JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Thousands of sailors and Marines from the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group and 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit headed out to sea Wednesday.
The USS New York and Iwo Jima left dock around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday for a six-month deployment.
Families were out at Mayport saying goodbyes to their loved ones. The six-month deployment is part of a regular rotation.
Zachary Bollinger was able to be with his daughter, Gabriella, when she turned 1 year old Sunday, but he knows he will miss other milestones during his half-year deployment.
“Having a daughter, it’s kind of a new feeling. Kind of sad leaving her behind. I’m going to miss some of the early stages of her life,” he said. “I’ve been trying to spend as much time with the family as possible, because you never know what’s going to happen over there.”
These forces will provide maritime security and crisis response, bringing a U.S. naval presence to Europe and the Middle East. A total of 4,500 sailors and marines have been preparing for this day by going through different exercises and training since last summer.
Navy Capt. Jack Killman says this training has made them a stronger and more effective team.
"...We look forward to providing military commanders a versatile, amphibious presence able to accomplish a variety of missions at anytime and anywhere," said Capt. Killman.
The Iwo Jima ARG embarks the 26th MEU and consists of the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), the amphibious transport dock ship USS New York (LPD 21), the dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51), Fleet Surgical Team (FST) 4 and FST-8, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28, Tactical Air Control Squadron 22, components of Naval Beach Group 2 and the embarked staff of Amphibious Squadron 4.
The men and women on board the USS New York have been training for months for anything they may encounter as they head to the 5th and 6th fleets, which cruise the waters off Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
Leaders on the USS Iwo Jima said they have ultimate confidence in the crew as they get underway.
“When you see that look in their eyes, they are confident, and that’s important,” U.S. Marine Corps Col. Farrell Sullivan said. “It’s important to be confident in the unit, but the individual has got to be confident in themselves. If someone wasn’t, we wouldn’t be taking them with us.”
The captain of the USS Iwo Jima said bringing everyone back safe and healthy is the ultimate goal.
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