SASEBO, Japan - The Navy‘s only forward-deployed amphibious ready group, the blue-green team of USS America (LHA 6) and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), have been recognized among the best the Navy has to offer.
"To say I am proud of this team would be a drastic understatement, but to say I am surprised just wouldn‘t be true," said Capt. Richard LeBron, commodore of Amphibious Squadron 11. "It‘s been said before that the America and the 31st MEU are greater than the sum of their parts in all aspects of amphibious operations. Whether our partners in the Indo-Pacific need combat-ready support against a common adversary, or humanitarian assistance in the wake of disaster, our flexible force is always here, always ready, to fight and deliver results."
America and the 31st MEU together earned the Admiral James Flatley Memorial Award for an exceptional safety program and record, that surpasses all competitors in the previous fiscal year, according to a message issued by the Naval Safety Center on March 1.
"We do an inherently dangerous job every day, whether in port or at sea," said Capt. Ken Ward, America‘s commanding officer. "Safety through operational risk management is central to every planning effort, from the most complex integrated operations to the most common day-to-day functions.
"Every evolution is new and different, no matter how many times we‘ve done it," Ward said. "Our ability to deliberately plan, assess, make risk decisions, and execute safely ensures our equipment, and the Sailors and Marines who operate it, continue to be the flexible force our region needs. I am extremely proud of the recognition our blue-green team has received in this endeavor."
America partnered with the 31st MEU throughout 2020, their first full year forward-deployed together in the Indo-Pacific, to preserve peace and stability throughout the region alongside allies and partners including the Japan Self-Defense Force and Royal Thai Navy. The team has also collaborated with the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Space Force and Royal Australian Navy.
"The crisis response missions that the Marines and Sailors of the ARG-MEU team remain ready to execute at a moments‘ notice incur a certain amount of inherent risk," said Col. Michael Nakonieczny, the 31st MEU Commanding Officer. "This award and the safety record that we maintain are a testament to the strong leadership of our non-commissioned officers (NCO) and staff NCOs, who are responsible for enforcing the standards that ensure training is conducted as realistically and as safely as possible. The partnership we have built as a blue-green team over the course of the past year solidifies us as a force that remains Ready, Partnered and Lethal."
The Flatley Award is named for Vice Adm. James H. Flatley Jr., a World War II aviator and Navy Cross recipient. The Navy annually recognizes one aircraft carrier and one amphibious ship with its attached air wing and MEU respectively, with the Admiral Flatley Memorial Award for Aviation Safety. USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) and Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 1 were this year‘s other recipients.
America was also recently awarded the Commander, Naval Surface Forces Pacific Battle Effectiveness "E" Award on Feb. 26, taking the Maritime Warfare Excellence Award for the fifth straight year and the Engineering Excellence Award for the fourth time in a row.
"USS America and the 31st MEU embody America Strike Group‘s ironclad commitment to executing the mission and keeping our Sailors and Marines safe," said Rear Adm. Fred Kacher, commander Expeditionary Strike Group 7. "Both at sea and ashore, this team demonstrates daily how our Sailors and Marines forward-deployed in the Indo-Pacific are making a huge difference in one of the most critical maritime regions in the world today."
America and the Marines of the 31st MEU are operating in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility to enhance interoperability with allies and partners, and serve as a ready response force to defend peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.