Carrier group departs Thai coast; Marines assist in flood relief
By MATTHEW M. BURKE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 25, 2011
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — The George Washington Carrier Strike Group and other Navy assets have been released from the waters off Thailand where they were positioned to offer humanitarian assistance after the country was stricken by its worst flooding in decades, Navy officials said Tuesday.
The aircraft carrier USS George Washington and destroyers USS Dewey, USS Wayne E. Meyer, and USS Kidd had been in the area for port visits and exercises in Singapore and Cambodia when the order came Oct. 15 to head towards Thailand - still reeling from three months of heavy monsoon rains, Navy officials said.
Officials stressed the ships could be recalled to the area should the Thai government make a request for help, and U.S. personnel will continue to monitor the situation.
A 10-man Humanitarian Assistance Survey Team comprised of Marines from the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force on Okinawa is still on the ground and the guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin arrived for a port visit in Laem Chabang on Friday to participate in community service events, Marine and Navy officials said.
“The duration and extent of any U.S. support come from the assessment of the HAST, what the Government of Thailand requests through the U.S. Department of State, and what the U.S. military can actually provide based on legal authorities and funding,” said 7th Fleet spokesman Lt. Anthony Falvo in an email to Stars and Stripes. “The response efforts of the highly capable and competent Thai government and military have been sufficient in alleviating immediate concern.”
The Marines departed on Oct. 15 from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma for the Thai capital, Bangkok, at the request of the U.S. Embassy, said Marines spokesman 1st Lt. Justin Jacobs. The team of Marines brought thousands of sandbags and other supplies, and in addition to surveying the damage, have been helping with relief efforts in a limited capacity. There is no timetable for them to return to Okinawa, he said.
Various international media outlets are reporting that about 350 Thai people have been killed and thousands displaced by the flooding thus far. Many are struggling to survive in submerged towns.
Personnel Specialist 2nd Class Blanca Marin, of the guided missile destroyer USS Mustin, sits with members of the Royal Thai Navy and handles kits organized by the Princess Pa Foundation, Thai Red Cross Society, during a community event Sunday in Utapao. More than 40 sailors from Mustin helped members of the Royal Thai Armed Forces prepare more than 5,000 packages.
JENNIFER VILLALOVOS/U.S. NAVY