Sunday, April 3, 2011

Operation Tomodachi Update

Since my own role as a staffer in the Fleet Command Center is pretty unexciting, I figured I'd pirate a bunch of pictures from the 7th Fleet Public Affairs Office and do a quick write-up on what's been going on since I arrived in theater.

With the initial rush of rescue work done and the beginnings of cleanup underway in many port towns in NE Japan, the main focus of effort when I got here was the delivery of Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief ("HADR" in military lexicon, pronounced "Hay-der" if you please) supplies to those folks in remote communities and islands which were cut off by tsunami damage.

The main delivery platform for this type of mission?  Helicopters.  Specifically, Navy and Marine Corps helicopters based aboard ships at sea and the few US air bases scattered across Japan.

Here's a winning shot of one of our CH-53's (usually configured to tow equipment to disable sea mines) delivering HADR supplies into coastal Japan:

After any mission into the "warm" zone, everything gets tested for radioactive contamination:

The helos aren't the only assets shouldering the workload though.  While they've been great for getting clean water, food, medical supplies, and warm blankets and clothing into the affected area, they are less great at moving heavier equipment.  For that, we've been using amphibious landing craft to help the Japanese authorities re-establish vital infrastructure wherever we can.

Here's a Landing Craft, Utility, (LCU) from USS ESSEX delivering utility repair vehicles to O Shima Island:

If you're unfamiliar with LCUs, these are general-purpose landing craft that are designed to move large amounts of marines and equipment to the beach in the course of an amphibious invasion.  They can carry as many as three M1A1 Abrams tanks or something like 450 combat-ready infantrymen all at once.

If you're unfamiliar with O Shima Island, right now it looks about like this:

To help with the cleanup efforts, the USS ESSEX also landed a few hundred sailors and marines to do a massive debris removal project, clearing away obstructions from the roads and whatnot.  They've got quite a job ahead of them.

Meanwhile, navy divers aboard USNS SAFEGUARD have been moved from port to port, helping with obstruction removal and clearing channels in order to allow ships to come alongside and help the Japanese economy begin its recovery.  Here's a shot of the SAFEGUARD during survey operations in the port of Miyako:

Since the HADR supplies are mostly coming from helicopters and the helicopters are largely coming from ships, something needs to be done to make sure the ships don't run out of HADR supplies.  This is where the logistics support ships come in.  These are massive supply ships that have been rotating between ports and the fleet operating area non-stop throughout Operation Tomodachi.  When they arrive in the vicinity of the fleet, ships will take turns approaching the supply ships and replenishing their stores of HADR supplies as well as topping off their fuel tanks (for both ship fuel and helicopter fuel) so they can remain on station to carry out their missions.

Here's a shot of USS SHILOH (a cruiser) making her approach to USNS PECOS (an oiler) prior to beginning underway replenishment:

Here the amphibious landing ship USS TORTUGA alongside another oiler, the USNS RAPPAHANNOCK:

Once the ships are close enough to each other, they begin transferring supplies using helicopters as well as connected high-lines like so:

In addition to the HADR mission, port clearance, and supporting search and rescue operations, the US Navy has also had a minor role in controlling the damage at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant (potentially the deadliest part of the crisis).  The main concern has been finding a way to cool down  the damaged reactors at the plant to prevent a total meltdown which could cause radioactive contamination to spew out in much more dangerous levels than the minor contamination we've seen so far.

For the Navy's part, we've sent a pair of barges with a combined capacity of 500,000 gallons of freshwater to provide additional cooling water for the plant.  Here's a shot of the first water barge being pushed out of Yokosuka enroute to Fukushima:

There's still a lot of other work going on, but the operation is definitely winding down. Still, we've definitely been making an impact and the locals seem grateful.

Here's a shot of a makeshift landing zone that one of our helo crews found:
Not the "Thank you USA" written in the sand to the left of the landing pad.

Here's another one, snapped by a helo crew from the USS PREBLE:

It's nice to be noticed.


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