable of carrying a 60-75-ton payload. They are used to transport weapons systems, equipment, cargo and personnel from ship to shore and across the beach.

Throughout the exercise, Essex's crew will operate with a heightened awareness regarding the diverse marine life off the coast of Australia. Sailors have received training on how to identify marine mammals and respond appropriately to avoid collisions with sea life.

"We're very aware of the great number of diverse species in the ocean, especially the unique marine life near the Great Barrier Reef," said Canady. "We're doing everything we can to prevent any mishaps that would cause harm to any of these animals or damage the environment where they live."

Essex departed its homeport of Sasebo, Japan, June 12 for TS09. Essex was commissioned October 17, 1992, and is capable of carrying 1,200 sailors and 1,800 Marines. It is 844 feet long, can travel at 24+ knots and displaces 40,650 tons.

Essex is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed U.S. amphibious ready group (ARG) and serves as the flagship for Combined Task Force 76, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force commander. CTF 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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