October 29, 2005:
Over the past ten months, the United States Navy's amphibious vessels have been getting quite a workout - not for assaults, but in aiding the victims of various natural disasters (the December 2004 tsunami in Indonesia and Hurricane Katrina in September being the two major incidents). Currently, the Navy is using three amphibious vessels for relief operations for Hurricane Wilma.
Amphibious vessels have many of the characteristics that can be very useful in disaster relief. For one thing, they have the ability to berth a large number of Marines for a six-month deployment. This berthing space can be used to shelter evacuees for a short period of time. They also can carry lots of things that will be needed for hurricane relief - helicopters for search and rescue missions, landing craft to land supplies and vehicles, and lots of supplies, like Meals Ready to Eat (to feed survivors). Vessels like the USS Wasp also tend to have the best hospitals afloat outside the Mercy-class hospital ships in terms of capacity (up to 600 patients if berthing space is used, and six operating rooms). The USS Wasp and her sisters based in Virginia are tied as the fourth-largest hospital in the state of Virginia.
The ships being readied as a response to Hurricane Wilma are based out of Norfolk. In addition to the USS Wasp, the LPDs Nashville and Trenton are also being loaded up with humanitarian relief supplies and are going to deploy to the area. These are older ships (Nashville was commissioned in 1970, and Trenton in 1971), and will be replaced by the San Antonio-class vessels.
The navy's amphibious assault ships have proven to be very capable in carrying out missions of mercy. They have assisted thousands of victims in the past year. In the future, amphibious vessels will continue to be sent on these missions, serving as angels of mercy. - Harold C. Hutchison (firstname.lastname@example.org)