The recent deployment of USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) to Haiti for purposes of providing humanitarian assistance in the wake of Hurricane Matthew concluded with the ship’s return to her home port of Mayport, Florida this past Friday. It might seem odd to some people that Iwo Jima was sent on this mission. After all, this ship is designed to support a battalion of Marines as they storm ashore to kill bad guys and break their stuff.
Well, USS Iwo Jima can do that, and do that very well. She can carry about 2,000 Marines, along with some serious air power in the form of F-35B or AV-8B V/STOL multi-role aircraft and AH-1Z attack helicopters. The Marines can be brought ashore with V-22 Ospreys, CH-53E/K Super Stallions, MH-60S or UH-1 helicopters.
But that is a limited view. In fact, this deployment to Haiti is not the first humanitarian rodeo for USS Iwo Jima. In 2003, she provided relief to Liberians caught up in a civil war. In October, 2005, after Hurricane Katrina hit, USS Iwo Jima aided the citizens of New Orleans. During the 2006 Lebanon War, USS Iwo Jima evacuated American citizens. In 2010, USS Iwo Jima was ready to provide relief to Haiti when Tropical Storm Tomas threatened it.
Why so much involvement in these missions? When you look at the ship, it’s not hard to understand. This 40,530-ton ship has a huge flight deck capable of operating nine helicopters at once. It can hold about 42 helicopters at maximum capacity. That’s a lot of transportation assets – and a lot of space. These ships also carry some of the best hospitals afloat – able to hold as many as 600 patients, and with six operating rooms. Their well decks can carry three Landing Craft Air Cushions (LCACs), which can haul up to 75 tons of supplies across just about any beach in the world.
The Iwo Jima relieved USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19), a San Antonio-class landing platform dock (LPD), which has already been delivering relief supplies with elements of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The Mesa Verde operated CH-53E Super Stallion choppers, and can also carry landing craft and over 700 Marines. Mesa Verde could also carry MH-60S helicopters and V-22 Ospreys, and two LCACs. She also has tons of space for supplies and vehicles.
Oh, and if these ships can support 2,000 Marines for six months at a time – can you imagine the amount of relief supplies it can carry on its own? It’s no surprise that Iwo Jima, like the U.S. Navy’s other amphibious vessels, have been called on to provide humanitarian relief in the wake of a natural disaster. It’s an undocumented feature that has been in plain sight for a long time.