PHILIPPINE SEA (March 15, 2011) Sailors assigned to the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) watch as an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter prepares to transport humanitarian assistance and disaster relief supplies from the dry cargo/ammunition ship USNS Matthew Perry (T-AKE 9) during a vertical replenishment at sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Casey H. Kyhl)

USS ESSEX, Philippine Sea (NNS) - The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) on-loaded humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) supplies March 15 during a replenishment at sea in preparation for aiding Japan after it was hit by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami March 11.

More than 45 pallets of surgical masks, water containers, water purifying tablets, health and comfort packs, blankets, and insect repellant were brought aboard during a vertical replenishment at sea with the dry cargo/ammunition ship USNS Matthew Perry (T-AKE 9). If tasked to assist with Operation Tomodachi in Japan, Essex can move the supplies ashore using its amphibious craft and air assets.

“We are looking at how we can help the Japanese Self Defense Forces and how we can help move much-needed supplies to the people that need them the most,” said Capt. Bradley Lee, commander, Amphibious Squadron 11. “As always, the safety of our Sailors and Marines is essential. We will take all the necessary precautions to make sure that we send people into a safe environment and that they are poised for success.”

Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) ships are capable of carrying out a variety of HADR operations using helicopters assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and the Navy's Helicopter Sea Control Squadron 25 or amphibious craft assigned to Beach Master Unit One and Assault Craft Unit One.

During the replenishment at sea, Essex air and combat cargo departments worked to bring the supplies from the flight deck to the hangar bay where Sailors from supply department secured them for sea.

“Supply is playing a major role in these HADR operations because we are in charge of coordinating all of the cargo we bring onboard,” said Logistics Specialist 2nd Class (SW/AW) Alejandra Gutierrezalba. “During any replenishment, everyone available from supply department is on hand to account for these supplies, organize them, and get them into storage until they are needed. Of course, we couldn’t do any of that without the 150-man working party made op of the ship’s crew and Marines of the 31st MEU.”

The supplies will remain aboard until Essex is specifically tasked to take part in Operation Tomodachi.

“Essex ARG Sailors and Marines see the suffering that is going on and we know that we can help. It's what we are trained to do,” said Lee. “We can't wait to get on station to get started in helping Japan restore some normalcy in the affected areas.”

“It’s unfortunate that things like this happen, but this is our mission in the Navy,” said Gutierrezalba. “I’m glad that we are out here ready to assist the Japanese people.”

The Essex ARG is comprised of the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) and the dock landing ships USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49), USS Germantown (LSD 42) and USS Tortuga (LSD 46).