The amphibious assault ship Bataan and two other ships carrying more than 4,000 sailors and Marines departed Norfolk, Va., on Saturday to provide security and crisis response in the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of operation. (Sgt. Josh Cox/Marine Corps)
NORFOLK, VA. — Three ships carrying more than 4,000 sailors and Marines got underway Saturday for a scheduled eight-month deployment.
The amphibious assault ship Bataan, amphibious transport dock Mesa Verde and dock landing ship Gunston Hall, along with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., comprise the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group. It is tasked with security, crisis response and other duties in the 5th and 6th Fleet areas.
Commodore Capt. Neil Karnes tagged his team as “America’s 911 Force” — a title familiar to ARGs years ago when the Marine Corps was rooted in its traditional amphibious mission. This is the first float for roughly 90 percent of the Marines onboard. But Karnes said his blue/green team is “more than ready” to answer any call.
“We haven’t missed any service availabilities,” Karnes said. “All three ships are in fantastic shape. I am very pleased with the maintenance capabilities and where we stand on our weapon systems. That also goes for the 22nd MEU, their aircraft and the Marines that are onboard. They have done fantastic. The relationship between the Navy and Marine Corps in Bataan ARG is second to none. I love it.”
The Marines got their sea legs during five months of workups and sea trials. Karnes said the ships went through “a couple of good storms and there was some seasick people out there. But they worked through it, and they are doing great now.”
Capt. George Vassilakis was Bataan’s executive officer in 2012 when the ARG completed a 322-day deployment — the longest in nearly 40 years. Nearly two-thirds of that crew are on this deployment.
Vassilakis is among them. He is now Bataan’s skipper, and knows firsthand the difficulties families face during deployments. This one is especially tough. His daughter, Meagan, is in her senior year. Though she expressed great pride for her father, tears welled when she talked about the fact he would miss her senior prom, graduation and entrance into college.
“It is very hard to say goodbye to my family this morning,” the skipper said. “All our families are doing as well as can be expected this morning. It is difficult. But it is their support that enables us to go out and do our job well.”