USS Ashland steams for new homeport in San Diego after nearly a decade in Japan
Stars and Stripes March 24, 2023
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — The amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland, after nearly 10 years in Japan, departed Wednesday for Naval Base San Diego, its new homeport, according to a Navy news release.
The Ashland arrived in August 2013 at Sasebo, about 50 miles north of Nagasaki on Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands.
At Sasebo, the Ashland was part of the America Amphibious Ready Group along with the amphibious assault ship USS America and the amphibious transport dock USS Green Bay.
The Navy made no announcement on a replacement for the Ashland as it steamed away.
“At this time, we have no information that we are prepared to release yet,” Sasebo spokesman Aki Nichols told Stars and Stripes by phone on Friday.
The National Defense Authorization Act mandates that U.S. Navy ships may not deploy to Japan for more than 10 years, making this departure a permanent change of station for the crew and their family members.
The Ashland, commissioned in May 1999, is the eighth and last vessel of the Whidbey Island class. That class was designed specifically to accommodate four air cushioned landing craft that can carry assaulting Marines and their equipment to amphibious landings, according to the Navy.
The Ashland carries a ship’s company of 419 officers and crew and a complement of 402 Marines, with room for another 102.
The Ashland’s skipper, Cmdr. Dirk Sonnenberg, had parting words for Sasebo.
“I can't thank the wonderful city of Sasebo enough for all their warm hospitality,” he said in Wednesday’s release. “I've done multiple tours in Japan, but Sasebo will always be special to me as the warmest and most welcoming city to be hosted at.”
During its time in Japan the Ashland participated in numerous exercises and operations, including Iron Fist, Balikatan, Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training and Cobra Gold. The crew also provided humanitarian assistance and disaster response when a typhoon struck Saipan in 2015 and a super typhoon hit Tinian in 2018.
The Navy expects the ship to arrive in San Diego around mid-spring.