The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) offloaded Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) after conducting joint-force operations in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility, April 24.
During the patrol, Bonhomme Richard and the 31st MEU participated in Exercise Ssang Yong 2014 with their counterparts from the Republic of Korea (ROK).
The exercise was the first to include a joint, combined command and control headquarters which was led by Rear Adm. Hugh Wetherald, commander, Amphibious Forces 7th Fleet; ROK Rear Adm. Chun, Jung-soo, commander, Flotilla Five; Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy, commanding general, 3d MEB; and ROK Brig. Gen. Cho, Kang-jae, deputy commander landing force.
During Ssang Yong, 13 landing craft, including Land Craft Air Cushion and Landing Craft Utility transported 263 pieces of equipment weighing a total of 3,328,494 pounds. The equipment transported included six M1A1 tanks, High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles, Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacements, Internally Transportable Vehicles, and other equipment between Marine Prepositioning Forces (MPF) and Navy assets.
“This was a tremendously complex exercise with thousands of Marines and thousands of Navy Sailors over 20 ships coming together and then immediately executing,” said Wetherald. “It was a true and tried example of a mature relationship.”
Bonhomme Richard and the 31st MEU also demonstrated their ability to respond to disasters in the Asian-Pacific region by assisting with search and rescue efforts at the site of sunken Korean ferry Sewol, near the island of Jindo.
The Korean navy was the primary coordinator of the search and rescue effort and Bonhomme Richard conducted search and rescue missions utilizing; MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopters, VM-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, UH-1Y Huey helicopters, and CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters, as requested by the ROK navy.
Bonhomme Richard and the 31st MEU executed over 20 search and rescue patrols during the six days the ship was near the site.
“Our thoughts and prayers remain with the passengers of the ferry Sewol and their families; we were honored to assist our Republic of Korea friends during this time of tragedy,” said Capt. Joey Tynch USS Bonhomme Richard commanding officer. “The Sailors and Marines of Bonhomme Richard and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit responded to this terrible event as quickly as possible. The ROK Navy continues to work diligently around the clock and we were proud to have worked alongside them while supporting rescue operations. We leave the area with heavy hearts for all the families involved in the tragedy and continue to hope for the best for our ROK friends.”
This patrol also marked the last time 31st MEU Command Sgt. Maj. Gonzalo Vasquez would ever deploy with a group of Marines, retiring after 30 years of service to the Marine Corps.
“First off, the Marines of the 31st MEU are second to none,” said Vasquez. “Every Marine in the unit brought their A-Game, and coupled with their positive attitude and flexible mindset; there was no mission too difficult.”
Vasquez also took a moment to reflect on the impact of forward-deployed amphibious operations.
“It’s also been a real pleasure working shoulder-to-shoulder with the awesome Sailors aboard BHR these last few years. It’s amazing what the blue and green team can accomplish together,” said Vazquez. “As I leave our Corps after 30 years of service I know that our Nation is safe with the dedicated people in the only forward deployed Amphibious Ready Group.”
Bonhomme Richard, commanded by Capt. Joey Tynch, is the lead ship of the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group and is currently conducting operations in the U.S. 7th Fleet Area of Responsibility.
Press Release, April 28, 2014; Image: US Navy