The amphibious assault ship Bataan, here steaming with the amphibious transport dock Mesa Verde in April, deployed March 23 for what will be the longest deployment in years. (MC2 Julio Rivera / Navy)
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The Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit are slowly headed home. The Navy announced Saturday that the units were relieved of their 5th Fleet duties Jan. 5, paving the way for a February return to their respective East Coast ports after an extraordinarily long deployment.
When they arrive at a yet-to-be-announced date, the 4,000 sailors and Marines aboard the amphibious assault ship Bataan, the amphibious transport dock ship Mesa Verde and dock landing ship Whidbey Island will have been gone 10˝ months.
While Navy deployments have routinely exceeded seven months over the past five years — 10 carrier strike groups or amphibious groups have done so — the Bataan deployment is the longest in recent memory.
Officials are acknowledging the strain.
"This has been an epic deployment," said Marine Corps Col. Eric Steidl, the 22nd MEU commanding officer, in a story posted online by Navy public affairs. "Not just in terms of duration, but for flexibility and adaptability the amphibious forces provide the combatant commander."
"I am extremely proud of these outstanding sailors and Marines and their dedication to mission and sustained support during these past several months," said Capt. Steve Yoder, commander, Amphibious Squadron 6. "Regardless of the task assigned, they performed all duties with great professionalism, pride, and integrity."
The sailors and Marines were deployed ahead of schedule March 23 to support "U.S. and international contingency planning associated with the crisis in Libya," the Navy said. Specifically, the Bataan group was being sent early to relieve the Kearsarge ARG. That group, which itself deployed early, in August 2010, was heavily involved in the Libya operation, which ultimately helped drive strongman Moammar Gadhafi from power.
Deployments are generally lengthening in response to other factors, including overseas combatant command demand for naval forces and a fleet being squeezed by maintenance requirements and decommissionings, the Navy and other sources say.
The Navy did not acknowledge the full length of the Bataan deployment until questioned in mid-November by Navy Times. The Bataan group's deployment will exceed that of the Kearsarge ARG by nearly 60 days.