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The “Iron Gator” Returning To San Diego After 12 Years

USS Essex
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Above: USS Essex

The USS Essex, known as the "Iron Gator," is slated to return to San Diego tomorrow after a dozen years in Sasebo, Japan. The USS Bonhomme Richard swapped crews with the USS Essex last month, according to the Navy.

The Stars and Stripes reports the 21-year-old Essex was the flagship of the forward-deployed Expeditionary Strike Group 7. According to the military newspaper, the Essex recently was unable to fulfill two commitments at sea because of "maintenance issues." The Essex will undergo extensive maintenance in San Diego after it participates in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise this summer.

Capt. Chuck Litchfield, USS Essex commanding officer, said of the return:

"John Paul Jones, the captain of the original Bonhomme Richard, said, 'Men mean more than guns in the rating of a ship. In the last two years, I have been humbled to witness that truth in my crew. It wasn't easy to turnover a ship we had poured so much blood, sweat, toil and tears into; however, the crew never looked back, they took immediate ownership of Essex. We have spent the last 18 days in transit across the Pacific defining for ourselves what it means to be Essex."

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