Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), flagship of the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), returned to her homeport of Mayport, Florida, Dec. 4, after operating for nine weeks in the northern Atlantic Ocean.
Iwo Jima went underway following a six-month deployment to participate in Trident Juncture 2018, a NATO-led exercise designed to certify NATO response forces and develop interoperability among participating NATO allied and partner nations.
“This was an outstanding experience for the Navy and Marine Corps team on board,” said Capt. Joseph O’Brien, Iwo Jima’s commanding officer. “Interacting with our allies in this type of exercise is something that does not occur very often. With all the moving pieces involved, it took the efforts of everyone on board to successfully complete our mission during the exercise and showcase the strength that is the NATO alliance.”
One of the biggest challenges for the Sailors and Marines aboard Iwo Jima was operating in northern Atlantic waters.
“The Iwo Jima had just returned from operating mostly in the Red Sea, and most of the crew never thought they would have to deal with cold weather operations in the northern Atlantic,” said Master Sgt. Travis Hamilton, a Marine assigned to combat cargo aboard Iwo Jima. “The Sailors and Marines on the flight deck felt it the most, with the wind chill down to 26 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as those conducting landing craft, air cushion operations in the well deck. However, that didn’t fault the Sailors and Marines on board as they took it head-on and with the highest enthusiasm.”
Another challenge the embarked crew faced was command relationships, processes and procedures, said Hamilton.
“On a normal work-up cycle with the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), you have sea trials to work out all the kinks and how things are going to be run and who is doing what,” said Hamilton. “With this exercise, there was no time to do that, no time to build a relationship with the MEU and work out how combat cargo and the MEU works together to accomplish the commander’s intent. All things aside, combat cargo and the 24th MEU were able to work fluently together to successfully and safely accomplish Trident Juncture.”
The ship also conducted port visits to Reykjavik, Iceland, along with Oslo and Trondheim, Norway, where the crew participated in several community service projects and experienced the cities’ culture, food and historical sites. The ship also hosted ship tours and a reception totaling more than 1,500 visitors, including the prime minister and crown prince of Norway, the U.S. ambassador to Norway and the commandant of the United States Marine Corps.
The Iwo Jima ARG embarks the 24th MEU and is comprised of Iwo Jima, amphibious dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44), amphibious transport dock USS New York (LPD 21), Fleet Surgical Team 6, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 22, Tactical Air Control Squadron 22, components of Naval Beach Group 2 and the embarked staffs of Expeditionary Strike Group 2 and Amphibious Squadron 8.