ATLANTIC OCEAN -- USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) had eight sailors from the Italian Marina Militare set sail with the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group (KSGARG) March 11. The Italian team is accompanying their AV-8B Harrier II to Italy after completing a scheduled Preventative Maintenance Inspection (PMI) at Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, N.C.
"This is the first time one of the jets [turned in for maintenance] has been delivered from the States to Italy," said Italian Lt. Domenico Iovino, the pilot who will fly the jet off of Kearsarge. "We are the premiere crew, and I was excited about this mission because the first two Italian jets that were delivered to the United States were flown by U.S. Marine pilots." As Kearsarge enters the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility, and is within range of Italy, Iovino will fly to an Italian air station, marking the first time in history an Italian pilot has flown a jet off an American amphibious assault ship. According to the Italian sailors, flight deck operations on Italian and American ships are very similar except for one major factor. "The biggest difference to me is the ramp on the flight deck. This ship doesn't have one," said Iovino. "I'll have to tell you after I take off how that goes for me."
During the underway, the crew of Kearsarge provided education to the Italian sailors on how the U.S. Navy conducts business at sea. "It has only been a few days aboard and I'm amazed," said Iovino. "I'm amazed because from the number one person on the ship, the skipper, all the way down to the last seaman, everyone was friendly and helpful. I speak for my crew when I say, 'thank you' to everyone on the ship for their hospitality and their kindness." The KSGARG includes Amphibious Squadron 4 (PHIBRON), amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio (LPD 17), dock landing ship USS Carter Hall (LSD 50) and the embarked 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Kearsarge, homeported in Norfolk, Va., is on a scheduled deployment in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility.