Atlantic Ocean - The amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) departed for the Gulf Coast region Thursday, in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's, and local and state authorities' efforts to provide humanitarian and disaster relief for the areas affected by Hurricane Harvey.
The ship and her crew were recently underway conducting shipboard drills, and returned to homeport of Naval Station Norfolk for 30 hours on Aug. 30, to take on supplies and embark various units, including Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 2; Commander, Amphibious Squadron 6; the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit; Tactical Air Control Squadron 22; and Fleet Surgical Team 4. Ships transiting with Kearsarge to assist in disaster relief will be the dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51), the fleet replenishment oiler USNS John Lenthall (T-AO 189), and the dry cargo ship USNS William McLean (T-AKE 12).
Kearsarge's unique capabilities make her a key player in humanitarian and disaster relief. While in the Gulf Coast area, Kearsarge will be ready to serve as the hub for air and amphibious landing operations that will bring supplies, food and personnel to shore.
"Besides delivering combat power from the sea, amphibious assault ships are ideally suited to deliver assistance and aid," said Kearsarge's commanding officer, Capt. David K. Guluzian. "We can transport large amounts of manpower and supplies to areas in need using our small boats, landing craft, and helicopters. We also have a robust medical suite, including operating rooms, an intensive care unit, X-ray, blood bank, and even counseling services. If required, we could care for injured persons or evacuees on board the ship."
With the collaboration of all-hands, Kearsarge took on more than 200 pallets containing items such as baby food and formula, diapers, bedding, water bottles, coolers, batteries, towels, canned and dry food items and food service supplies.
"Our hearts are heavy, but we are eager to serve our countrymen and the people of the great state of Texas in their time of need," said Command Master Chief Jason Knupp. "Kearsarge and her Sailors are energized and ready to focus their hard work toward loading the ship, putting to sea, and supporting the nation-wide relief effort."
To some Sailors aboard Kearsarge, the mission hits close to home.
"It kind of changes things when this stuff happens so close to home," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) Airman Chelsea Hamann, from Houston, Texas. "Knowing that my family and friends are there, and that they might need my help, makes me even more motivated to head out there and do what we're trained to do."
Chief Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Fuels) Jerome Fuda, also a native Texan, and veteran of relief efforts in New Orleans and Haiti, has mixed emotions about returning to his home state under such circumstances.
"Proud, scared and emotional. Proud because I am a Texan and all Texans are proud. Proud because this is what we do in the Navy. Just showing up off the coast will give the folks of Texas some relief and reassurance that everything will be alright. But I am scared and emotional because I am dreading seeing firsthand the devastation. I know families that have lost everything, and towns that I used to visit as a kid are gone," said Fuda.
Despite his trepidation, Fuda is ready for action.
"Protecting our country doesn't always have to be from an enemy," Fuda said. "Right now the freedom of millions has been taken away by a storm. I hope I get the opportunity to represent Kearsarge ashore and help in any way I can. Don't mess with Texas!"
The Navy's involvement in the humanitarian assistance operations is led by FEMA in conjunction with the Department of Defense.