SOUTH CHINA SEA (March 12, 2011) Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class Noel Arceo, left, observes and underway replenishment between U.S. 7th Fleet command flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) and the fleet replenishment oiler USNS Rappahannock (T-AO 204). Blue Ridge loaded another supply of humanitarian assistance/disaster relief kits to ensure the crew is ready to provide humanitarian assistance in support of earthquake and tsunami relief operations in Japan as directed. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Aaron M. Pineda)

SOUTH CHINA SEA - Seventh Fleet command flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) Sailors and embarked 7th Fleet staff members are preparing for humanitarian aid and disaster relief support operations while sailing toward the eastern coast of mainland Japan March 13.

Blue Ridge Sailors loaded a humanitarian aid/disaster relief (HADR) kit while moored in Singapore Friday night and set sail Saturday morning. Shortly after departing Singapore, the ship completed replenishment-at-sea operations with USNS Rappahannock (T-AO 204), receiving fuel and additional supplies.

“I’m amazed at the things we’ve achieved in such a short time,” said Master Chief Information Systems Technician Lonnie Gillilan, who led the recent on-load preparations aboard Blue Ridge. “We’ve all been pulling together, no complaining. I’m very impressed.”

Sailors worked past midnight Friday, loading equipment to allow Blue Ridge to provide fresh water and supplies during HADR support operations.

“It’s giving me a sense of accomplishment to know that the work we’re doing could help people out,” said Fire Controlman 2nd Class Patrick Ramos, who helped push crates of supplies from the flight deck.

Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Jonathan Howton, a leading petty officer aboard Blue Ridge, has experience conducting HADR support operations in conditions similar to those location in Japan affected by the recent tsunami.

“I was aboard USS Iwo Jima when we provided aid to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina,” said Howton. “In a disaster situation you have to prepare for the unknown. You never know what’s going to happen.”

USS Blue Ridge is uniquely equipped and able to perform amphibious command and control operations and is ready to support assigned HADR relief efforts.