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SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — The Essex Amphibious Ready Group, along with about 1,900 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit members, arrived late last week in Sasebo for a few days of rest and relaxation.

The Essex ARG includes the USS Essex, USS Fort McHenry, USS Juneau and USS Harpers Ferry.

Sasebo’s installation is small, with crowded facilities when most of the ships are in port. Add 1,900 Marines, and there are swarms of people everywhere.

Using one of dozens of specially installed telephones under a tent near a Navy Exchange building, one 31st MEU member expressed appreciation to the base for setting up the telephone stations.

“It’s great that they would do this because it saves us so much time. Otherwise we’d be standing in long lines at the few pay phones around here,” said Lance Cpl. James Craig.

Also taking advantage of the telephones was Pfc. Pedro Contreras, who was busy with urgent business on the other side of the world.

“I’m making sure to call all my girls … girlfriends, back home,” said Contreras.

During the ARG’s most recent cruise, the ships traveled to the island of Iwo Jima to participate in the 58th Anniversary of The Battle of Iwo Jima Commemoration, held March 12. The battle, lasting from Feb. 19 through March 26, 1945, claimed about 6,000 Marine lives and wounded more than 17,000.

While operating off the coast, the ships’ crewmembers had the rare opportunity to go ashore and explore the historic island.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience … It was very eye-opening to imagine how fierce the fighting was for such a small island,” Petty Officer 3rd Class Jesse Miskovsky, a mess specialist on the Fort McHenry, said in the Amphibious Group ONE report.

Those ships left Iwo Jima March 14, with Harpers Ferry returning to Sasebo at about the same time. The other three ships sailed to Pohang, South Korea, for a short port call.

Afterward, the Essex, Fort McHenry and Juneau participated in the annual Foal Eagle exercise with U.S. and South Korean military forces.

After the exercise, sailors and Marines welcomed a brief break at White Beach, Okinawa, on March 28. “White Beach is kind of like our second home because we stop here before and after every underway to pick up and drop off the Marines,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Alan Cashier, a Fort McHenry yeoman.

The Essex ARG is expected to remain in Sasebo only a few days before getting underway again. Its destination is unclear; Lt. j.g. Jeral Dorsey, spokesman for Amphibious Group ONE, said it’s Navy policy not to discuss future ship movements or operations.

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