USS IWO JIMA, At Sea (NNS) -- The crew of amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) marked the 11th anniversary of the ship's commissioning with a celebratory meal and cake-cutting, June 30.
Since the 2001 commissioning, Iwo Jima has assumed a unique personality by building upon the will, spirit, and dedication of those who served on the first amphibious assault ship, USS Iwo Jima (LPH 2), and those who fought gallantly during the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.
"It is an incredible privilege to serve with this crew. They are cut from the same cloth as those for whom this ship was named, and filled with the same sense of honor and sacrifice that motivated those Marines and Sailors 67 years ago," said Capt. Grady Banister, Iwo Jima's commanding officer. "It's reflected in the unequalled state of operational and material readiness to do the nation's tough jobs the crew maintains every single day."
Iwo Jima was named for the epic World War II battle in which the United States Marine Corps gained control of the tiny island of Iwo Jima from 20,000 determined Japanese defenders. In the struggle, 6,800 Americans were killed, making the battle one of the most savage and costly in the history of the Marine Corps. As observed by then Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, "Among the Americans who served on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue."
Nimitz's words were quoted during Iwo Jima's commissioning, and to this day are used in the ship's motto: "Uncommon Valor."
"I learned about the battle of Iwo Jima in boot camp, and feel honored to actually be on a ship that carries so much history for the Navy and Marine Corps," said Lance Cpl. Zachary Griffin, assigned to the embarked 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).
"I personally feel proud to have been given the opportunity to serve as a Marine aboard Iwo Jima, and follow in the footsteps of my fellow Marines who paid the ultimate sacrifice."
Iwo Jima's keel was laid in December 1997 at Ingalls Shipyard, Pascagoula, Miss. Iwo Jima was equipped to accommodate 1,086 Sailors and 1,897 Marines.
Following the March 2000 christening ceremony, the crew accompanied by more than 2,000 World War II veterans, many of whom were survivors of the Battle of Iwo Jima, made the ship's maiden voyage on June 23, 2001 to the ship's commissioning location of Pensacola, Fla.
Together with the 26th MEU, Iwo Jima completed her maiden, eight-month deployment in 2003. During those 45,000 nautical miles, she directly supported Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and spearheaded a peace keeping mission off the coast of Liberia.
Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the ship was at the center of Joint Task Force Katrina, and led recovery and assistance efforts in the battered Mississippi cities of Biloxi, Gulfport, and New Orleans. Iwo Jima also served as President George W. Bush's flagship during Katrina operations, and was the second ship presented with the flag of the President of the United States.
In 2010, the ship departed on a four-month deployment for a humanitarian mission, Continuing Promise 2010, in Central and South America. During those months, the ship provided support to eight partner nations, and sent a strong message of cooperation and commitment to the entire region.
"When I received my orders in 2009, my sponsor told me the ship was busy and always ready to perform any task given at a moment's notice," said Operations Specialist 2nd Class Christopher Taylor. "I feel very proud to be a part of this ship, especially when I was able to show it off during fleet weeks."
Iwo Jima served as flagship for numerous highly visible Navy Fleet Week events and received outstanding scores on all major command inspections and exercises. In recognition of the ship's performance, Iwo Jima was awarded her fourth Battle "E" award in 2011.
"Iwo Jima had and still has a reputation as the best ship on the waterfront and I wanted to be a part of that," said Banister.
Since commissioning, Iwo Jima has been homeported at Naval Station Norfolk, Va. and is scheduled for a homeport change to Naval Station Mayport, Fla., in 2014.
Iwo Jima and the embarked 24th MEU are currently deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.