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Petty Officer 1st Class Areseli Morales, a plane shooter, directs the Marine pilot of an AV-8B Harrier from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit preparing to launch from the flight deck of the USS Essex, Oct. 13, 2015.

Petty Officer 1st Class Areseli Morales, a plane shooter, directs the Marine pilot of an AV-8B Harrier from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit preparing to launch from the flight deck of the USS Essex, Oct. 13, 2015. (Chris Church/Stars and Stripes)

Petty Officer 1st Class Areseli Morales, a plane shooter, directs the Marine pilot of an AV-8B Harrier from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit preparing to launch from the flight deck of the USS Essex, Oct. 13, 2015.

Petty Officer 1st Class Areseli Morales, a plane shooter, directs the Marine pilot of an AV-8B Harrier from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit preparing to launch from the flight deck of the USS Essex, Oct. 13, 2015. (Chris Church/Stars and Stripes)

Navy Airman David Dorsaima, a tote board operator, gets out of the way  after showing the Marine pilot of an AV-8B Harrier from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit the specifications the aircraft is required to conform to prior to launching off the flight deck of the USS Essex, Oct. 13, 2015.

Navy Airman David Dorsaima, a tote board operator, gets out of the way after showing the Marine pilot of an AV-8B Harrier from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit the specifications the aircraft is required to conform to prior to launching off the flight deck of the USS Essex, Oct. 13, 2015. (Chris Church/Stars and Stripes)

The multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Essex, the flagship of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group, sails through the Persian Gulf Oct. 14, 2015.

The multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Essex, the flagship of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group, sails through the Persian Gulf Oct. 14, 2015. (Chris Church/Stars and Stripes)

The flight deck crew of the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Essex prepares to tow an MH-60 Seahawk on Oct. 13, 2015.

The flight deck crew of the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Essex prepares to tow an MH-60 Seahawk on Oct. 13, 2015. (Chris Church/Stars and Stripes)

An AV-8B Harrier from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit launches off of the flight deck of the USS Essex, Oct. 13, 2015.

An AV-8B Harrier from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit launches off of the flight deck of the USS Essex, Oct. 13, 2015. (Chris Church/Stars and Stripes)

Cpl. AJ Bechtel, an MV-22 Osprey crew chief, looks out at the flight deck of the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Essex prior to taking off Oct. 14, 2015.

Cpl. AJ Bechtel, an MV-22 Osprey crew chief, looks out at the flight deck of the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Essex prior to taking off Oct. 14, 2015. (Chris Church/Stars and Stripes)

The flight deck crew of the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Essex helps turn and push an AV-8B harrier belonging to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit into position prior to launching Oct. 13, 2015.

The flight deck crew of the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Essex helps turn and push an AV-8B harrier belonging to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit into position prior to launching Oct. 13, 2015. (Chris Church/Stars and Stripes)

MANAMA, Bahrain — The Essex Amphibious Ready Group and 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit departed the 5th Fleet area of responsibility Sunday en route to the Pacific, to be replaced by the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group and the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Since arriving in June, the Essex group — the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Essex, the amphibious transport dock USS Anchorage and the amphibious dock landing ship USS Rushmore — has spread its assets across the region.

During one six-week period, personnel from the group were deployed to 11 countries, and the three ships were separately in the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Aden and off the Kenyan coast, said Lt. Col. Steve Kahn, the operations officer for the Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is attached to the ready group.

In addition to launching strikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, the Essex group conducted joint operations and exercises with coalition partners, the Navy said.

The region is a vital transit route for one-fifth of the world’s oil supply. Maritime operations have picked up pace over the past year, with U.S. ships heavily involved in the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State and monitoring moves by Iran and the situation in war-wracked Yemen.

Although the Essex group was spread out at times, the group’s commanding officer said in a recent interview that the group could converge quickly if needed.

“There is no other nation in the world that could aggregate as much combat power as we can aggregate in as little time,” Capt. Clint Carroll said.

The Essex group is scheduled to return to its home port in San Diego in December after continuing operations with the U.S. 7th Fleet in the Pacific. The Kearsarge group arrived Saturday.

church.chris@stripes.comTwitter: @CChurchStripes

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