USS Iwo Jima returns home after Haiti relief effort

13News Now Mike Gooding has the story

NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- The USS Iwo Jima returned home to Norfolk on Monday, more than two weeks after the amphibious assault ship 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 were aboard the ship.

The USS Iwo Jima is among the largest amphibious ships in the world and its arrival in Haiti brought enhanced capabilities to the relief effort.

Navy officials say over 225 pallets of supplies, including 800 cases of bottled water, were loaded on the USS Iwo Jima before it left for Haiti on October 8th. Four additional aircraft and two landing craft air air cushion hovercrafts were also put on board.

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."

Typically, the Navy is all about war-fighting.  Joint Task Force Matthew was a different kind of battle--one with the clock--to try to help the citizens of Haiti as fast as possible aster Category Four Hurricane Matthew ripped through their island nation.

The Navy and Marine Corps team from the USS Iwo Jims delivered more than 600,000 pounds of relief supplies, directly helping an estimated 100,000 Haitians.

"I flew on a couple of missions myself to check and see how things were going," said RADM Roy Kitchner of Expeditionary Strike Group Two. "And the Haitian people, as that relief came across, very thankful, very grateful, and they won't forget the sailors and Marines that delivered that stuff."

Colonel Michael Cuccio of Expeditionary Strike Group Two agreed. "It is very rewarding," he said. "As you know the Navy and Marine Corps train to a lot of different capability sets. But one of those is humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.  And it is very rewarding. marines and sailors feel very good about themselves when they return from a mission like this."

Part of the challenge was reaching the most impacted areas from the storm, which were remote. Overall, joint task Force Matthew conducted more than 400 hours of flight operations.

it was a very humbling experience for sure,"  said    MH-60 Nighthawk pilot, Lt Jess Hayter of Norfolk-based HSC-28,"The devastation was incredible. So definitely a humbling experience for us."

She said she was glad to do her part.

"It was amazing that was the only word I could think to describe it," the Naval Academy graduate said., "Some of the most rewarding flying that I've gotten to do personally. So it was awesome."

PHOTOS: USS Iwo Jima heads to Haiti


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