Bataan group heading home after 8-month deployment
By HENDRICK SIMOES | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 4, 2014
MANAMA, Bahrain — The Bataan amphibious ready group is heading home after an eventful eight-month deployment to the region.
Navy officials said Friday that the Norfolk, Va.-based ready group — comprised of the USS Bataan, the USS Mesa Verde, the USS Gunston Hall and the embarked 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit — has left the 5th Fleet area of responsibility, where its air combat element had been conducting strike missions against the Islamic State in Iraq, and flying intelligence-gathering missions over Iraq and Syria.
The group has been replaced in the Middle East by the San Diego, Calif.-based Makin Island amphibious ready group after a 21-day extension in the region.
On its way home, the Bataan group is expected to participate in international exercises and make routine port visits aimed at strengthening relationships with partner nations, the Navy said in a news release.
Navy officials expect the ships to arrive home in late October.
The more than 4,000 sailors and Marines who are part of the Bataan group left home Feb. 8 on a regularly scheduled eight-month deployment. Much of the group’s time has been spent in the Middle East and Mediterranean Sea, where it has been poised for potential crisis response.
In May, days into the Bataan's participation in a large-scale annual multinational exercise in Jordan, it was ordered to the coast of Libya to be ready for a possible evacuation of U.S. personnel because of escalating fighting there.
In June, as fighters with the Islamic State, which seeks to create a caliphate across swaths of Syria and Iraq, threatened Baghdad, some of the group’s assets were ordered into the Persian Gulf.
Additionally, the Bataan ready group completed two rescues at sea and a number of support operations, officials said. The Bataan set a near record with a 135-day stretch at sea between port visits.
An amphibious ready group’s diversified assets give the U.S. military crisis-response capabilities that can be tailored for a wide range of situations, from disaster relief to combat. For this reason, the group is often referred to as the “Swiss Army Knife” of the joint forces.
A sailor aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan prepares to shift colors as the ship arrives in Kusadasi, Turkey, on Saturday Oct. 4, 2014. The Navy announced Friday that the Bataan Ready Group had left the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet area of responsibility and was on its way back to the United States.
NICHOLAS FRANK COTTONE/U.S. NAVY