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Combat Squadron Returns To San Diego

Combat Squadron Returns To San Diego

Photo caption:

Photo by Steve Walsh

Families wait for the return the Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 21 at Naval Air Station North Island, Dec. 14, 2015.

Airmen with a detachment of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 21 on Monday returned to Naval Air Station North Island, while ships of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group will dock at Navy Base San Diego Tuesday, following a seven-month deployment.

The amphibious assault ship USS Essex, amphibious transport dock USS Anchorage and amphibious dock landing ship USS Rushmore unloaded members of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit at Camp Pendleton on Sunday.

The 4,500 sailors and Marines in the Essex ARG conducted a variety of missions in the Middle East and Pacific Ocean after leaving San Diego May 11, according to the Navy.

"The distinct ability of amphibious forces to gain access to critical areas anywhere in the world with ground, air, and logistics forces enables the Navy-Marine Corps team to shape actions across the range of military operations, to resolve conflict, conduct humanitarian assistance, or combat the enemy in remote, austere environments that would otherwise be inaccessible," said Marine Col. Vance Cryer, commander, 15th MEU.

Navy Capt. Clinton Carroll, commander, Amphibious Squadron 3, called the Essex ARG/15th MEU team the "Swiss Army knife of military capability."

The "Smokin' Aces" of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 21 Detachment 1 flew more than 1,600 hours of flight operations in the MH-60S Seahawk throughout the deployment.

Most of the time, they were in the Persian Gulf, ready to use their search and rescue skills to back up the fighters participating in the bombing campaign against ISIS.

"The majority of our support, honestly, is available in the event that something is to occur. We can, but we don't always have to, which is a good thing," said Lt. Cmdr. Sam Mason.

The voyage was marred by a pair of incidents early in the deployment.

On May 17, a Marine died and 21 were injured when a tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey operating off the Essex made a hard landing at a training area in Waimanalo, Oahu, Hawaii. Near the end of June, 38-year-old Senior Chief Petty Officer Jason May, of Chesterfield, Michigan, collapsed and died after experiencing chest pains aboard the Essex.

KPBS reporter Steve Walsh contributed to this report.


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