NORFOLK, VA -- USS Wasp (LHD 1), the Norfolk-based flagship for the Wasp Expeditionary Strike Group 2, returned home Dec. 23 for the holidays after a successful ESG exercise off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
“Our Sailors and ship performed well, and we learned a lot about our capabilities as a group during this exercise,” said Capt. James E. Wise II, commanding officer of Wasp.
The Wasp Expeditionary Strike Group will be the first ESG to deploy from the East Coast early next year in support of the global war on terrorism. The Wasp ESG is the combination of the Wasp Strike Group and 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Wasp Strike Group has six ships and one submarine, as well as the Amphibious Squadron 4 staff and other embarked Navy commands. The MEU is composed of the Marine aviation squadron 266, the battalion landing team 1/6, and the MEU Service and Support Group 22.
“We have a unique command relationship in ESG-2,” said Wasp Strike Group Commander, Capt. Steven C. Joachim. “I command the Navy assets of the ESG, while the 22nd MEU commander, Col. Kenneth McKenzie, commands the Marine assets. Our command structure is a supporting-supported relationship. We work together to make decisions that involve both of our areas of responsibility.”
The ESG concept is centered on the proven flexibility and combat power of a combined Amphibious Readiness Group and Marine Expeditionary Unit. The ESG adds the robust strike, anti-air, anti-surface, and anti-subsurface capabilities of two cruisers, a destroyer, and an attack Submarine. These combined capabilities give the combat commander a wider variety of options and enables independent operations in more dynamic environments.
The other ships in ESG-2 are the cruisers USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55) and USS Yorktown (CG 48), the amphibious transport ship USS Shreveport (LPD 12), the dock-landing ship USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41), and the guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul (DDG 74).
The entire ESG participated in the exercise, which ran from Dec. 1-17 from the Virginia Capes to the Fort Walton Beach, Fla., operating areas. About 6,300 Marines and Sailors participated in the ESGEX.
One unique aspect of the exercise was the use of Eglin Air Force Base as a training area for the Marine landing force.
“One advantage for our Marines is it’s a new place to train,” McKenzie said of Eglin during a Dec. 11 news conference aboard Wasp. “It’s unfamiliar ground, and it’s a very large area to train in. We appreciate the opportunity to train here.”
Eglin, nearly half the size of Rhode Island, played host to Marines for about five days as the Marines practiced mechanized raids and live-fire exercises. A first for the base during an exercise full of firsts, Marines were waved ashore by civilians holding American flags along Highway 98, after landing with their equipment on the beach.
The use of Eglin is part of the Navy’s Training Resource Strategy, which involves use of existing Department of Defense ranges and facilities in Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida to meet the training requirements of Navy and Marine Corps personnel preparing for overseas deployment.
Navy ships at sea weren’t idle while the Marines were ashore. Leyte Gulf, Yorktown and McFaul all had gun practice that was integrated with what the Marines were doing, but in a new way. The gunfire was nearly 70 miles out to sea using the Virtual At-Sea Training system. VAST uses sensors at sea and virtual ranges to test the accuracy of naval gunfire and immediately relay that information back to shipboard operators.
Sailors aboard all the ships were up against a range of threats each and every day in the exercise scenario.
“Small boat and aircraft situations have dominated the action at sea. The detection-to-engage sequences have become increasingly difficult each day,” said Lt. Cmdr. Norm Maple, one of Wasp’s battle watch officers. “But before we go on watch each day we are briefed on the threat environment and other factors, and the Navy has procedures that have been tested and validated to deal with every foreseeable situation with which we might be faced.
"ESGEX is giving us the opportunity to revalidate those procedures," Maple continued. "And by exposing our watch standing teams to tougher and tougher scenarios, we’re preparing them for the kinds of challenges they may face when the strike group deploys.”
That training proved successful.
“The Wasp Strike Group and 22nd MEU’s ability to successfully perform during ESGEX shows that we’re ready to deploy in support of the global war on terrorism,” Joachim said. “ESG-2 can provide presence throughout the Mediterranean Sea, Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf in support of 6th and 5th Fleet objectives. Because of our training, we are ready at a moment's notice to do our part for America in the global war on terrorism.”
Senior Chief Journalist Strickland is the public affairs officer for the WASP Strike Group, whose ships will carry and support the 22nd MEU during its upcoming deployment.
For more information on the 22nd MEU, visit the unit's web site at www.22meu.usmc.mil, and to learn more about the WASP Strike Group, go to www.wasp.navy.mil.