PHILIPPINE SEA (Oct. 8, 2011) Commanding cfficer of the forward deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) Capt. David Fluker, third from right, discusses the ship's capabilities with a delegation from the Okinawa, Japan prefectural government. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Terry Matlock)

USS ESSEX, At Sea (NNS) - The U.S. Consulate General to Okinawa Raymond Greene, and a Japanese delegation from Okinawa visited forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2), Oct. 8.

The purpose of their visit to Essex was to better understand the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) capabilities of the ship and embarked Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).

"It's a great opportunity to show some of the capabilities that the Essex and ARG (Amphibious Ready Group) present," Greene said. "We are very interested in how the 31st MEU and the Navy can help if something should happen to Okinawa - what kind of capabilities they could provide and support the local community."

Greene and Japanese dignitaries visited different areas of the ship including the ship's well deck, hangar bay, upper and lower vehicle storage, and medical facilities. They also observed Sailors and Marines on the flight deck during flight operations from the weather decks on the island, also known as "vulture's row."

Essex Commanding Officer Capt. David Fluker, Commander, Amphibious Squadron 11 Capt. Bradley Lee and 31st MEU Commanding Officer Col. Andrew MacMannis escorted the consulate general and dignitaries through the ship, describing the capabilities of the Navy and Marine Corps team in regards to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

Ships of the Essex ARG returned in April from assisting citizens of Japan after a 9.0 earthquake and a tsunami struck the nation. During the disaster relief mission, Operation Tomodachi, Sailors and Marines moved 80 tons of supplies ashore and assisted in clearing debris from Oshima Island.

"After the March 11 disasters, the Japanese government had asked all the prefectures in Japan to update their disaster plans, and seeing how Okinawa is a big island prone to typhoons and tsunamis, we are very concerned about our own planning," said Greene. "We have been talking to the local government about increasing our cooperation between the U.S. military and Okinawa."

Fluker said he was glad to have the opportunity to show how the Navy and Marine Corps can assist during humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

"Essex and the 31st MEU train regularly to carry out HADR missions, and we were honored to be able to offer our support during Operation Tomodachi," said Fluker. "The unique capabilities of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps make us well suited to help provide relief to those in need in the event of a natural disaster."

This visit also gave the consulate general and Japanese dignitaries the opportunity to share ideas with Navy and Marine Corps leadership about how the Okinawa prefecture can work with the military during an HADR operation.

"It's a win-win for both sides and the [Japan-U.S.] alliance if we can deepen these relationships between the military and the local community," said Greene.

Essex is part of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group and reports to Commander, Amphibious Force 7th Fleet Rear. Adm. J. Scott Jones, who is headquartered in Okinawa, Japan.

For more news from USS Essex (LHD 2), visit www.navy.mil/local/lhd2/.