NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- The amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima left Norfolk on Saturday, headed to Haiti to support disaster relief efforts there in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.
More than 500 Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the ship will ultimately relieve the USS Mesa Verde, which is scheduled to arrive in Haiti on Sunday; Navy officials say.
The USS Iwo Jima is among the largest amphibious ships in the world and will reportedly bring enhanced capabilities to the relief effort. Resources aboard the USS Mesa Verde; including aircraft, landing craft, Marines, and Navy and Marine Corps command, will will join Iwo Jima and remain in Haiti to support relief efforts.
Navy officials say over 225 pallets of supplies, including 800 cases of bottled water, were loaded on the USS Iwo Jima in preparation of the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Four additional aircraft and two landing craft air air cushion hovercrafts were also put on board.
USS Iwo Jima Commanding Officer Captain James Midkiff applauded the Sailor's and Marines' ability to load the ship in a swift manner and be ready to help those in need, even when their own families were dealing with Hurricane Matthew at the ship's homeport of Mayport, Fla.
"Events like this exemplify the talent and strengths of our military services and how flexible and responsive we can be in a time of crisis" said Midkiff. "Everything we have done since departing our homeport is designed to get ready and provide support to those in need, and I think we have done exactly that. We are prepared and honored to have the opportunity to help out our friends and neighbors in the western hemisphere."
The airlift and transport capabilities of amphibious ships make them uniquely suited to support the delivery and distribution of much-needed relief supplies, as well as transport humanitarian assistance personnel in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster, the Navy says.
"The same capabilities that make us a dominant military force also allow us the ability to provide critically-needed assistance and humanitarian aid," said Lt. Col. Christopher D. Hafer, commanding officer of Combat Logistics Battalion 24, speaking on behalf of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Force. "We are able to work alongside the various U.S. government agencies experienced in providing disaster relief to ensure relief supplies, equipment and manpower get to where they are most needed."
During relief operations, embarked landing craft are used to transport equipment and aid to populated areas inaccessible by land.