The U.S. Navy Harpers Ferry-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51) returned to Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in Virginia Beach, Virginia, on July 15.
Oak Hill id the first of the ships assigned to the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) returning from deployment. The Bataan ARG and embarked 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) are returning home marking the end of a seven-month deployment to the U.S. 2nd, 5th and 6th Fleet.
“I am tremendously proud of what the Sailors and Marines of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit accomplished during this deployment. Our team worked tirelessly to remain fully mission ready during the unprecedented challenge of a global pandemic,” said Capt. Lance Lesher, who served as commander of Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 8 through its pre-deployment workup cycle and deployment until conducting a change of command at sea, July 12.
The Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) and San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS New York (LPD 21) are expected to return to Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia and Naval Station Mayport, Florida, respectively, in the coming days.The MEU departed the ARG ships and returned to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina over the weekend.
“As a ‘certain force in an uncertain world’ the 26th MEU was flexible, resilient, and adaptable while forward deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet and 6th Fleet areas of operation,” said Col. Trevor Hall, commanding officer of the 26th MEU. “This deployment presented unique challenges, but the Navy-Marine Corps team prevailed and incessantly provided our fleet commanders with a esponsive, sea-based Marine Air-Ground Task Force – even during the global novel coronavirus pandemic.”
The ARG ships and MEU departed for deployment from their respective home bases in December and remained at sea for more than 150 consecutive days before returning home.
“The crews onboard USS Bataan, USS New York and USS Oak Hill should feel great satisfaction and fulfillment knowing that, during this deployment, they played a crucial role as part of a premier crisis response team across the U.S. 2nd Fleet, 5th Fleet and 6th Fleet,” said Lesher. “The daily actions of our Sailors and Marines over the past seven months have made a positive impact on the world, and I’m pleased they will now be reunited with their friends, families and loved ones.”
Lesher turned over command of PHIBRON 8 to Capt. Jason Rimmer during a change-of-command ceremony at sea onboard Bataan in the Atlantic Ocean.
“It has been inspiring to get to know the Sailors and Marines of the ARG/MEU team in recent days and I am incredibly impressed by what this group of hardworking men and women has been able to accomplish on this challenging deployment,” said Rimmer. “Our families, friends and loved ones at home should be proud not only of the Sailors and Marines who deployed, but of their own service as well,” he continued. “Their love, support and watch over the homefront over the course of the last seven months has given our ARG/MEU team the strength and confidence it has needed to stay focused and ready to carry out any mission our nation has asked of it.”
While in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations, the Bataan ARG and 26th MEU remained healthy and fully mission ready while working with regional partners. The Blue-Green team worked with partners from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to coordinate multiple complex training evolutions on the uninhabited Karan and Kurayn islands in the Arabian Gulf, as well as with partners from the United Arab Emirates to hold training in an isolated location within that country.
While in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations, the ARG-MEU increased interoperability with regional allies and partners by conducting maneuvering operations and at-sea exercises with navy and coast guard ships from Bulgaria, Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania and Turkey in the Black Sea. The crew additionally worked with allied ships from France and Italy during their time in the Mediterranean Sea.
U.S. Marine Corps UH-1Y Venoms and AH-1W Super Cobras assigned to the 26th MEU additionally participated in a live-fire training exercise in Bize, Albania.
The Sailors and Marines of the ARG-MEU also strengthened international partnerships by hosting the head of the Royal Jordanian Navy and deputy commander of Kuwait Naval Forces aboard Bataan in separate visits that reinforced shared goals and fostered personal relationships.
Throughout the deployment, the BAT ARG/MEU strictly adhered to the CDC, Department of Defense and host nations coronavirus (COVID-19) guidelines to mitigate contracting and spreading the virus and to maintain the health and readiness of the crew.
There are more than 4,000 Sailors and Marines assigned to the units of the ARG-MEU, nearly 2,500 of which were aboard the Bataan. Also embarked on the ships of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group were the staff of Amphibious Squadron 8 and personnel from Tactical Air Control Squadron 22, Fleet Surgical Team 4, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28, Naval Beach Group 2, Assault Craft Unit 4 and Assault Craft Unit 2.
ARG-MEUs operate continuously across the globe and provide the geographic combatant commanders with a forward-deployed, flexible and responsive sea-based Marine Air Ground Task Force. The blue-green team is fully capable of conducting operations across a full spectrum of conventional, unconventional and hybrid warfare.