OSHIMA ISLAND (April 3, 2011) Sailors attached to the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) clean up debris from a harbor on Oshima Island, Japan. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eva-Marie Ramsaran)

OSHIMA ISLAND, Japan - More than 40 Sailors assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) volunteered to assist with the clean up efforts on the island of Oshima, Japan April 3.

The Sailors eagerly volunteered their time to assist the residents of Oshima clean up their homes, harbor and streets. They spent the day removing debris and fallen trees from a fishing pier and providing assistance to local residents on the island.

Oshima Island was devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which destroyed houses, means of transportation and the way of life for the residents who live there. Locals lived without electricity, fresh water and warm meals for more than 16 days before the Sailors and Marines of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) arrived March 27 to assist. Since then, the ARG and MEU have worked with Japan Self Defense Forces on numerous relief efforts to aid residents.

During the most recent mission, Sailors reached the island on Landing Craft Utility 1634, assigned to Assault Craft Unit 1, bringing with them chemical, biological and radiological (CBR) suits, gloves, fresh water and meals ready-to-eat. Sailors donned CBR suits as a precautionary measure to avoid possible radiological contamination.

“We faced some challenges cleaning up the debris by not having any equipment or tools,” said Personnel Specialist 1st Class (SW/AW) Angel Long with Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 11.

The group worked together for more than eight hours, clearing away pieces of houses, personal belongings, boats, fishing nets and other debris. Some found items that touched them emotionally, such as a pearl necklace, children's shoes and hand-made gifts.

“Seeing the smiles on the resident’s faces after we finished cleaning made me feel a sense of accomplishment and it moved me,” said Information Systems Technician 1st Class (SW/AW/EXW) Alexander Lee, radio division leading petty officer with PHIBRON 11. “If I get another opportunity to go ashore to assist with relief efforts, I will go again because I see them as family.”

As the service members were clearing debris, they took time to help local residents sort through the rubble to find personal belongings in what was left of their homes.

“The Japanese are on an island by themselves and are secluded from getting help,” said Long. “It’s important for us to help them start the clean up and get their lives back together.”

Japanese residents expressed their gratitude to the Sailors who participated in the clean-up process

The Essex ARG, with the embarked 31st MEU, is operating near Uranohama harbor, Oshima Island’s primary ferry harbor, in support of Operation Tomodachi. The island is dependent upon ferry service for its fresh water supply, food and gas from the mainland, which has been largely unreachable since the tsunami washed its ferries ashore. Marines with the 31st MEU are operating in other Oshima locations impacted by the tsunami as well.

Rear Adm. Jeffrey S. Jones visited Sailors and Marines on Oshima April 4 to convey his gratitude for the work they have accomplished so far.

"I can't be more proud of the work these Sailors and Marines are doing to help the residents of Oshima," said Jones. "We are here to do what we can to help these people, our friends and allies."

The Navy currently has 14 ships, 130 aircraft and 12,510 personnel operating in support of Operation Tomodachi. Since the operation started, U.S. 7th Fleet forces have delivered more than 260 tons of HADR supplies to survivors of the tsunami and earthquake in support of Japan Self Defense Force efforts.