In this file photo, Naval Air Crewman 3rd Class Justen Thurman communicates with pilots from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 21 as USS Essex (LHD 2) conducts maneuvers in the Gulf of Aden last week. (U.S. Navy/MC3 Christopher A. Veloicaza)

INDIAN OCEAN - The Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and the embarked 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) departed the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations (AOO) Nov. 1.

While on station in the U.S. 5th Fleet AOO, the ARG and MEU supported theater security cooperation efforts and provided a forward naval presence with crisis response, humanitarian assistance and combat capabilities. Additionally, MEU and ARG elements engaged in many operations and exercises, including bi-lateral training with the French military in Djibouti, and training with Jordanian marines. The ARG/MEU team also conducted more than a dozen subject matter expert exchanges with partner nations throughout the region.

Beginning in mid-August, AV-8B Harriers assigned to the MEU's aviation combat element launched from Essex's flight deck as part of the multinational coalition participating in Operation Inherent Resolve. The missions continued until mid-October when Essex began preparations to depart the theater.

The Essex ARG and 15th MEU deployed from San Diego, May 11 on a scheduled deployment.

The Essex ARG, commanded by Capt. Clint Carroll, includes the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2), the amphibious transport dock USS Anchorage (LPD 23) and the amphibious dock landing ship USS Rushmore (LSD 47), as well as various supporting elements from Assault Craft Unit (ACU) 5, Beachmaster Unit (BMU) 1, Fleet Surgical Team (FST) 1, Tactical Air Control Squadron (TACRON) 11 and Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 21.

"During the Essex Amphibious Ready Group's time in the 5th Fleet area of operations, real-world issues and the resultant mission tasking drove the schedule," said Carroll. "The ARG's success in the region speaks to the inherent adaptability, versatility and mobility of the ARG-MEU construct and to the Sailors and Marines who routinely performed no-fail missions with eye-watering precision in one of the world's most unforgiving environments."

The 15th MEU, commanded by Col. Vance Cryer, is comprised of the aviation combat element, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 161 (Reinforced); the ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines; the logistics combat element, Combat Logistics Battalion and a command element.

"While deployed to 5th Fleet, the MEU was employed throughout and beyond the theater, engaging and supporting regional partners, providing operational support to vital missions, and maintaining readiness and tactical proficiency," said Cryer. "The MEU showed flexibility and responsiveness operating across combatant command boundaries providing joint enabling force capabilities to the Fleet commanders, clearly demonstrating the value of forward-deployed amphibious forces for regional security."

With the 5th Fleet behind them, the nearly 4,500 Sailors and Marines of the Essex ARG and 15th MEU enters the U.S. 7th Fleet AOO to continue operations there before completing their scheduled seven-month deployment.