By Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 7 Public Affairs
The Navy’s newest amphibious assault ship joined forces with the Navy’s oldest active warship to conduct Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) operations in the Philippine Sea, Jan. 25-29.USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) integrated with the America ESG for the first time since amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) joined the forward-deployed naval force in December relieving USS Wasp (LHD 1) as the flagship for ESG 7.While operating together America ESG and Blue Ridge practiced defensive operations using aircraft and surface ships to protect high value units. They also practiced integrated command and control and close tactical maneuvering.“Joining forces with Seventh Fleet's Flagship USS Blue Ridge and the America Expeditionary Strike Group showcases the Navy-Marine Corps Team's ability to come together as an integrated, combat ready force anywhere in the world,” said Rear Adm. Fred Kacher, commander of ESG 7. “This kind of flexibility and lethality where Sailors and Marines work closely together to accomplish a variety of missions highlights the power and versatility of naval integration.”During the event, Vice Adm. Bill Merz, commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, took the opportunity to visit America while his flagship sailed with the ESG.“I’d like to congratulate you on a tremendous transition from the US to forward-deployed naval forces. Many of us have been through homeport shifts, and they’re never easy,” said Merz. “You all picked up quickly, and it’s great to see you out at sea. I look forward to working with you over the next year.”During his visit, Merz toured the ship, became familiar with the capabilities of the America-class and viewed an F-35B Lightning II aircraft from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) before speaking to the crew over the ship’s announcing system.“Walking around here, I see some amazing capability, but the most amazing piece of this ship is the crew and MEU onboard,” said Merz. “Keep up the great work; we’re all counting on you.”Operating in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations, the America Expeditionary Strike Group, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit team is comprised of USS America, USS Green Bay (LPD 20), USS Germantown (LSD 42) and a Marine Air-Ground Task Force with a combined total of 4,500 Sailors and Marines who can conduct missions across the full spectrum of military operations.