OSHIMA ISLAND (April 3, 2011) Sailors attached to the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) move a fishing boat from a harbor. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eva-Marie Ramsaran)

USS BLUE RIDGE, At Sea (April 5, 2011) - The residents of Oshima island, a small isolated island off the coast of Kesennuma in the north east of Honshu, today experienced some personal relief in the form of showers due to the efforts of Sailors and Marines from the USS Essex (LHD 2) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). Portable water heaters and shower facilities arrived from the USS Essex (LPD 2) and Marines and Sailors assembled those facilities at a local elementary school. For many island residents, the showers were the first opportunity to become clean since the tsunami hit on March 11. The shower facilities are able to cycle through approx. 30 people per hour, but are only open during daylight hours to conserve energy usage.

A previous concept was to transport the island residents by helicopter to the mainland for shower opportunities, and then transport them back after completion. The portable shower facilities now in operation are more suitable and allow the residents to stay local and assist the Marines and Sailors in the island clean up efforts. Establishing the hygienic facilities is one small part of Operation Field Day, the mission to support Japan Ground Self Defense Force (JGSDF) in the clean up of the remote island of Oshima.

Other Operation Field Day efforts include the continuation of clean up efforts on the shores of the Uranohama, Yogai and Komagata harbors on the island.

Yesterday, representatives from CTF 76 port clearance operations, met with representatives of the Japan Coast Guard, JGSDF, and the Mayor of Kesennuma to determine areas of salvage and clearance focus. The channel between Kesennuma and Oshima was chosen as the primary area of concentration as it is the primary waterway that connects the open sea into Kesennuma and Oshima allowing trade ships access to the ports. After this meeting, landing craft utilities (LCUs) and small boats equipped with side scan sonar began scanning the Uranohama harbor bottom to determine locations of obstacles for divers to mark obstacles for salvage operations. The side scan sonar was very successful in determining underwater hazards and obstacles during port clearance operations at the ports of Hochenohe and Miyako.

USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50), USS Tortuga (LSD 46), Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 5 and Underwater Construction Team 2 postponed efforts at Oshima today due to high seas and winds and will resume operations as soon as conditions clear.

The USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) Carrier Strike Group, which includes the USS Chancellorsville (CG 62), USS Preble (DDG 88), USS Shiloh (CG 67), and USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) have departed active support of Operation Tomodachi after receiving warm and heartfelt thanks from Japan. Defense Minister Toshimi Kitizawa and other distinguished visitors of Japan’s government yesterday in a ceremony offering thanks to the U.S. military and the American people for the support to Japan in the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Defense Minister Kitizawa read a statement from Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan that read, “On behalf of the people of Japan, I sincerely express deep appreciation to the tremendous support provided by the U.S. military, the U.S. government and the American people at the time of Japan’s unprecedented crisis. Both Japan and the United States are true “TOMODACHI” (Friends) that share basic values such as democracy and respect for human rights.” U.S. Ambassador to Japan, John Roos; Adm. Patrick Walsh, Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet; and Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, Commander, U.S. Seventh Fleet were among the U.S. dignitaries in attendance to accept Defense Minister Kitazawa and the JSDF delegation. Both the Ambassador and Adm. Walsh also addressed the Sailors and Marines gathered in the hanger bay of the aircraft carrier to thank them for their selfless service to help the JSDF and the Japanese people following the tragedies on March 11.

Currently 4 ships, 54 aircraft and 4,295 personnel are actively engaged in Operation Tomodachi. Those ships include USS Tortuga (LSD 46), USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50), USS Essex (LHD 2) and USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19).

Since Operation Tomodachi started, U.S. 7th Fleet forces have delivered more than 260 tons of relief supplies to survivors of the tsunami and earthquake and flown 160+ aerial reconnaissance and search sorties.

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