U.S. Navy's longest cruise since 1972

On 23 March 2011 amphibious assult ship USS Bataan left its homeport Norfolk Naval Dockyard, Virginia, USA for which would turn out to be the longest cruise for a U.S. Navy ship since 1972. 
Purpose: take part in Operation Odyssey Dawn, code name for the U.S. participation in operations in Libya, to support the rebels in this North African state. After completing this assignment the Bataan group continued on through the Suez Canal to the Arabian Sea. From there missions were flown to Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom). USS Bataan also participated in Operation Unified Protector. Recce Reporter Henk de Ridder was invited to sail along from January 12 to 14th, 2012.

Impressive arsenal flying material
On board USS Bataan (LHD-5) were 1,500 men and women of the U.S. Navy and 1,800 marines. USS Bataan is part of an Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG). The two other ships of the Bataan Readiness Group are the USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19) -with on board CH-53E’s- and USS Whidbey Island (LSD-41), a supply ship. Under command of VMM 263 an impressive arsenal flying equipment is aboard USS Bataan: MV-22B Osprey's, AV-8 Harrier IIs, AH-1W Cobra’s, UH-1N Huey's and MH-60S Knight Hawks.

Various roles
USS Bataan belongs to the Wasp class and is an amphibious assult ship. On board are two Landing Craft Utilities (LCU's). These landing crafts put marines ashore, when transport by Osprey's is no option. In addition, these landing craft can take vehicles along. The LCU's sail on and off at the back of USS Bataan.

USS Bataan has also the function of hospital ship. Below the flight deck are areas that a hospital from a medium sized city would envy: it is possible to operate three operating rooms and an intensive care unit. On board are also a recovery room, ward, laboratory, storage room for blood and a dentist. Surgeons and anesthetists are not normally on board, but are flown in when needed. The vessel was launched after the Haiti earthquake (2010) and after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans (2007). Besides the specific Navy hospital ships, USS Bataan has the largest capacity of hospital beds from all U.S. Navy ships.

Flight operations
Flight operations on 13 January 2012 started around 15:00 hours. First a MH-60S chose airspace, then two Osprey's, an AH-1 and a UH-1. The AH-1 and UH-1 practiced approaches. Three Harriers departed as the last participants that afternoon.  On board of USS Bataan are two Harrier types: AV-8+ with a radar nose and the AV-8B Night Attack (NA) with a television camera in the nose. The AV-8B (NA)'s will be adjusted in the future: the television goes out and a radar will be installed in its place. After this modification the Harrier weighs 500 kg more!

Longest cruise
On 3 February 2012 USS Bataan returned to the port of Norfolk terminating a 10½-month cruise. During this cruise it sailed 55,000 nautical miles (which is more than 2½ times around the earth) and 5,305 hours were flown. It became the longest cruise since 1972, when USS Forrestal set sail to the coast of Vietnam.

‘Great professionalism and dedication’
Henk de Ridder: "For me this visit to USS Bataan was an unforgettable experience. It is fascinating to see how the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marines operate. The professionalism and dedication are great. After 9 months the crew made still an energetic impression. There was undoubtedly the desire to go home because during the cruise 111 babies were born at home, but the operations ran as if the crew had left Norfolk just yesterday."

This story was published in the December 2012 issue of Full Stop Magazine