MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- After one hundred and seventy one days at sea, Sailors aboard the dock landing ship Oak Hill (LSD 51), donned their dress whites and manned the rails to wave a glorious hello to friends and family gathered as they arrived home from their six-month Mediterranean deployment.
Oak Hill departed Little Creek on February 18, as part of the Wasp
Amphibious Readiness Group (Wasp ARG). USS Oak Hill (LSD 51), along with USS Trenton (LPD 14) and the Flagship, USS Wasp (LHD 1), relieved The Multi-Purpose Amphibious Assault Ship Bataan (LHD 5), Amphibious Transport Dock Shreveport (LPD 12) and Dock Landing Ship Whidbey Island (LSD 41). After embarking elements of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) and their equipment in Morehead City, North Carolina, Oak Hill began the long transit across the Atlantic and on March 4, assumed her place on station in the Mediterranean. So began Oak Hill's second Mediterranean deployment since her commissioning in June 1996.
While deployed Oak Hill's crew consisted of 24 officers, 26 chief petty officers and 276 enlisted. In addition to Oak Hill's permanent party, elements of the 24th MEU (Special Operations Capable), Assault Craft Unit 4 and Beach master Unit Two personnel, Oak Hill's total personnel numbered nearly 700. Supplementing Oak Hill's already large crew were more than 100 midshipmen from various colleges and the U.S. Naval Academy, aboard as part of their summer training cruise.
After officially turning over with the Bataan ARG, Oak Hill charged ahead, completing numerous operations, as well as, constant ship-wide training evolutions. Between all the work, Sailors and Marines aboard
Oak Hill enjoyed liberty in six different countries and more than nine Mediterranean cities. Liberty ports included: Naval Station Rota, Spain; Birndisi, Italy; Split, Croatia; Rhodes, Greece; Malaga, Spain; Civitavecchia, Italy; Toulon, France; Naples, Italy; and Haifa, Israel.
The Navy and Marine Corps team on Oak Hill did their part and cemented their position as a strong naval presence ready at a moment's notice. The tip of the spear was kept sharp by participating in Exercises Spanish PHIBLEX, Dynamic Response, Dynamic Mix and supporting 24th MEU personnel during their final exercise, Noble Shirley. In addition to scheduled exercises, several port visits afforded Oak Hill the opportunity to perform some necessary maintenance and upkeep.
With little time to sit still during their six months at sea, the crew, eager to get involved with the cities they saw, took time out to show off their ship.
In Split, Croatia, Oak Hill stood out as the largest ship in any class to visit the city since it gained independence in 1991. As the first amphibious ship to visit the city, Oak Hill also offered Split its first large-scale contact with U.S. Fleet Marine Forces with its embarked elements of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable). Sailors from The Croatian Navy were also invited aboard to tour the ship and meet Oak Hill Sailors. In turn, several crewmembers got the chance to visit a Croatian Naval
Base and inspect their still-growing fleet. Public tours opened Oak
Hill up to more than 2,500 citizens of split, letting the crew does what they do best: show their pride.
In Toulon, France, Oak Hill hosted more than 60 children for "A Day of Hope," which brought children from neighboring Marseille aboard to tour the ship and learn about Sailors and Marines. Other Sailors traveled to a nearby retirement home to help renovate rooms and refurbish aging statues.
In Haifa, Israel, Oak Hill again dedicated countless hours to the needy and visited with local families to learn as much as they could about the country during their brief visit.
With all this activity you'd think Oak Hill Sailors didn't have much time to work on their personal goals. Think again. In their six-months at sea Oak Hill qualified more than forty-five enlisted Surface Warfare specialists and re-qualified eleven. Four new
Surface Warfare officers took their place on the bridge. Twenty-nine
Sailors decided to stay Navy and re-enlisted. Thirty-eight Sailors were promoted and more than eighty individual awards were handed out. Oak Hill's first enlisted sailor ever qualified as officer of the deck underway. That's just a small part of the things Oak Hill accomplished this deployment. Many other personal goals were realized: dozens of sailors edged closer to completing their degrees through the Navy College Program, while many more completed personal qualification standards for advanced watch stations.
Oak Hill's Commanding Officer, CMDR Jonathan Bess, said he knew his crew had what it took to make this deployment standout before they ever left.
"Working on the principle of continuous improvement the entire crew has performed expertly to ensure OakHill was fully mission ready throughout the deployment. Our goals of professional advancement and getting out to see the world were met beyond our initial expectations. I could not be more proud of the entire crew." all told, USS Oak Hill (LSD 51), her officers and crew, after one-hundred and seventy-one days at sea met every challenge placed upon them, excelled at their duties and saw a little bit of the world to boot.
With this deployment behind them, Oak Hill sailors can finally enjoy some much sought after liberty...at home.