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Assistance From The Seas
by U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr Todd Galvin and U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Daniel Schadler
 November 24, 2017

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The LHD, Amphibious Assault Ship (Multipurpose), is a highly versatile and capable warship. USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) proved this during the multi-hurricane events in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico while conducting Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) and Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA).

USS Kearsarge was in the Virginia Capes executing engineering drills during basic phase training evolutions when the Captain, CAPT David K. Guluzian, was informed of the change in schedule and ordered the return to homeport and to make preparations for HADR and DSCA in support of the recent destruction in Texas from Hurricane Harvey. After 31 hours pier side, Kearsarge was back underway after loading more than three million pounds of equipment and supplies via 12 Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) recoveries and the pier.

October 17, 2017 -  The Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) transits the Caribbean Sea alongside the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1), not pictured. Kearsarge and Wasp have been assisting with relief efforts in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The Department of Defense is supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the lead federal agency, in helping those affected by Hurricane Maria to minimize suffering and is one component of the overall whole-of-government response effort. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Levingston Lewis)
October 17, 2017 -  The Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) transits the Caribbean Sea alongside the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1), not pictured. Kearsarge and Wasp have been assisting with relief efforts in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The Department of Defense is supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the lead federal agency, in helping those affected by Hurricane Maria to minimize suffering and is one component of the overall whole-of-government response effort. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Levingston Lewis)

These supplies included: over 25 heavy vehicles and trailers, wheeled water purification trailers, environment control units, generators, tents, fuel, water, and MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). Once underway, Kearsarge embarked Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) TWENTY SIX’s two aircraft as well as Beach Masters Unit (BMU) TWO and their two Landing Craft Utility’s (LCU). Forty eight hours later, southbound, Kearsarge had embarked some of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s (26th MEU) aircraft and supplies.

The 26th MEU forward deployed six MV-22B Ospreys, three UH-1Y Hueys, and three CH-53E super Stallions to the gulf coast to support relief efforts while Kearsarge steamed towards the affected area. Upon notification of Hurricane Irma’s track toward the U.S. Virgin Islands, Kearsarge, now part of Combined Task Force 189 (CTF-189) (including USS Wasp with HSC-22, HM-14 and 15 and USS Oak Hill), embarked the remainder of the 26th MEU aircraft off the coast of Florida. At the same time, HSC-7 was returning from Hurricane Harvey relief to Norfolk; however, their four aircraft were diverted to Kearsarge to embark.

During the initial humanitarian response in the wake of Hurricane Irma from September 8-18, the squadrons transported 1,068 personnel and 187,365 pounds of supplies and equipment to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands of Saint Thomas, Saint Croix, and Saint John. The missions conducted included: area reconnaissance, patient transport, Passenger/Mail/Cargo (PMC) movement, external lift, Key Leadership Engagement (KLE), VIP transport, and Aviation Delivered Ground Refueling (ADGR). Overall, CTF-189 was able to conduct 424 flight hours in support of 121 emergency medical evacuations, 1,392 medical transports to alleviate overflow and triage measures, 201,765 pounds of relief supplies via air and 426,435 pounds via ground, and cleared over 33 miles of highways on Saint Thomas and Saint John.

The LCUs were the enabler for the majority of the ground support on the islands. With their vast carrying capacity, they were able to move vehicles, fuel, and water to ensure the population could reach the hospitals and ensure the generators powering lifesaving equipment stayed fueled. The LCUs were also instrumental in pulling out as many relief workers and support personnel in order to avoid possible injuries and destruction of equipment prior to the arrival of Hurricane Maria who was heading toward the islands.

After initial reconnaissance flights, the Virgin Islands fared better than initially projected during Hurricane Maria; however, the damage sustained on Puerto Rico was severe. CFT-189 (now adding USNS Comfort) was on-station within a day of storm passage. To date, Puerto Rico has received 2,904,794 pounds of relief supplies and cargo.

The Army Corp of Engineers determined the Guajataca Dam in Quebradillas, Puerto Rico, had the potential to fail due to continued erosion around the spillway. CH-53Es and MV-22Bs were dispatched in order to lift and transport concrete barriers into the base of the dam, in order to slow the erosion and prevent failure while the Army flew in pumps and piping to strategically place in order to reroute and lower the water height behind the dam.

Using MH-60Ss and UH-1Ys, CTF-189 also assessed 69 hospitals, providing upkeep maintenance, repairs, and fuel for the generators on Puerto Rico, Vieques, and Culebra. At several locations, these actions prevented total power loss and provided much needed supplies to overcrowded hospitals.

These relief efforts have been a showcase for the capabilities and flexibility of the LHD platform. The combination of the ship to shore systems delivered by the 26th MEU, HSC Detachment, and Beach Master Unit 2 provide an incredible amount of versatility to any Task Force Commander.

Medical transport and essential commodities to rural areas continue to be the priority while Puerto Rican ports and airports re-open and CTF 189 will be on station to deliver.

By U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr Todd Galvin and U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Daniel Schadler
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2017

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