After less than two years forward-deployed, big deck amphib USS Wasp (LHD-1) has left Japan.
Wasp and its crew departed U.S. 7th Fleet on Wednesday bound for Naval Station Norfolk, Va. The ship and its crew arrived in Jan. 2018 to serve as the flagship for U.S. forward-deployed amphibious forces in Sasebo, Japan.
The amphibious assault ship will be replaced later this year by USS America (LHA-6), 7th Fleet announced on Wednesday.
“Over the last two years, no ship in the Navy has been asked to do more than USS Wasp, and the ship delivered in every way,” Expeditionary Strike Group 7 commander Rear Adm. Fred Kacher said in a statement. “The officers and crew rose to every challenge, and we could not have asked for a better flagship to operate in the most important and dynamic area in the world.”
America, one of two big decks built to focus on aviation, will leave its current homeport at Naval Station San Diego, Calif., later this year to head to Japan. America will be accompanied by amphibious transport dock USS New Orleans (LPD-18), 7th Fleet said.
The move by New Orleans was announced by the service earlier this year. The addition would bring the total strength of the amphibious ships in Japan up to five, with New Orleans and America joining Forward Deployed Naval Force-Japan ships USS Green Bay (LPD-20), USS Ashland (LSD-48) and USS Germantown (LSD-42).
Moving aviation-centric America to Japan will expand on Marine capabilities that are moving to the Western Pacific
Last year, Wasp was the first ship to deploy with the Marine variant of the F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters. Six F-35Bs from the “Green Knights” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 embarked on Wasp in 2018 as part of ESG 7’s 2018 Wester Pacific Patrol.
Wasp also played host to President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump during their Memorial Day visit to Japan earlier this year.
Wasp departed unheralded from Japan last month after a Western Pacific patrol. That included the participation of the ESG and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit in the Talisman Saber exercise off the coast of Australia.
The following is the complete Sept. 4 release from U.S. 7th Fleet.
OKINAWA, Japan (Sept. 4, 2019) – The amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) departed U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations as part of a scheduled homeport shift Sept. 4.
Wasp, which replaced USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in January 2018, operated with U.S. Marine Corps forces from the III Marine Expeditionary Force and helped expand the robust relationships the U.S. military maintains with allies and partners in the region.
“The performance by the Wasp crew has quite simply been superb,” said Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 7, Rear Adm. Fred Kacher. “Over the last two years, no ship in the Navy has been asked to do more than USS Wasp and the ship delivered in every way. The officers and crew rose to every challenge and we could not have asked for a better flagship to operate in the most important and dynamic area in the world.”
As part of the U.S. 7th Fleet’s Forward Deployed Naval Forces in Japan, Wasp made history as the first U.S. Navy ship to deploy with the F-35B Lightning II, fifth-generation stealth aircraft, which began operating onboard with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit in March of 2018.
“It has been a profound honor for Wasp and her crew to serve 7th Fleet and its ancillary commands during this time,” said Wasp Commanding Officer Capt. Gregory Baker. “Our Sailors have embraced the experiences and opportunities available in this part of the world, and are more operationally prepared to continue supporting and executing the missions we are presented with. I couldn’t have asked for a more dedicated or capable crew.”
U.S. President Donald J. Trump visited the ship and crew during his tour of Japan, becoming the first U.S. president to visit the ship, and extending accolades to the crew for their accomplishments. Wasp participated in exercise Balikatan with the Philippine military and exercise Talisman Sabre with the Australian Defence Force and additional forces from Japan, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The ship also engaged in partnership missions designed to enhance interoperability with numerous partners and allies supporting security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
“What our Wasp Sailors have accomplished here over almost two years, given the operational tempo, and the nature of our multi-pronged mission, is overwhelming, and it’s difficult not to constantly shine with pride,” said Wasp Command Master Chief Kevin Guy, who also noted that more than half the ship’s company had been geo-bachelors during the ship’s tenure in Japan.
“When you consider that we have a large number of Sailors thousands of miles away from their families and friends – their level of dedication under these circumstances truly exemplifies the Navy Core Values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment.”
The Navy announced earlier this year that Wasp will be replaced by the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6), which will be accompanied by landing platform dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18). USS America is scheduled to become part of the U.S. 7th Fleet forward-deployed naval forces (FDNF) in Sasebo, Japan, later this year.
7th Fleet spans more than 124 million square kilometers, stretching from the International Date Line to the India/Pakistan border, and from the Kuril Islands in the north to the Antarctic in the south. Encompassing 36 maritime countries, approximately 50 percent of the world’s population also falls within its area of responsibility.