Marines Deploy First F-35Bs to the Middle East (excerpt)
(Source: US Naval Institute News; posted Sept 10, 2018)
By Gidget Fuentes
After deployments to Europe and Japan, the controversial Lockheed F-35 fighter has now reached the Arabian Gulf aboard the amphibious ship USS Essex, which will take part in exercises around Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa. (USN photo)
Marines training on the ground on the Horn of Africa will see a new set of wings pulling the classic close air support mission: The F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

The F-35Bs are assigned to the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 “Wake Island Avengers” and part of the air combat element deployed with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The 13th MEU and San Diego, Calif.-based Essex Amphibious Ready Group has arrived U.S. 5th Fleet and launched F-35Bs from the deck of amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD-2).

“We will exercise all of the capability of the aircraft without prioritizing a specific one. It will all pertain to supporting the Marine on the ground,” Col. Chandler Nelms, who commands the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 13th MEU, told USNI News by phone from Essex on Saturday as the ship was operating off Djibouti. “We have the opportunity to run through the full gamut of our capabilities while we are here.”

For two weeks, the F-35B and the rest of the 13th MEU’s combat firepower will train at military ranges in Djibouti and in the international waters off the coast. About 4,500 Marines and sailors with the 13th MEU and Essex ARG – Essex, amphibious transport dock USS Anchorage (LPD-23) and dock landing ship USS Rushmore (LSD-47) – are participating in the TACR exercise, which kicked off Saturday, for Naval Amphibious Force, Task Force 51/5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade. (end of excerpt)


Click here for the full story, on the USNI News website.

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Essex ARG/13th MEU with Embarked F-35B Enters Central Command
(Source: US Navy; issued Sept 10, 2018)
5TH FLEET AREA OF OPERATIONS --- Earlier this month, the Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II entered the Central Command area of operations for the first time.

The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and the Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) with the attached Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 is the first continental U.S.-based Navy and Marine Corps force to deploy with the Lightning II. The Essex ARG/MEU team is currently conducting a regularly scheduled deployment.

While in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations, the amphibious force is trained and equipped to conduct maritime security operations, crisis response operations, theater security cooperation and forward naval presence operations to reinforce to the U.S.’s commitment to partner nations in the region.

"As a forward-deployed force we are appropriately postured to ensure freedom of navigation and commerce in the world’s most important sea lanes," said Gerald Olin, commander, Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 1. "The embarked Marines of 13th MEU allow us the flexibility to rapidly respond to crises and set conditions that promote security in the region."

Following a six-month comprehensive, pre-deployment training period, the Essex ARG/MEU was certified for deployment. The training consisted of three integrated at-sea periods which collectively ensured the Navy/Marine Corps team is at its highest level of readiness to accomplish missions across the range of military operations. VMFA-211 was certified for deployment across all mission essential tasks to include deep air support, close air support, offensive air support and electronic warfare.

"When combined with inherent capabilities of the 13th MEU and Essex ARG, the F-35B strengthens the amphibious force through new and increased multi-mission capabilities, making our team a more lethal and survivable crisis response force," said Col. Chandler Nelms, commanding officer, 13th MEU.

The Essex ARG is comprised of amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2), amphibious transport dock USS Anchorage (LPD 23) and amphibious dock landing ship USS Rushmore (LSD 47). During deployment they will operate with embarked forces of the 13th MEU, PHIBRON 1, the "Blackjacks" of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 21, and detachments from Assault Craft Unit 5, Naval Beach Group 1, Beachmaster Unit 1, Fleet Surgical Team 3 and Tactical Air Control Squadron 11.

The 13th MEU consists of the command element; the aviation combat element comprised of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 166 Reinforced and VMFA 211; the ground combat element comprised of Battalion Landing Team 3/1; and the Logistics Combat Element comprised of Combat Logistics Battalion 13.

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