Ashland arrives in Okinawa, Bids Farewell to Marines

by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Clay, USS Ashland Public Affairs
U.S. Navy

OKINAWA, Japan (NNS) -- The amphibious dock landing ship, USS Ashland (LSD 48), arrived in Okinawa, Japan, to disembark the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) after completing multiple exercises off the coast of Australia followed by training evolutions in Guam.

The 31st MEU offload of forces, which are from Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 3/5 and Combat Logistics Battalion (CLB) 31, marks the end to a three-month Marine deployment that began in Okinawa and focused on improving interoperability between U.S.-partner nations Australia and New Zealand during Talisman Saber, along with building upon Navy-Marine amphibious capabilities during Amphibious Integration Training (AIT) and certification exercise (CERTEX).

"One of the unique parts about this deployment was that AIT and CERTEX portion happened toward the end of deployment versus how it normally happens in the beginning," said Lt. Col. Siebrand H. Niewenhous IV, commanding officer for CLB 31. "It's usually the first time the Navy and Marine Corps meet each other."

Niewenhous said that having Talisman Saber beforehand presented a distinct opportunity for preparation.

"Talisman Saber provided us a month's worth of working and coming together to learn before ultimately going through AIT and CERTEX, said Niewenhous. "We did well and everyone was certified."

Going into Talisman Saber before training and certification exercises challenged the blue-green integration, driving Sailors and Marines to learn and adapt quickly.

"We really went from zero-to-sixty right away," said Marine Capt. Charles Broun, commander of India Company, BLT 3/5. "Every landing improved as we performed more reps."

Broun said he was impressed on how well the Navy and Marines worked together on sending out and retrieving amphibious assault vehicles (AAVs).

"There was teamwork all the way from the bridge to the well deck to the individual AAV crewmen," said Broun. "Everyone knew their jobs, and we were able to execute on time, every time. AIT and CERTEX just continued to sharpen the sword."

The time Marines spent on board Ashland also reaffirmed the importance of the historic Navy and Marine Corps connection.

"The whole Ashland team has been really supportive and professional," said Niewenhous. "We've forged a good relationship, and they've given us the opportunity to test our capabilities and ultimately become better as a team across the board."

Effective collaboration between the 31st MEU and Ashland was a factor for mission success.

"It has been phenomenal to work with the CLB and BLT team through Talisman Saber, AIT and CETEX," said Cmdr. Steven H. Wasson, Ashland's commanding officer. "Everybody was on-time, on station, and it has made integration go that much smoother, that much faster and that much more efficient."

Wasson said the biggest complement was from Marines saying they want to come back to Ashland for a future deployment.

"I think that's just a testament to how well we worked together, both sides working toward a common goal." said Wasson.

Ashland will continue on deployment, operating in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region to be a ready-response force for any type of contingency.

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