Ship’s History: USS Kearsarge (LHD 3)
USS KEARSARGE (LHD 3) is the fourth ship in the history of the U.S. Navy named for Kearsarge Mountain in New Hampshire. Previous ships named KEARSARGE include a Civil War-era sloop of war famous for defeating CSS ALABAMA; a turn-of-the-century battleship that sailed as part of President Theodore Roosevelt’s “Great White Fleet;” and an aircraft carrier, known internationally for its part in the Project Mercury space program. KEARSARGE is only one of two United States ship names mandated by Congress to be used more than once.
USS KEARSARGE is the third ship of the Wasp class multipurpose amphibious assault ships. Her primary mission is the embarkation, deployment, landing and support of a Marine landing force.
USS KEARSARGE and her sister ships are the first ships specifically designed to accommodate Air Cushion Landing Craft (LCAC) for fast troop movement over the beach and Harrier II (AV-8B) V/STOL (Vertical/Short Take Off and Landing) jets, which provide close-in air support for the assault force.
Launched on March 26, 1992, she was christened KEARSARGE on Saturday, May 16, 1992, at Ingalls Shipbuilding by Mrs. Alma Powell, wife of General Colin L. Powell, USA former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State. USS KEARSARGE joined the fleet October 16, 1993 during commissioning ceremonies in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and is home ported in Norfolk, Virginia.
KEARSARGE departed for her maiden deployment on March 22, 1995. KEARSARGE served as the primary platform for the rescue of Air Force Captain Scott O’Grady after he was shot down over Bosnia.
After the deployment, KEARSARGE served as the primary Navy unit participating in the 1995 New York City Veteran’s Day activities, which marked our nation’s final tribute to the 50th Anniversary of the end of World War II.
KEARSARGE began her second deployment on April 15, 1997. She relieved USS Nassau (LHA 4) on station off the coast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) in support of Operation Guardian Retrieval on May 2, 1997. KEARSARGE was later directed to Freetown, Sierra Leone to conduct Noncombatant Evacuation Operations in support of Operation Noble Obelisk. On May 31, she began evacuating American citizens and foreign nationals from Sierra Leone. During the four-day operation, KEARSARGE evacuated more than 2,500 Americans and foreign nationals from more than 40 countries.
On April 17, 1999, KEARSARGE embarked on its third deployment. Performing a turnover with the NASSAU ARG while underway, KEARSARGE made best speed to the Adriatic Sea where she performed various operations off the coast of Kosovo, including Operation Noble Anvil/Allied Force and establishment of Camp Hope in Fier, Albania. On June 7, Operation Joint Guardian began. The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Special Operations Capable (SOC), was offloaded June 10 across Litokhoron Beach, Greece, for movement to Skopje, Macedonia. These U.S. Marines were the first peacekeeping force to enter Kosovo. Immediately following, KEARSARGE was ordered to Izmit, Turkey to provide support after the nation experienced a devastating earthquake that killed 12,000 people.
On April 25, 2001, KEARSARGE began its fourth deployment, where the ship hosted the annual USO Gala in Naples, Italy, participated in several large amphibious operations (Trident D’Or, Alexander the Great and Albanian PHIBLIEX), and provided support to the President of the United States during the G8 Summit in Genoa, Italy. On September 11, 2001, KEARSARGE was underway in the Mediterranean Sea as the World Trade Centers and Pentagon were attacked by terrorists. During this deployment, KEARSARGE visited 12 ports in seven different countries. KEARSARGE returned home on October 15, 2001.
On January 8, 2002, KEARSARGE entered Norfolk Naval Shipyard for a four-month Planned Maintenance Availability that ended on April 25th that year. In July, KEARSARGE made a port visit to Boston to participate in the annual Harborfest celebration over the 4th of July. On October 10th, KEARSARGE participated in a unique exercise in the Gulf of Mexico to prove a new capability of the multipurpose amphibious assault ship – to support mine sweeping capabilities.
On January 12, 2003, with only 72 hours notice, KEARSARGE was deployed, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. It was the ship’s fifth deployment. Serving as the Flagship for Rear Admiral Nowakowski, Commander, Amphibious Task Force East, and Brigadier General Richard Natonski, Commanding General Second Marine Expeditionary Brigade (2D MEB) and Landing Force East, KEARSARGE carried more than 1,700 Marines from the 2D MEB to the Northern Arabian Gulf. KEARSARGE later became the Flagship for Commodore Gregg Jackson, Commander Amphibious Squadron Eight.
On February 14th, KEARSARGE began off-loading the 2D MEB at Kuwait Naval Base. They joined up with Marines from the 1 MEB to become Task Force Tarawa. On March 20th hostilities commenced, the name of the engagement was changed to Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Task Force Tarawa crossed in Iraq and went to war. KEARSARGE remained off the coast of Iraq flying combat re-supply missions employing the CH-53E helicopters attached to the Condors of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron Four Sixty-Four (HMH 464).
On the way home from that history combat deployment, KEARSARGE also provided support to the President of the United States during his visits to Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt and Aqaba, Jordan during his summits with Arab leaders. Additionally, KEARSARGE was diverted from its homecoming track to the western coast of Africa to support Operation Shinning Express. KEARSARGE returned home on June 30, 2003.
In June 2004, following a four-month shipyard avalability, KEARSARGE surge deployed to the Arabian Gulf to transport elements of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. KEARSARGE returned home in August 2004.
KEARSARGE embarked on its seventh deployment on March 25, 2005 as the flagship for the KEARSARGE Expeditionary Strike Group, consisting of KEARSARGE, the guided missile cruiser USS NORMANDY (CG 60), the amphibious transport ship USS PONCE (LPD 15), the guided missile destroyer USS GONZALEZ (DDG 66), the guided missile frigate USS KAUFFMAN (FFG 59), the attack submarine USS SCRANTON (SSN 756) and the dock landing ship USS ASHLAND (LSD 48), and the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
USS KEARSARGE has been awarded the Golden Anchor for Retention Excellence, Ronald Reagan Distinguished Service Award, the CNO Environmental Safety Award, the Admiral Flatley Memorial Award, Department of Energy / Department of the Navy Energy Efficient Awards, the Chief of Naval Operations Safety Award and the Commander Naval Surface Force Atlantic Safety Award.
Additionally, KEARSARGE has qualified for the following medals and unit awards: Navy Unit Commendation, Meritorious Unit Commendation (two awards), Battle Efficiency “E” Award (five awards), National Defense Service Medal (two awards), Kosovo campaign Medal (with bronze star), Armed Forces Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon (five awards), the NATO Medal and the Combat Action Ribbon