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OCEANSIDE, Calif. — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will visit Marines and sailors on Friday aboard amphibious assault ship Peleliu in a visit to re-emphasize the military's commitment to its amphibious forces, the Defense Department announced Wednesday.
Panetta is scheduled to ride an air-cushioned landing craft from Camp Pendleton to Peleliu, which is operating this week off San Diego County's coast in training exercises with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Panetta will lunch with junior sailors and Marines before an all-hands meeting aboard Peleliu. He also will watch flight-deck operations and visit the ship's medical department.
The San Diego-based Peleliu is preparing for a scheduled deployment with transport dock ship Green Bay and dock landing ship Rushmore later this year.
"Consistent with our recently issued strategic guidance and budget proposals, the department will continue to prioritize big deck amphibious assault ships such as the Peleliu because of the flexibility they provide commanders to move Marines and supplies ashore," press secretary George Little told Pentagon reporters Wednesday.
Unclear is whether Peleliu's upcoming deployment will be its last operational tour. The Navy has planned to decommission the 32-year-old ship in fiscal 2014. Peleliu got $18 million in repairs and upgrades during a shipyard maintenance period last year to prepare it for the upcoming deployment to the western Pacific.
Col. Scott Campbell commands the 15th MEU, which includes Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines; Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364 (Reinforced); and Combat Logistics Battalion 15. The amphibious force is commanded by Navy Capt. Mark Sakaguchi, commodore of Amphibious Squadron 3 in San Diego.