USS Essex
The amphibious assault ship USS Essex underway. Navy photo

The sailors and Marines of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group returned to San Diego on Friday morning after a nearly 8-month deployment to the Indo-Pacific, Middle East, Mediterranean and Horn of Africa.

More than 4,500 sailors and Marines were embarked on the amphibious assault ship USS Essex, amphibious transport dock USS Anchorage, and amphibious dock landing ship USS Rushmore.

The mission featured the first combat use of the new F-35B Lightning II stealth fighter by Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211.

“The Essex was embarked with the next generation of air assets,” said Capt. Gerald Olin, commander of Amphibious Squadron 1. “The full integration of the Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II drastically enhanced the ARG/MEU lethality and proved to be a credible strike and defense capability.”

The Essex group ships and 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit left San Diego unannounced on July 10, with Navy officials later citing operational security requirements.

“This deployment was a great example of dynamic force employment,” said Olin. “We were successful on our deployment because we operated the way we trained. Our team was manned, trained and equipped successfully so that we were able to meet mission requirements in every fleet.”

At one point during the deployment, the Rushmore and Essex were operating in the Middle East while the Anchorage was in the Mediterranean Sea.

“Our ARG/MEU team operated across two geographic combatant commands simultaneously supporting multiple operations, exercises and subject matter expert exchanges,” said Capt. Dennis Jacko, commanding officer of the Anchorage. “The inherent flexibility of the ARG/MEU is what makes our team so valuable to theater commanders, and the robust capability of the LPD 17 Class to execute independent operations provides a force multiplier in every ARG.”

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.