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USS Wasp joins 7th Fleet after wrapping up relief efforts in Caribbean

The USS Wasp (U.S. Navy)

The USS Wasp entered the 7th Fleet’s operations area Saturday, moving closer to its new homeport in Japan.

Navy officials announced that the amphibious-assault ship will soon pull into Sasebo Naval Base — an arrival that was delayed after the Wasp was diverted to the Caribbean in September to assist with disaster-relief efforts.

The Wasp is joining the Navy’s 7th Fleet as its forward-deployed amphibious-assault ship and will serve as the flag ship of the fleet’s amphibious forces. It’s replacing the USS Bonhomme Richard, which has been homeported in Sasebo since April 2012. The bulk of the ships in 7th Fleet’s amphibious force are based in Sasebo.

The ship departed Naval Station Norfolk, Va., last August and was en route to Japan when it was diverted to the Caribbean to assist with relief efforts in U.S. Virgin Islands and Dominica after Hurricane Irma. The Wasp was then tapped to provide aid to Puerto Rico after the island was struck by the Category 5 Hurricane Maria.

Aircraft aboard the Wasp flew 108 missions in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, totaling 385 hours of flight time and moving 1,129 passengers along with 26,720 pounds of equipment and 1,718,200 pounds of various logistical support items, including 328,100 pounds of food and water, a Navy statement said.

In October, the ship resumed its voyage to Japan, with stops in Brazil and Hawaii along the way. The Wasp also conducted drills during the transit that covered damage control, combat systems, aviation and casualty response, the Navy said.

The Wasp brings new capabilities to 7th Fleet, and can support the next-generation F-35B Lightning II fighter, which is capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings. The stealth jets are flown by Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, which arrived last year at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.

“This move ensures that our most technologically-advanced air warfare platforms are forward deployed,” Capt. Andrew Smith, the Wasp’s commander, said in a previous statement.

The Wasp typically includes a crew of about 1,000 sailors and can embark more than 1,600 Marines. The 844-foot flattop ship employs 31 aircraft, as well as Marine amphibious craft out of its well deck.

The Bonhomme Richard will remain in Sasebo along with the Wasp for an undetermined period in 2018 before heading to its new home in San Diego, where it will undergo maintenance and upgrades.

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