PACIFIC OCEAN (March 31, 2011) Rear Adm. Jeffery Jones, prospective Commander, Task Force 76, left, speaks with Japan Ground Self Defense Force Lt. Gen. Eija Kimizuka, commander of Joint Task Force-Tohoku, during Kimizuka's visit aboard USS Essex (LHD 2). Kimizuka received a tour of the ship and a brief on the 31st MEU's and Amphibious Squadron 11's participation in Operation Tomodachi. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Michael A. Bianco)

USS BLUE RIDGE, At Sea (March 31, 2011) - Seventh Fleet forces continue support of Japan Self Defense Force (JSDF) in Operation Tomodachi. With Sendai airport now open for military flights – and soon to be opened for commercial flights as well -- 7th Fleet’s focus has shifted to harbor clearance, consolidating relief supplies at airfields ashore, and preparing to assist with clean-up of debris.

Japan Ground Self Defense Force (JGSDF) Lieutenant General Eiji Kimizuka, Commanding General of Joint Task Force Tohoku in charge of the ground recovery efforts, met with sailors on board the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) and the USS Essex (LHD 2) today. Lieutenant General Kimizuka journeyed to Reagan and Essex to meet with the Sailors of those ships to express his gratitude for their efforts in Operation Tomodachi. The Reagan, Essex, and their supporting ships have conducted distribution of relief supplies, conducted aerial surveillance flights to identify groups of survivors and survey damage, cleared obstructions in ports to allow shipping to resume, and transported vehicles, personnel and supplies in support of the Japan Self Defense Forces. Foul weather prevented General Kimizuka from returning to Sendai by helicopter as planned this evening, so he is remaining overnight on Essex, breaking his flag and making Essex the flagship -- albeit temporarily -- for Japan's JTF Tohoku.

USNS Safeguard (ARS 50) and USS Tortuga (LSD 46), Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 5 and Underwater Construction Team 2 conducted additional survey and obstacle identification operations at the port of Miyako. Tortuga launched Landing Craft Unit 1627 (LCU) equipped with side scan sonar and surveyed approximately four square kilometers of the port. Divers visually surveyed the areas of the port and identified and marked for salvage more than 80 obstacles over a 48 hour period. Today, Captain Thomas Shaw, CTF 76 Deputy, Commander of CTF 76’s Port Clearance Group and USS Tortuga commanding officer Commander Rob DuBuse visited with port officials onboard the USNS Safeguard to discuss the progress of port clearance operations in Miyako. The survey and obstacle identification efforts will wrap up tomorrow, after which Safeguard and Tortuga will depart for the port of Oshima for salvage and port clearance activities there.

Sailors and Marines from the USS Essex (LHD 2) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and Japan Ground Self Defense Forces continued preparations for Operation “Field Day”, a clearing and clean up mission on the remote island of Oshima off the coast of Kessennuma. Tomorrow, four Humvees, a dump truck, a water truck and a fuel truck will embark two LCUs for movement to Oshima harbor and assistance with debris clearance activities in the port as well as local schools and government buildings. The island, which is dependent upon ferry service from the mainland, has been isolated since March 11 when the tsunami washed its ferries ashore.

One U.S. Navy barge containing 300,000 gallons of fresh water is moored at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, and the second containing an additional 200,000 gallons is expected to arrive tomorrow. Japanese authorities will use the fresh water to replace salt water currently in some of the reactors.

USNS Richard E. Byrd (USNS (T-AKE 4) conducted resupply at sea (RAS) activities with the USS Essex (LPD 2), USS Tortuga (LSD 46), USS Germantown (LSD 42) and USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) to resupply those ships with needed stores and also to retrieve HA/DR supplies located on those ships. Byrd also conducted a consolation exercise with USNS Bridge (T-AOE 10). All HADR supplies are being consolidated aboard the Byrd for transport to Yokosuka for further distribution as necessary by the Japan Ground Self Defense Force.

Two P-3 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft which were involved in Operation Tomodachi have returned to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, after having conducted 25 sorties and 138 hours of on-station flying time conducting aerial surveillance to identify groups of isolated persons, survey damage, and locate floating debris. All information gathered from these flights was shared with the Japan Self Defense Forces.

Currently 16 ships, 130 aircraft and 12,935 personnel are actively engaged in operation Tomodachi. Those ships include USS Tortuga (LSD 46), USNS Safeguard (T-ARS-50), USS Essex (LHD 2), USS Germantown (LSD 42), USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49), USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), USS Preble (DDG 88), USS Chancellorsville (CG 62), USS Cowpens (CG 63), USS Shiloh (CG 67), USNS Richard E. Byrd (T-AKE 4), USNS Bridge (T-AOE 10), USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19), USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54), USNS Mathew Perry (T-AKE 9) and USNS Rappahannock (T-AO 204).

Since Operation Tomodachi started, U.S. 7th Fleet forces have delivered more than 250 tons of relief supplies to survivors of the tsunami and earthquake in support of Japan Self Defense Force efforts.

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